Are Shower Curtains to Blame for Women Saying ‘No’ to Sex?

This week, The Daily Mail, published a story, “Chemicals in plastic ‘are making women less interested in sex’: Low libido linked to additives used to soften materials found in every home.” The story has been picked up by media outlets around the world. But before husbands and partners across the globe start throwing out shower curtains and ripping up PVC flooring, let’s take a look at the actual study cited by the newspaper.

Dr. Emily Barrett, assistant professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, looked at the levels of phthalates in the urine of pregnant women. Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastics and are found in a wide array of consumer products. Her paper hasn’t yet been published in a journal—it was just presented at a conference this week. But based on what we know about her study, there’s good reason to be skeptical of her findings.

Dr. Barrett asked pregnant women to report how they felt about sex months before they got pregnant. It’s unrealistic to expect pregnant women to accurately recall their feelings about sex several months before they were questioned—self-reported data about one’s eating habits earlier that day has been shown to be unreliable. And while she found that women with higher concentrations of phthalates did self-report a lower sex drive, she’s only identified correlation, not causation. Read more about that key distinction here.

It’s no surprise the study has earned so many racy headlines—we all know “sex sells.” But if you’re looking for the magic answer to low libido in women, avoiding plastic probably isn’t it.