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Study Probes Mental Health Effects of Hormonal Birth Control

Women using hormonal birth control such as the pill, patch or ring describe associated mental health issues as more significant than any lessening of sexual desire, according to a new study by researchers from Linköping University in Sweden.

The findings, published in the European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care, show that women who experienced a worsening of their mental health were reluctant to try hormonal contraception again.

While previous research has looked at undesired sexual effects among women on hormonal birth control, it has not been established whether female sexual function is directly linked with the hormones used in contraceptives, nor how advice should be formulated for the women who experience undesired effects.

Gynecologist Dr. Agota Malmborg often sees women who experience negative effects on sexual desire or mental health from hormonal contraception methods. For the study, Malmborg and her colleagues looked at the potential problems among women and their contraceptive choices.

The team conducted extensive interviews with 24 women who had described in a previous questionnaire that they experienced a reduced sexual desire when using hormonal contraception.

Women who experienced a negative effect on mood felt it was more significant than any negative effect on their sexual desire. Women who had experienced a worsening of their mental health were reluctant to try hormonal contraception again.

Most of the women said that it took time and experience, not only of the use of hormones but also of the natural cycle of menstruation and its variation, in order for them to gain a better understanding of the body’s interactions between hormones, sexual function and mental state.

Another theme that the researchers identified concerned some women who reported that hormonal contraception affected their sexual function. These women described how their body and genital area did not respond to stimuli, such as caresses, suggestive actions by another, and thoughts. Even though the women were ready for sexual activity, their body felt inaccessible, which in turn reduced their sexual desire.

“This was a new insight for us — that sexual desire starts not only in the head or as a response to, for example, caresses. It is also necessary that conditions in the genital area are beneficial,” said Malmborg, a gynecologist at Kvinnokliniken Ryhov in Jönköping. She defended her doctoral thesis at Linköping University in December 2019.

“It is extremely important to follow up whether a woman is satisfied with the method chosen. This is particularly important for young women, who are at the start of their sexual life, and have not yet gained experience of how their own hormones, sexual desire and mental health can vary,” said Malmborg.

Malmborg believes that further research in the field should focus on women who experience negative effects from hormonal contraception. Is it, for example, possible to predict which women run an increased risk of being affected?

“We must continue to work on which recommendations for contraception the health care system should give to the relatively small subgroup of women who experience undesired effects from hormonal contraception,” said Malmborg.

“This should also be a signal to researchers to continue to develop new methods of contraception, both with and without hormones, such that a wider range becomes available. Thus, we hope that more women, and indeed more men, can find a method that is suitable for them.”

Source: Linköping University

Study Probes Mental Health Effects of Hormonal Birth Control

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Study Probes Mental Health Effects of Hormonal Birth Control. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
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Last updated: 7 Apr 2020 (Originally: 7 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 7 Apr 2020
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