Substance use disorder: contraceptive options counseling

What’s New in Contraception?

Contraceptive Technology Conference!

Biologic sexism of STIs

Excess breast cancer deaths after COVID-19

Contraception for patients with medical conditions

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Treating vulvodynia

Puzzling Over the Hurt Down-Under

Serious Mental Illness and Contraception

New 13-Cycle Vaginal Contraceptive System

The Future of Family Planning in Post-COVID America

New ASCCP Guidelines: Implications for FP

On the alert: mood disorders during 2020 stressors

Sex in the Time of COVID-19

Challenges old and new during the pandemic

Reproductive health in the time of Covid-19

Talking about toys

Missed Pills: The Problem That Hasn’t Gone Away

Find the “yes! . . . and” rather than “no” or “but”

Digital Family Planning: the Future is Now

Irregular Bleeding Due to Contraceptives

When she’s low on libido…

Ouch! Best approaches to menstrual pain

Contraceptive efficacy: understanding how user and method characteristics play their part

Strategizing treatment for chronic heavy menstrual bleeding


Untangling the literature on obesity and contraception

High tech apps for no-tech FABM

Menstrual exacerbation of other medical conditions

From Princeton University: Thomas James Trussell (1949-2018)

The Short and Long of IUD Use Duration

Selecting a Method When Guidance Isn’t Clear-cut

Healthcare in the Time of Digital Expansion

The Scoop on Two New FDA-Approved Contraceptive Methods

Pregnancy of unknown location—meeting the challenge

Big “yes” (with caveats) to CHCs during perimenopause

The role of IUDs (LNG IUDs, too!) in emergency contraception

Combined pills’ effect on mood disorders

Abortion in the U.S.: safe, declining, and under threat

Hope for ovarian cancer screening test

Breast cancer still a small risk with some hormonal contraceptives

New treatment modality for BV

Record rate of HPV-related throat cancer

Viruses in semen potentially transmissible

Don’t Abstain from Your Role in Abstinence

Teens births declining but geographic ‘hotspots’ defy trend

Online Medical Abortion Service Effective and Safe

Do Women Really Need to Wait That Long?

Reassuring news on depression and OC use

PMDD: Genetic clues may lead to improved treatment

Breast cancer risk when there is a family history

Body weight link to breast and endometrial cancers (and 11 others)

Family Planning in 2017 and Beyond

Make Me Cry: Depression Link (Again)?

Managing implant users’ bleeding and spotting

Zika: Updated guidance for providers

Pharmacist-prescribed contraceptives

Hot off the press! 2016 MEC and SPR

Zika virus fears prompt increased request for abortion in nations outlawing abortions

Opioid use epidemic among reproductive-age women

Good news on the family planning home front!

War Against Planned Parenthood Hurts Women

Win-win for both treatment and prevention

Center of the Storm


Menopause, mood, mental acuity, and hormone therapy

Emergency contraception for teens

Postpartum Contraception: Now, Not Later

Reproductive tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, or sexually transmitted diseases: “a rose by any other name…”

Are we practicing what we preach?

Be alert to VTE in hormonal contraceptive users

LARC among teens increased 15-fold, but not enough

Brain cancer and hormonal contraception

Free tools: Easy access to the US Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use

Alcohol consumption when pregnancy is unwanted or unintended

Latest Data on Contraceptive Use in the United States

LateBreaker sampler from Contraceptive Technology conference

Emergency Contraceptive Pill Efficacy and BMI/Body Weight

Handout on Unintended Pregnancy and Contraceptive Choice

Ask About Withdrawal (Really!)

Rules to Practice By: Safety First and Cleanliness is Close to. . .

What’s Vanity Fair Got Against the NuvaRing?

Promising New Treatment for Hepatitis C

Numbers matter, so make them simple for patients

The Recession’s Effect on Unintended Pregnancies

Lessons Learned from the Contraceptive CHOICE Project: The Hull LARC Initiative

Applying the “New” Cervical Cytology Guidelines in Your Practice

Acute Excessive Uterine Bleeding: New Management Strategies

Medical indications for IUD use in teens

Whatever happened to PID?

