September 2016 Health Bulletin

Contraception and sexual function, is there a link?

For many years it has been suspected that the oral contraceptive pill may influence sexual function. Various researchers have tried to look at this with little success because of the difficulty designing contraceptive studies. A study recently completed in Stockholm, Sweden1 indicates that use of the contraceptive pill can influence some aspects of sexual functioning in women.

The researchers recruited 340 healthy women, aged 18 to 35 years and then randomly allocated the women to treatment with either a standard oral contraceptive pill or an identical placebo, for 12 weeks. The investigators found that sexual desire, arousal and pleasure were significantly diminished in the women using the contraceptive pill compared with women using the placebo pill. Sexual concerns, orgasm, responsiveness and sexually associated self-image were not affected by use of the contraceptive pill.

These findings do not indicate that every woman who takes the contraceptive pill will experience a change in sexual function. In fact, many women report improved sexual wellbeing when they use a contraceptive pill because it alleviates concern about undesired pregnancy and lessens menstrual pain and bleeding. However it does demonstrate that some women will experience diminished sexual desire and arousal when they use hormonal contraception.

Prior research has also shown that women who report adverse sexual effects when using the pill (such as lowered sexual interest or arousal) often improve when they change to a different pill formulation2.

  1. Zethraeus N, Dreber A, Ranehill E, Blomberg L, Labrie F, von Schoultz B, et al. Combined Oral Contraceptives and Sexual Function in Women - a Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016:jc20162032.
  2. Davis SR, Bitzer J, Giraldi A, Palacios S, Parke S, Serrani M, et al. Change to either a nonandrogenic or androgenic progestin-containing oral contraceptive preparation is associated with improved sexual function in women with oral contraceptive-associated sexual dysfunction. J Sex Med. 2013;10(12):3069-79.

15th World Congress of the Menopause

Dr Berihun Zeleke, a PhD student in the Women's Health Research Program, will present his research at the 15th World Congress of the Menopause in Prague, September 28-October 1, 2016. Dr Zeleke was awarded a research bursary by the International Menopause Society in 2014 and an Australian International Research Scholarship to undertake his research at Monash University. He has completed a national study of 1,548 Australian women, aged 65-79 years, to determine what proportion of women of this age experience menopausal hot flushes and night sweats, pelvic floor dysfunction (urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence and pelvic floor prolapse), depressive symptoms and sexual difficulties.

He has found that of Australian women aged 65-79 years,

  • 1 in 3 women have hot flushes and/or night sweats,
  • 1 in 2 women have at least one pelvic floor dysfunction,
  • 1 in 15 women have moderate-severe depressive symptoms
  • 1 in 4 are taking a mood stabilising medication, mostly antidepressants.

Dr Zeleke will also present his findings pertaining to the sexual wellbeing of women of this age in a special research award session.

Information provided might not be relevant to a particular person's circumstances and should always be discussed with that person's own healthcare provider.