WebMD Medical News
Laura J. Martin, MD
May 5, 2010 -- A new European study has found that women who use hormonal contraceptives such as the birth
control pill are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction such as
reduced desire and arousal than women who use non-hormonal contraception and women who do not use
Reporting in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, the German researchers
also find that women who used non-hormonal contraceptives, such as condoms, were at a lower risk for female sexual
dysfunction (FSD) when compared with women who didn’t use contraception.
A possible link between hormonal contraception and sexual dysfunction has
been reported before, but the studies have often produced conflicting
Researchers led by Lisa-Maria Wallwiener, MD, of the University of
Heidelberg, Germany, surveyed more than 1,000 medical students about their sex
lives and contraception choices. More than 87% of the students reported they
had used contraceptives in the last six months. Eighty percent said they were
in stable relationships; 97% reported being sexually active in the
previous four weeks.
The students were divided into four groups: those who used oral hormonal
contraception; those who used non-oral hormonal contraception, such as a
vaginal ring; those who used non-hormonal contraception; and those who didn’t
use contraception. Overall, the study results showed that:
In addition to contraception choices, stress, pregnancy, smoking, relationship status, and a desire for children
all influenced sexual function. Women who were in stable relationships, were
nonsmokers, who had not been pregnant, and were not actively trying to have a
baby were more likely to use oral contraceptives like
the birth control pill, the research team reports. Women not in stable
relationships -- regardless of their contraception use -- had higher sexual
desire but lower orgasm scores.
"Sexual problems can have a negative impact on both quality of life and
emotional well-being, regardless of age," says Wallwiener, who lead the study.
"FSD is a very common disorder, with an estimated prevalence of about two in
five women having at least one sexual dysfunction, and the most common
complaint appearing to be low desire."
Study co-author Alfred O. Mück, MD, PhD, tells WebMD in an email that any
biological mechanisms behind hormonal contraceptive use and sexual dysfunction
remain unclear at this point.
“Our study reveals only the association,” Mück says. “Hints at the
biological mechanism could be received perhaps in the ongoing study in the
Mück also notes the findings should not deter women from contraception.
“Currently, there are no changes in the recommendations. Hormonal contraception
is by far the most safe, non-invasive contraceptive method.”
Nazema Y. Siddiqui, MD, an ob-gyn at Duke University Medical Center in
Durham, N.C., says the study was only observational and does not draw any
cause-and-effect conclusions that should sway women toward one contraceptive
choice or another. Moreover, she said, the participants selected for this study
-- female medical students -- may not necessarily reflect other groups of
“You would have to assume that female medical students, who are highly
educated and lead stressful lives, may be different than the general
population,” Siddiqui tells WebMD in an email. “Therefore, if you are trying to
understand the association between hormonal contraception and sexual
dysfunction, a more diverse, general population would be preferred to answer
this question. Because sex and desire can also be affected by stress,
partner-related factors, and medical issues, it is hard to draw sweeping
conclusions based on observational data.”
SOURCES:News release, Wiley-Blackwell.Alfred O. Mück, MD, PhD.Wallwiener, C. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, published online May
4, 2010.Nazema Y. Siddiqui, MD, ob-gyn, Duke University Medical Center, Durham,
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