‘Empowerment’ and ‘freedom’ are trending on Twitter as I type on International Women’s Day. The global achievements of people who identify as female are celebrated as we push for greater equality between all genders.
Pioneers of reproductive rights are rightly among those being thanked and championed today. But as we #pressforprogress, is our work in this area done? Does access to contraceptives still represent the sexual freedom it did when The Pill was born more than 50 years ago?
Information about contraception remains generic and is not tailored: there is little reaching consumers in the form of up-to-date research on side-effects. People are made to feel they must simply accept the side-effects that come with a sex life, whatever the impact on their health. Headaches, bleeding and depression are just some of the side-effects those taking hormonal contraceptives are taught to accept unquestioningly.
Where there are questions, there are limited sources of accurate and reliable answers, and my own personal experience supports this. After giving birth, the primary concern of my own GP appeared to be getting me back onto the progesterone-only (or mini) pill. It was hammered home as ideal for me because I was breastfeeding and it does not interfere with breast milk. No further options were presented. So, when I noticed a significant drop in my supply of breast milk a few days later, I came up against a wall of silence on the matter, with all official guidance stating that the mini-pill doesn’t affect breastmilk supply. End of discussion.
I felt very alone and ventured into various online forums where I discovered many other parents reporting the same side-effects as me. Why was there no reliable information on this anywhere? Were we all wrong? How could we be expected to find the answers if we weren’t being listened to by anyone but our peers? How long will we be content with the restrictions on the very thing we’ve been persuaded was sent to liberate us?
The answer is: not long.
International Women’s Day is a powerful social movement, and, like all social movements, power is the operative word. Knowledge is the key to power, and so empowerment comes from possessing the tools that enable you to have greater ownership of your body and to make informed decisions about what happens to it.
From the self-management of your nutrition and diet, to the medicines you take to treat illness, we are a society demanding greater, more accurate and up-to-date knowledge about our contraception. But it seems we’re not getting it.
It’s time to progress contraceptive conversations
When we reviewed websites in Australia, USA, South Africa and the UK, we found people are increasingly going online to find the answers they’re not getting to questions about contraception. We found the same questions repeated; limited searchability and inaccurate or contradictory information about contraception. These conversations fill an information gap by offering real life stories but can often increase confusion when the reliability and accuracy of the source is unclear.
We want to understand more about how contraception affects people’s daily lives, and so we’ll be inviting people to join thousands of others to tell us how contraception affects them, and help others make more informed choices about contraception. We will then combine responses from thousands of people and share our findings on our website.
Our aim is to generate the largest ever expert resource on contraceptive side effects, co-produced with contraceptive users themselves through these conversations. We will be inviting contraceptive users from everywhere to contribute their experiences including of any side-effects.
You can read more about the project on our website here and we’ll be posting about it - today and as the project progresses - asking for your views on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Contraception is not a ‘women’s issue’, in the same way that gender equality and feminism are the collective responsibility of all genders. But what International Women’s Day offers is a chance to raise awareness of those issues that have the potential to repress equality - and that’s something we need to keep talking about every day of the year until it changes.