992 million people use contraception around the world and almost 300 million of them are dissatisfied with the contraceptive they are on.
As a society we have developed more iPhones in a shorter space of time than we have contraception. The pill – the one most of our doctors ‘recommended’ when we were 15 – was first developed and sold in the 60s and there isn’t much in the way of a contraceptive revolution since. The majority of the contraceptives we have today are just a different way of administering the same product sold to our grandparents and parents.
Today is World Contraception Day and to celebrate this milestone in almost 1bn calendars, I attended an event run by The Lowdown – a platform and information hub for those interested in the subject. They are Trip Advisor meets your pharmacist, meets a community, combined with top quality (doctor approved) advice.
The room was full of women (and two men) all interested in safe sex, the implications of a lack of shared decision making between patients and their doctor, why funding is the problem and how this is all *usually* delivered by a middle aged white man who has never taken hormonal contraception but tends to mansplain it to every women he meets.
The big topics of the evening (apart from the fabulous cocktails and free lube):
Education is lacking!
Why is this just a women problem?
Whether you’re male, female, non-binary, trans and everything in between, its a fact that contraception will impact you – either directly or indirectly. Yet, only 25 clinical trials took place from 2017-19 on contraceptives. In the same time frame, there were nearly 2k Cardiovascular trials and almost 10k for cancer.
We need platforms like The Lowdown because they offer us that true lived experience with the importance of doctor approved advice. They listen to their followers, contributors and fans to provide advice that goes beyond “oh you need to just give it 3 months to work” and “are you sure you don’t want to just try the pill?”
My experience of contraception is pretty minimal. I am susceptible to migraines so according to my GP most of the options “weren’t available”. So up until my early 20s I stuck to condoms, despite the 7 out of the 10 men I’ve slept who told me either (1) oh I’m too big or (2) it doesn’t feel the same. However, at the ripe old age of 22 I decided I might give another contraceptive a go. By this time I was 2 years into my stoma life and was advised to use condoms with the combined pill, so decided there wasn’t any point on using two forms of protection and opted for the next best thing: The implant.
The GP sold it to me: “oh it’s easy. We just pop it in your arm and then when you want it removed, we just pop it out. Easy peasy! Lots of people get on with it.”
3 months in and something didn’t feel right. I felt tired and like I was watching my life through someone else’s eyes. I was irritable and Mother Nature was unpredictable. But I stuck with it. Heeding the advice that it takes a few months to get used to it.
Almost a year on the implant, both me and everyone around me, didn’t have any more patience for implant-Billie. So I called my GP to get it removed. What was the point of having it if I couldn’t actually have sex if my sex drive was minimal, I didn’t feel myself and was on my period 110% of the time?
I went in with the naive perspective that she would indeed ‘pop’ it out my arm.
Lying on my back with my arm behind my head, she injected me with anaesthetic – poking my arm just to sure I couldn’t feel it. She unwrapped her tools and laid the blue paper over my arm, ready for the popping. We were 15 minutes in when my boyfriends face turned ashen as the doctor hopped out the room to grab ‘something’. I turned to him and said “do I look” he replied “absolutely not”.
Another 30 minutes later and it was out, I was covered in blood and the ‘popping out of the implant’ was more like a scene from a Saw movie.
“Oh it just fused to your skin. We see this in like 80-90% of patients”. Said my GP. She stitched my arm back together and sent me home with a pack of plasters. Not once was any of this discussed with me. I now have a small scar on my arm I didn’t sign up for and I’ve gone back to using condoms. And still, every doctors appointment I go to – whether its for gynaecological concerns or not – the medical professional always gives me a confused and unhelpful look when I tell them I’m not on hormonal contraceptives and hands me a leaflet “just in case”. The sheer lack of understanding or conversation around why I don’t use hormonal contraceptives is worrying. And don’t get me started on the judgement!
Conversation is where it starts. Having the right education and easily accessible lived experience to base your decision off when/ if you decide to use hormonal contraception – instead of one doctors opinion – is vital to choosing something that is right for you. I believe that a collective lived experience is a thousand times better than a man in white coat judging you as he prescribes you something with a list of side effects that rivals The Times.
So my key takeaways from The Lowdown:
Education = power. And power is how we are going to change the narrative around contraception. No longer should it be a ‘woman’s problem’ and no longer should we be left with the consequences of a lack of information from the experts.
We not only need to empower women but everyone into this conversation.
Because we are not niche.