No, Birth Control Isn’t Making People Lesbians
Throughout the near-decade I’ve been on hormonal birth control, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing—but the experience has always boiled down to whether the form of contraception I was on was right for me. As it turns out, the pill was not. I struggled with taking it consistently, and over time began to suffer from prolonged bouts of nausea and depression. Today, I’m a very satisfied Nexplanon user, but my fascination with birth control side effects—especially people’s varying self-reported side effects—has persisted. And in recent weeks, the wave of Twitter, Reddit, and TikTok users—and most infuriatingly, conservative influencers—pushing the theory that birth control can make you lesbian or bisexual has been equal parts fascinating, annoying, and frustrating.
To be clear: No, hormone medication cannot alter sexual orientation. But let’s unpack all this anyway.
First, here’s how this all started: Earlier this month, an Australian woman shared that she “became a lesbian” after going off the pill, claiming she felt “dull” while on contraception, only to now feel like a “horny teenage boy” with her new girlfriend. Of course, the story quickly went viral. The woman, Tessa, told the Australian Kylie & Jackie O radio show that before the pill, she used to be “100 percent into men,” and once she stopped taking it, she “suddenly” realized that “women are hot.” True!
“Thank God I came off the pill,” she said. “I’m living with my best friend and I couldn’t be happier.”
“Both anecdotally and when we look at the science and the data we do have, there’s no link between any specific change in a person’s libido with hormonal contraception,” Dr. Emily Barker, a Missouri-based OB-GYN and fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Jezebel. She, of course, emphasized that individual anecdotes are valid and an important part of a broader conversation around birth control side effects.
Tessa’s story has since inspired others to share their own stories, as part of an ongoing conversation that took off last month, shortly after a viral tweet from conservative talk show host Alex Clark wrote, “*whispers* the birth control pill can falsely make women feel bisexual.” The tweet was extensively trolled, but some took it more seriously than others. The r/bisexual Reddit community broke out in anecdotes of women sharing their own experiences of how they either become a lesbian or bisexual while on birth control pills or shortly after going off them—appearing to corroborate Clark’s tweet and Tessa’s story.
Also in December, Chris Williamson, a TikToker and podcaster known for the Modern Wisdom show, shared that one of his ex-girlfriends, who’s bisexual “but mostly lesbian,” told him that while she was on the pill, for one week every month, she found that she was “straight.” In response, research psychologist and author Sarah E. Hill told Williamson, “I can’t even begin to tell you how many women I’ve heard that from. I’ve heard it from a lot of bisexual women who get nudged one way or another depending on where they are in their cycle.”
She continued, “I’ve heard from women who thought they were bisexual and then went on or off the pill and had that change where they were either completely straight or thought they were completely lesbian. The thing I’ve heard most frequently is that they become a bit more straight when they’re off the pill.”
Unsurprisingly, doctors and experts in the reproductive health space are skeptical.
Misinformation and homophobia
Barker stressed to Jezebel that “people’s sexuality and who they’re interested in is not determined by a medication” and expressed concern about how this narrative caters to rising conservative “fearmongering and negativity towards birth control that is not rooted in science.” In November, a series of widely shared tweets by one National Review writer called birth control “actively harmful” and erroneously identified it as “a carcinogenic.” Beyond social media, the far-right venture capitalist and noted surveillance titan, Peter Thiel, invested millions into the conservative online women’s magazine Evie, which recently created an app for people to track their periods (with very flimsy promises around privacy), in order to dissuade them from using birth control.
In July, nearly 200 House Republicans voted against a bill to enshrine the legal right to birth control, as state-level Republican leaders began to whisper about banning it. And to Barker’s point, in November, Jezebel highlighted a swell of “tradwife” TikTok content that promoted “natural” birth control by peddling misinformation about hormonal birth control. The trend notably coincided with the rising legislative attacks from Republican lawmakers targeting birth control access since the fall of Roe v. Wade.
“My worry is that the trend, how this is being discussed as a ‘side effect’ of birth control, is really negative towards not just contraception, but also has negative connotations for people with different sexualities and gender identities,” Barker said, calling the conversation “frankly homophobic.” The idea that medications could affect sexuality and gender identity is especially dangerous as anti-LGBTQ activists continue to push for conversion therapy and other clinical “remedies” to punish and try to erase queer people.
It is possible that individuals experiencing changes in their sexuality and desires amid taking the pill are experiencing fluctuations in their libido. Even so, Barker told Jezebel that there’s no clear evidence of how or whether hormonal birth control affects libido in one direction or another. She notes that people sometimes “start hormonal contraception and notice a change in their libido, in that maybe they’re less interested in sex,” but “the opposite can also be true—having contraception and knowing that one is protected from pregnancy, if that’s important to them, might make some people feel less inhibited and more interested in sex.”
Validating different birth control experiences
Conversations about the wide-ranging personal experiences on birth control can be difficult at a time when so many bad-faith actors are eager to weaponize any anecdote as an argument to eliminate the rights to birth control and abortion altogether. Different forms of birth control can elicit different side effects from users, and within a healthcare system that routinely gaslights and traumatizes people with uteruses, we can simultaneously listen to and validate people’s unique experiences and turn to doctors and experts to dispel disinformation.
“I would never want to say that I don’t believe the experience of an individual person, and that being said, we know that all forms of birth control on the market are safe, may or may not be right for some people,” Barker said. Her hope is that individuals experiencing “a bothersome side effect from their contraception, like a change in libido” could “talk to an expert who’s going to offer them real science and evidence, and also compassion.”
One TikToker who recently shared with Jezebel her painful experience of getting an IUD inserted—specifically around the lack of warning she received—agreed that yes, there are important criticisms of the landscape around birth control access. The expectation from some healthcare workers and society writ large that we should just accept negative or varied side effects from some birth control methods without complaint is also harmful. At the same time, we have to be wary of “the ‘crunchy,’ anti-doctor pipeline” and its closeness to “the alt-right pipeline,” she said. “If you take your medical care seriously, you shouldn’t just be watching TikTok and not getting the opinion of doctors.”
This is what Barker hopes patients and possible birth control users take away from the conversation about hormonal contraception and sexual orientation. Ultimately, whatever perceived side effects or concerns arise for a birth control user, they should “turn to a trusted physician, maybe try a different form of birth control, or stop birth control, if that’s what’s right for them.”
So, there you have it—apparently, it needs to be said that birth control isn’t a magic pill that makes you gay, and I am once again urging us all to seek medical information from sources other than right-wing talk show hosts and viral social media anecdotes.