Update on Emergency Contraception New and Improved

When she’s low on libido…
September 2019


There is heated controversy[1] among feminists, researchers, sexual medicine specialists, and pharmaceutical companies over sexual desire and desire difficulties:[2] how it is described, defined in the DSM, represented in the media, and most importantly, how to address or treat it.  The current DSM-5 amalgamated female disorders of desire and arousal into a single diagnosis called “female sexual interest/arousal disorder,” replacing the previous term of hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). As Jenny Higgins and Patty Cason write in Contraceptive Technology,[3] clinicians who interact with women concerned about levels of desire may be helped by understanding the changing perception and meaning of sexual desire, and the changing landscape within which sexual desire complaints have developed. In addition to considering a diagnosis of “female sexual interest/arousal disorder” as defined by the DSM-5, clinicians can embrace a more complex and holistic view of sexual desire to help patients explore how familial, religious, cultural, or societal expectations or in many cases, sexual trauma, may be influencing their concerns or limiting their own experience of desire.

Interestingly, the current emphasis on female desire is relatively new.[4] Following the introduction of the oral contraceptive pill in 1960 and the following evolution of sexual mores in the 1960s and 1970s, women in the United States were increasingly acknowledged to be sexual beings. Simply defined, sexual desire is the motivation to engage in sexual acts.[5] Often, the term refers to “spontaneous” desire rather than desire that is experienced in “response” to arousing sexual stimuli.[6],[7] However, a body of evidence supports the concept that “spontaneous desire” does not exist and even desire that seems spontaneous is actually in response to sexual stimuli.[8]

When queried, individuals report motivation to engage in sexual acts for a range of reasons, including sexual release, orgasm, pleasing their partner, desire for intimacy, emotional closeness, love, and feeling sexually desirable. Clearly, what is meant by sexual desire and what individuals in fact “desire” is complicated and highly influenced by biology, psychology, and society.[9]

An individual’s perception and interpretation of sexual desire and sexual self in general is shaped by personal psychosexual history and thus influenced both positively and negatively by conditioning.[10],[11] For a given individual, there is a statistically reasonable chance that sexual difficulties are the consequence of sexual trauma. Another likely contributing factor is familial, societal, religious, and cultural rules about what is acceptable or taboo regarding sexuality.[12],[13]

Thankfully, a simple and very welcome fact that all parties agree on is that that a person does not have to experience “spontaneous desire” in order to have pleasurable, satisfying sex.7 Sexual experiences are equally satisfying in the absence of “spontaneous desire” because human beings easily respond to arousing sexual stimuli with “responsive desire.” Reassure patients that spontaneous desire may not exist, as such, and is not necessary for sexual arousal or pleasurable, satisfying sex; this knowledge can help normalize and validate an individuals’ experiences and support them as agents of their own sexuality.

Although 39% of women reported “low sexual desire” in a 2008 nationally representative panel study of 31,640 women, aged 18 to 102 (mean age of 49 years), fewer than 1 in 3 (27.5%), or 10% of the entire sample, reported sexual distress.[14] This sizeable gap between the prevalence of low sexual desire and the prevalence of any distress associated with it is an important reminder of how the nature of a sexual problem depends on whom you ask, when, and in what context.[15],[16]

Clinicians who are not experts in sexual medicine can help patients who experience sexual difficulties, which can include low sexual desire.[17] Some clinicians may be reluctant to bring up sexual health if they feel unprepared to adequately handle patient concerns. An open conversation to identify problems may in itself naturally provide education and simple suggestions that help. Simply being asked respectful but direct questions may encourage patients to think more openly about sex and sexuality and may support sexual self-comfort. Below are some helpful questions to get you started: [18]

Suggested questions clinicians can ask to offer a conversation about sexuality

  1. Sexual health is important to overall health; therefore, I always ask patients about it. Is it okay with you if I ask you a few questions about sexual matters now?
  2. Are there any sexual problems or worries that you would like to discuss?
  • Normalize issues. For example, “It’s not uncommon for people (who have diabetes, as they get older, who have a new baby/young children, around menopause, etc.) to have that problem.”
  • “For many people, (orgasm, pain, decreased interest in sex, etc.) can be a problem. I would be happy to discuss these or other issues with you. I can’t answer your question, I’ll find someone who can.”

