Birth Control Pills: Further Evaluation Is Needed

While a certain study on birth control pills suggests a long-lasting negative effect on women’s sexual function, it does not, however, prove that it can cause sexual dysfunction on women who are not on the pill. But it does add to previous research findings that some birth control pills can lower a woman’s free-testosterone level. Women with low testosterone are prone to a number of health problems that includes sexual health.

According to Dr. Claudia Panzer and Dr. Irwin Godstein of Boston University Medical Center, they found significantly lower scores in the Full Scale (female sexual function test) and in the domain of sexual desire for women on oral contraceptives compared with those who had never used oral contraceptives.

“There was significantly more sexual pain in the women who were taking oral contraceptives,” added Panzer, who practices her profession in Denver, and Goldstein, who is editor in chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine where the study appeared.

One finding that is considered very alarming is that when these women stopped taking birth control pills they had long-lasting increases in a protein that sucks up testosterone.

“Further research is needed to identify whether SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) changes induced by oral contraceptives may or may not be completely reversible after discontinuation of oral contraceptives, and whether this leads to long-term sexual, metabolic, and mental-health changes in some women,” wrote Panzer.

The study looked at 124 women, all of whom had “sexual health complaints.” Half of these women were using different kinds of birth control pills. Another 39 women had used the pill for at least six months but stopped at the beginning of the study, while 23 women had never used the pill. These 23 women who had never used the pill were slightly older (average age 36) than those still on the pill (average age 32) and those who stopped using the pill (average age 32).

The study suggested that women who had used birth control pills reported greater sexual dysfunction, less sexual desire, and greater pain during sex than those who never used the pill. Those who had used oral contraceptives had four times higher SHBG levels than those who had never used this birth control method. It is believed that SHBG lasts in the body for only about two weeks. Sure enough, the women who stopped using the pill saw about a 2.5-fold drop in their SHBG levels after 106 days. However, higher-than-normal SHBG levels persisted.

Panzer and her colleagues followed 11 of these women for a year or more. Their SHBG levels remained much higher than normal. That could be a problem, observed the researchers, as women with high SHBG levels might have lower testosterone levels.

“SHBG values may remain elevated to values significantly higher than ‘never users’ for a prolonged period of time despite discontinuation of oral contraceptives,” warned Panzer. “This is an early observation, which needs to be evaluated further,” she said.

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