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Can birth control cause dryness?

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adele27 asks:

Can my birth control be drying me out? My boyfriend and I have tried to have sex 3 times and we can't get it in. Should I switch my birth control?

Sarah replies:

Vaginal dryness can be one of the more common side effects of hormonal birth control methods (like the pill). Vaginal discharge and the lubrication that's produced during arousal are influenced by what's going on with our hormones (to at least some extent). When you're using a hormonal method of birth control, you are altering the way your body works hormonally. They don't just re-order your cycle or just protect you from pregnancy, they can influence everything that is associated with those hormones. So yes, vaginal dryness or problems with arousal can be related to the pill (or other hormonal method).

What can be done about this then? Well, first of all, make sure that you're giving your body enough time to become relaxed and aroused before attempting any sort of penetrative activity. While dryness can be related to hormonal methods, that isn't necessarily always the cause. If you are not spending time with foreplay and other activities for you that are enjoyable, then you're probably not going to be sufficiently lubricated (birth control or no). So don't rush things, take your time. This is even more important with new activities or new partners, where we may be a little bit nervous or anxious (which also can inhibit arousal).

Next up, adding some additional condom-safe lubricant to the party is a good idea. Again, whether you're on hormonal contraceptives or not, this is a wise thing to do. Naturally produced lubrication often doesn't hold up well to contact with latex. Adding extra lube also helps prevent condom breakage, so that's an added bonus. And frankly, added lube just generally makes things feel smoother and better for everybody. You can easily obtain lube at your local grocery store, discount store, drug store, or chemist. It is usually stocked near the condoms. You'll want to pick something that is condom-safe (so either water-based or silicone-based). I'd suggest avoiding any of the "fancy" lubes that are so easily available these days. Warming, cooling, tingling, flavored (great for oral sex but not so much for penetrative activities) or anything with spermicides can be irritating to some people (which definitely won't help with dryness issues).

Finally, you can certainly talk with your health care provider about changing your birth control. Especially if you are happy with your birth control otherwise, I would suggest trying the previous two suggestions before heading in to change things up here. Changing your pill formulation (or switching to a different hormonal form) may or may not solve the issue. Some women have dryness with any hormonal method, some don't. So changing your pill won't guarantee an immediate solution. You may have to try several different hormonal options to find something that solves this issue (though there's also no guarantee that you won't have other issues with other pill formulations). You may also find that hormonal methods just aren't going to be workable for you. If the side effects of hormonal methods aren't something you want to deal with, you should talk with your provider about a non-hormonal method like a diaphram, cervical cap, or shield. They can be used in conjunction with condoms to provide an extra method of protection.

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written 07 Apr 2008 . updated 01 May 2008

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