What’s the update on the idea of ‘Viagra for women’? As of this writing, there are several medications under development aimed at female-assigned people who want to increase their sexual desire. One FDA-approved medication, flibanserin, is indicated for “the treatment of premenopausal women with acquired, generalized hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) as characterized by low sexual desire that causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.”[19] Of note for clinicians caring for reproductive-age women is flibanserin’s potential for drug interactions with alcohol and with medications that are CYP3A4 inhibitors. Strong and moderate CYP3A4 inhibitors such as ketoconazole, miconazole, fluconazole, and ciprofloxacin are contraindicated, and weak inhibitors such as oral contraceptives must be used with caution. In one small study supported by the company that developed the drug, 24 women pretreated with flibanserin for 2 weeks “did not produce a clinically relevant change in oral contraceptive drug exposure following single-dose administration of ethinylestradiol/levonorgestrel.”[20]  Bremelanotide, recently approved by the FDA and scheduled for sales in September, is administered by self-injection, no more frequently than 8 times a month. It can slow gastric emptying of certain medications taken orally. Oral contraceptive use is not contraindicated with bremelanotide.

[1] Driscoll M, Basson R, Brotto L, et al. Empirically supported incentive model of sexual response ignored. J Sex Med 2017;14:758–759.

[2] Tiefer L. Apples and oranges: “sexual medicine” and the effort to deny that counting and classifying are political acts. J Sex Marital Ther 2017;43:246–249.

[3] Higgins JA, Cason P. Sexuality & Contraception. In: Hatcher RA, Nelson AL, Trussell J, Cwiak C, Cason P, Policar MS, Edelman A, Aiken ARA, Marrazzo J, Kowal D, eds. Contraceptive technology. 21st ed. New York, NY: Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., 2018.

[4] Kingsberg SA, Rezaee RL. Hypoactive sexual desire in women. Menopause 2013;20:1284–1300.

[5] Mark K, Herbenick D, Fortenberry D, Sanders S, Reece M. The object of sexual desire: examining the “what” in “what do you desire?” J Sex Med 2014;11:2709–2719.

[6] Brotto LA. The DSM diagnostic criteria for hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women. Arch Sex Behav 2010;39:221–239.

[7] Driscoll M, Basson R, Brotto L, et al. Empirically supported incentive model of sexual response ignored. J Sex Med 2017;14:758–759.

[8] Laan E, Both S. What makes women experience desire? Fem Psychol 2008;18:505–514.

[9] Mark K, Herbenick D, Fortenberry D, Sanders S, Reece M. The object of sexual desire: examining the “what” in “what do you desire?” J Sex Med 2014;11:2709–2719.

[10] Brotto LA, Petkau AJ, Labrie F, Basson R. Predictors of sexual desire disorders in women. J Sex Med 2011;8:742–753.

[11] Pfaus JG, Kippin TE, Coria-Avila GA, et al. Who, what, where, when (and maybe even why)? How the experience of sexual reward connects sexual desire, preference, and performance. Arch Sex Behav 2012;41:31–62.

[12] Ringa V, Diter K, Laborde C, Bajos N. Women’s sexuality: from aging to social representations. J Sex Med 2013;10:2399–2408.

[13] Peixoto MM, Nobre P. Dysfunctional sexual beliefs: a comparative study of heterosexual men and women, gay men, and lesbian women with and without sexual problems. J Sex Med 2014;11:2690–2700.

[14] Rosen RC, Shifren JL, Monz BU, Odom DM, Russo PA, Johannes CB. Correlates of sexually related personal distress in women with low sexual desire. J Sex Med 2009;6:1549–1560.

[15] Brotto LA. The DSM diagnostic criteria for hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women. Arch Sex Behav 2010;39:221–239.

[16] Carvalheira AA, Brotto LA, Leal I. Women’s motivations for sex: exploring the diagnostic and statistical manual, fourth edition, text revision criteria for hypoactive sexual desire and female sexual arousal disorders. J Sex Med 2010;7:1454–1463

[17] Binik YM, Hall KSK. Principles and practice of sex therapy. Fifth edition/ed. New York: The Guilford Press; 2014.

[18] Some questions taken from Nusbaum MR, Hamilton CD. The proactive sexual health history. Am Fam Physician 2002;66:1705–1712.

[19] Thurston RC, Ewing LJ, Low CA, Christie AJ, Levine MD. Behavioral weight loss for the management of menopausal hot flashes: a pilot study. Menopause 2015;22:59–65.

[20] Johnson-Agbakwu C, Brown L, Yuan J, Kissling R, Greenblatt DJ. Effects of flibanserin on the pharmacokinetics of a combined ethinylestradiol/levonorgestrel oral contraceptive in healthy premenopausal women: a randomized crossover study. Clin Ther 2019;40:64-73.