It’s no secret the pill can snuff out that special spark while you’re on it, but many women who discontinue the pill find their low sex drive remains and go looking for solutions on how to increase sex drive.
This was Megan’s story. She found her way to my clinic after reading my Post Birth Control Syndrome (PBCS) article and for the first time since stopping the pill, she had confirmation of what she had suspected all along.
Megan had a list of symptoms consistent with PBCS—symptoms her doctor told her weren’t real. “Every time I would tell my doctor that I thought the pill did this to me he would say ‘that’s not possible’ and then recommend I consider going back on it,” she explained.
At the top of Megan’s concerns was her complete and utter lack of interest in sex. Megan’s libido was low on the pill, but she thought it would surely return after she stopped the pill. Two years later and Megan’s sex drive hadn’t improved one bit and worse, she was now suffering from vaginal dryness and sex had become painful.
At 28 years old Megan was in distress about her sexual health and frustrated by the lack of concern expressed by her doctor.
Is Having a Libido Necessary?
There’s been this common narrative in society that having a libido as a women is nice, but not necessary. After all, women aren’t that interested in sex and female orgasms are about as mythical as a unicorn, right? I giggle as I type that last sentence because it’s all just a silly story passed through the ages and the reality is that a strong sex drive and the ability to orgasm are a sign of health.
Ladies, I’m here to tell you that your libido is a huge indicator of health…and orgasms are a necessary part of your self care. Doctors Orders!
What Does a Low Sex Drive Say About Your Health
A low libido may indicate your testosterone is low, which can hurt your mood, your energy and your bones. It may also mean you have inflammation that may be stemming from an infection and creating a hormone imbalance. Or it could be you are experiencing HPA dysregulation and that your adrenals may be in need of support. Truly, there are many reasons low sex drive in a woman should be investigated.
So when a doc shrugs off a women’s concern about a missing sex drive after stopping the pill they are discounting a huge piece of data, not to mention perpetuating what happens so much in women’s medicine—a blatant dismissal of a woman’s concerns. In my practice we have a rule, if you don’t feel your symptoms are normal then it’s our job to ask why they are there in the first place and what your body is trying to tell us.
Birth Control and Low Sex Drive
The pill has been crashing women’s libido’s since its introduction, which to me, is a fundamental flaw. I mean, you’re taking that dang pill so you can have sex without worry of a baby! But once you’re on it, sex can be the last thing you’re interested in.
In one study of 1,219 female medical students it was found that those using the pill were at an increased risk for sexual disorder compared to those using non-hormonal or no birth control. In this study it was found that women on the pill were 32% more likely to experience Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD) and 8.7% more likely to have a orgasm disorder (1).
Over the last 3 decades we’ve seen multiple studies reporting the negative impact oral contraceptives have on a woman's sexual health. The list includes suppressed female initiated sex, loss of interest in sex, diminished arousal, difficult to achieve orgasms, decreased frequency of sex and an overall lack of sexual enjoyment. Not an appealing list by any means.
How does this happen?
How The Pill Decreases Your Sex Drive
The pill is a potent synthetic estrogen and sometimes synthetic progesterone that suppress your brain (specifically the pituitary) from releasing follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). By shutting down the brain your ovaries never receive the signal to prepare an egg and ovulate.
But it goes further than just a lack of ovulation. This suppression messes with your testosterone production.
If your libido is low then your testosterone may be low. And if your testosterone is low then we can expect to see depression, fatigue, and bone loss—to name a few. Yeah, testosterone is a pretty big deal in a woman’s body. You can read more about that here: Do Women Need Testosterone?
The Pill, Testosterone, and How to Increase Low Sex Drive
Megan had two big things keeping her sex drive from coming home—low testosterone and high sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG).
Total testosterone production was down and free testosterone was dismal. That 7 years of ovary suppression had taken its toll.
But even if Megan was making enough testosterone it was unlikely she’d actually be able to use it—all that SHBG in her blood was binding her testosterone and making it impossible to use.
SHBG is produced in the liver to bind excess hormones in your body. When you’re on the pill your SHBG shoots up. Why? This is a beautiful and respectable compensation by your body to keep you safe. Too much estrogen (which the pill delivers) is big trouble for the body and so it makes this protein to keep your cells from getting overwhelmed by hormones.
But Megan wasn’t on the pill anymore. Why was her SHBG still elevated? What we now know is that your SHBG may never return to the same level as it was pre-pill.
The Pill May Alter Genes That Impact Sex Drive
A 2006 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine revealed that women who used the pill for 6 months or more had higher levels of SHBG compared to women who have never taken the pill. Even after having discontinued the pill for several months these levels remained elevated (2).
Women who stayed on the pill had about 4 times the amount of SHBG circulating in their blood!
After stopping the pill women experienced a decrease in SHBG, but never to the baseline level of a woman who has never taken the pill. It was this finding that caused the researchers to question if the long term exposure to synthetic estrogen changes a woman’s liver genes to continue to make higher levels of SHBG.
This is some big stuff here. The pill may actually alter your genes and result in a lower libido for life. It’s my clinical opinion that this is the exact information that should be explained to a patient before they start taking the pill. The researchers in this study agree with this statement.
Doctors Should Disclose Sexual Side Effects
The lead author of this study, Dr. Claudia Panzer, an endocrinologist, was quoted in the media as saying, “it is important for physicians prescribing oral contraceptives to point out to their patients potential sexual side effects, such as decreased desire, arousal, decreased lubrication and increased sexual pain. Also if women present with these complaints, it is crucial to recognize the link between sexual dysfunction and the oral contraceptive and not to attribute these complaints solely to psychological causes.” Source: Blackwell Publishing (3)
Or in other words, doctors should adequately educate their patients about potential long term sexual side effects. And they should investigate the concerns about a low libido in women who have a history of oral contraceptive use, rather than quickly conclude that it is “all in her head.”
