Can Birth Control Make you a Lesbian?
We found a Daily Mail article with this bold headline making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook. It asks if “birth control can make you a lesbian?” and posits that research exists to support this possibility. We investigated the claim that hormonal birth control can cause a change in sexuality or sexual preferences and looked closer at the studies cited within this article.
The first premise of this article is that “a number of women” have experienced a shift in preferences after starting or going off the Pill – specifically that “their homosexuality was woken up.” The Pill in this context refers to orally ingested birth control which introduces hormones into the body to prevent ovulation. The article then introduces research which could support this premise.
One account of such an experience comes from a TikTok user who shared her experience of entering a relationship with a woman despite having been in exclusively heterosexual relationships while on the Pill. She asserts personal certainty that there is a direct causal link between her discontinuing birth control and subsequently becoming “more curious and drawn to women” within “a month of being off it.” The other claims come from a single reddit post from 2020 with 9 comments; one comes from the author of the post and two come from commenters, bringing the total number of claims cited in this article up to 4.
The main study referenced is 2013 paper titled Oral contraceptive use in women changes preferences for male facial masculinity and is associated with partner facial masculinity, conducted by researchers from The University of Stirling. Using computer generated images, this study found that women who had gone on the Pill preferred images of males with less masculine features than their non-Pill-taking counterparts.
The article then offers a contrasting study from 2018 conducted by researchers from the University of Aberdeen that used similar computer generated images (pictured above). The 2018 study found no correlation between hormonal birth control and a preference for less masculine features. While acknowledging that conflicting research exists and that there is no definite answer, the article ends by suggesting that the 2013 study is “consistent with the anecdotal evidence.”
The 2013 study had a relatively small sample size of 55, with only 18 of those 55 women in the Pill-taking group. In comparison, the 2018 study had a sample group of 584 from which to draw its conclusions. Apart from the studies cited in the Daily Mail article, we found more studies that seem to support the 2018 findings that were not mentioned. One carried out in 2019 similarly found “No evidence that women using oral contraceptives have weaker preferences for masculine characteristics in men’s faces” using a large online sample group of 6482.
It is also crucial to note that the 2013 study specifically looked at heterosexual women and their preferences, without any mention of other sexual preferences or shifts in sexuality. This further weakens any support it might lend to the claim that sexuality shifts might be linked to hormonal birth control. The article suggests that if the Pill alters certain preferences, many other potential shifts are possible. However, it fails to mention the growing body of recently published literature that challenges the links between hormonal birth control, decision-making, and preferences.
Given that the base claim that some women have experienced sexuality shifts comprises only 4 women (3 of which are unverifiable) giving anecdotal evidence, both the premise and the supporting research do not hold up under closer scrutiny. There is no evidence that the Pill can turn women into lesbians, and it would be inaccurate to claim that studies seem to support it.
Researchers in the field of neuroendocrinology note that it is difficult to definitively measure the impacts of hormonal changes on the complex human body. More broadly, social media has recently seen an upturn in discourse surrounding birth control, with different groups advocating for and against it. In this context, it is important for women to filter such information and claims discerningly in order to make the most informed decision regarding their reproductive health.