It turns out that the combined oral contraceptive pill doesn't make women less keen to have sex, contrary to popular belief.
Researchers studied more than 900 people who used the pill and found that once you account for women's age and the length of the relationship they had been in, the pill didn't have any effect on sexual desire. The results are published published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The researchers did two studies: one on couples in relationships of varying lengths, and a second focusing on couples in long-term relationships. Women were surveyed on their sexual desire when alone or with a partner, and measured using the Sexual Desire Inventory.
Sex drive wasn't affected significantly by any method of contraception: oral hormonal contraceptives, other hormonal contraceptives – such as the implant – or non-hormonal contraceptives.
"In my undergrad classes, my students often say they hear the pill makes you not want sex, and they ask, 'What's the point?'" writes study author Kristen Mark in a blog post. "Our findings are clear: the pill doesn't kill desire. I think it is important to bust those myths."
Previous studies have found that women's sex drive was dampened by taking the pill, decreasing women's arousal and chances of reaching orgasm. This was partly what fed into the popular myth that the pill would make women want less sex.
Factors including a woman's age and how long she's been in a relationship affect how much she wants to have sex. Failing to account for such factors may have distorted the findings of previous studies.
The findings are significant for women who may have a low sex-drive and who may chose not to take the pill based on the popular myth. Mark says that women should try not to let anecdotes they may have heard influence their choice of contraception.
"Should desire inform women's contraceptive choice or physicians' recommendations? We don't think so," Mark says. "One significant conclusion we made is that the evidence is still too mixed for any concrete recommendations."