Megan’s symptoms were not in her head and neither are yours. Here’s a few of the labs we ran on Megan as part of getting to her root cause.
What Labs to Test When Your Sex Drive is Low Post-Pill
Can You Ever Get Your Sex Drive Back Post Birth Control?
It's a question on many women's minds after the pill. Let me share with you what happened with Megan regarding her libido.
After gathering Megan’s data, both her story and her labs, I outlined her individualized treatment plan and got her working with my clinical team to fast track her recovery. Because of the toll the pill takes on the liver, we got Megan going right away with our unique holistic detox, which includes my Paleo Detox Kit (or the Plant-Based Detox Kit.
Detox is one of the five pillars in my approach to PBCS.
Through my years of clinical experience and helping countless numbers of women recover their body post pill I have developed a protocol to not only help women regain their sex drive, but also support their overall hormone health and wellness.
Megan continued her treatment course with my team, reporting a marked return of her sex drive after 6 months. Of course, we were all excited to hear this and were thrilled to hear that Megan’s energy had increased, her skin was clear and her periods were on time and easy.
And regarding the vaginal dryness and painful intercourse? That was gone too! Once Megan’s hormone balance was restored her vaginal lubrication improved and sex was no longer painful, in fact, Megan reported it was enjoyable.
How to Boost Sex Drive After Stopping The Birth Control Pill
What Should You Do Next If Your Low Sex Drive Hasn’t Improved Since Stopping the Pill?
Get a Doctor Who Gets It.
Post-Birth Control Syndrome is a tricky one to treat and I don’t recommend women go it alone. Find a doctor who has been working closely with women with this syndrome for at least 2-3 years.
If your doctor is dismissing your symptoms that doesn’t mean they are a bad doctor—this just isn’t their area of expertise. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek a second opinion or additional help if you suspect PBCS is your issue.
Dig Into the Data.
Your doctor should be able to listen to your story and pull from it the key points of data that provide the clues to solving your case. In my practice, we always start with the story and base our lab orders on the areas in need of investigation.
We then take those lab results and interpret them through the context of your story—your personal experience.
We all respond differently to the pill. Not every woman will lose her libido. And so it makes sense that a protocol for healing from PBCS needs to be as individualized to you as possible.
This data approach is what allows us to formulate and test hypotheses about what your body needs to heal. In doing this we help you build YOUR user manual to your body.
Love Up That Liver!
Your liver is one of several organs that takes a hit while you're on the pill and may not totally recover its original function, as was demonstrated in the study on SHBG. While a liver detox won’t resolve all your symptoms, I have found that this is a great way to begin fast tracking your recovery and clinically, I have seen a large percentage of women feel much better after a dedicated 21 days of loving up their liver.
You can grab my Quick Start Detox Guide for Post Birth Control Syndrome here.
This is some necessary info for any woman looking to increase her sex drive.
Turn Up Testosterone.
While you’re waiting to find out if testosterone is at the root of your low sex drive you can start incorporating foods that will support testosterone balance.
Eat foods like avocado, spinach, celery, strawberries, honey, dark chocolate and plenty of healthy fats to support testosterone production. If you need some inspiration you can download my Hormone Balancing Recipe Guide here.
Maca the Magical Mojo Herb.
Maca is an adaptogenic herb that supports ovaries and adrenals. This herb is well known for its support of a healthy sex drive. I recommend patients in my office try Gaia Herbs Maca in a daily smoothie with their detox powder or in a beverage. For some people it can be too stimulating, in which case it is recommended to try only half the recommended dose.
Look. Your Libido is a Sign of Vitality and as a doctor, I'm concerned if you don't have one.
If your doctor isn't concerned then they need to check themselves and you need a second opinion. That old story that women don't have libidos, enjoy orgasms or deserve to enjoy sex is done.
Science has shown it is wrong.
But who needed science? You didn't. You knew. And all of us ladies, we knew.
Can we stop waiting on science to catch up to what us ladies have always known to be true? Yes. I think we can embrace the feminine, own what is ours and let science to catch up to the feminine spirit that is you.
Look, I love science. I love science like a lover, but that does not make him any less behind the times.
Hey science! I want to keep you. Keep you, oh so close. But you can't keep on with telling us ladies we don't need our sex drive, orgasms or that we should trade it all in the name of preventing pregnancy. We deserve better.
Have you experienced Post Birth Control Syndrome? Share with us in the comments.
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KEEPING IT REAL, WHILE KEEPING YOU EDUCATED
Featuring a 28 day plan to take back your cycle and dozens of charts, checklists, and diagrams to help along the way.
- Wallwiener, C. W., Wallwiener, L.-M., Seeger, H., Mück, A. O., Bitzer, J. and Wallwiener, M. Prevalence of Sexual Dysfunction and Impact of Contraception in Female German Medical Students. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2010. 7. 2139–2148.
- Panzer, Claudia et al. Impact of Oral Contraceptives on Sex Hormone‐Binding Globulin and Androgen Levels: A Retrospective Study in Women with Sexual Dysfunction. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 3(1). 104 – 113.
- Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Oral Contraceptive Pill May Prevent More Than Pregnancy: Could Cause Long-term Problems With Testosterone. ScienceDaily. 2006.