It’s World Contraception Day on Sunday and as every year the goal is to spread the word and raise awareness about contraception and safe sex, to help each new generation of adults make informed decisions until every pregnancy in the world is a planned one. And we’re excited to be teaming up with UK-based startup The Lowdown on this mission this year.

The Lowdown is a review platform for contraception that uses datasets, medical experts and supports a growing community to share some insights into the barriers women face when trying to access contraception today.

Last spring as part of the UK Government’s call for evidence into Women’s Health, the startup created a survey to get feedback from women on their experiences with reproductive and sexual healthcare. They received over 2.000 survey responses and have written up the findings into a report that we want to share with you today.

The full report is available for download here.

In summary, the survey conducted by The Lowdown found that:

  • 87% of women report a time where they don’t feel listened to by healthcare professionals 
  • 64% use Google as their main source for info and advice on contraception
  • 95% are comfortable talking to their friends about contraception vs. only 70% who feel comfortable discussing with their GP

Side effects continue to be the main problem with contraceptives:

  • 68% of women have been impacted by side effects from their most recent form of contraception
  • 47% of women say that at some point in their life, contraception has negatively impacted their general sense of wellbeing and mental health
  • Research shows that side effects are the most commonly reported reason why women discontinue taking the contraceptive pill or take it incorrectly

And even in the UK women have problems accessing contraception:

  • Half of women in the UK have had problems accessing contraception 
  • 1 in 3 have paid, and the majority are willing to pay for their contraception in order to receive better service 
  • This has been accelerated by COVID – 43% of Lowdown users said that COVID had changed the way they choose, access or use their contraception. (Lowdown and Superdrug survey of 144 people, Sept 2020)

And since it is World Contraception Day on Sunday, we also took a moment to check in with The Lowdown Founder & CEO Alice Pelton to see what her company is planning to spread awareness, reflect on the finding from the survey and get her take on what actionable steps can and should be taken in order to address some of the pain points identified.

The Lowdown Founder & CEO Alice Pelton. Image: The Lowdown

Alice, what’s going on at the The Lowdown HQ today on World Contraception Day?

Tonight we’re hosting a very exciting community event for The Lowdown team and friends where we’ll be sharing all our latest findings and doing a panel discussion with some of our biggest fans who’ll be sharing their experiences with contraception. Watch out for the highlights tonight on our Instagram @Get.the.lowdown.

You’re a mission-driven founder and have been following the reproductive health space for a long time. How do you think it is changing? Are there any developments that you’re excited about or find concerning?

It does feel like these issues are finally getting more attention from the media and governments, with the recent UK government’s Call for Evidence into women’s health being a good example. Finally others are realising that we need to ask women what they want, and really listen to them. But I hope these aren’t just PR exercises and there will be funding, resourcing and critical process changes to the way women in this country access sexual and reproductive health as a result. 

What concerns me is there’s still very little innovation and investment into new contraceptive methods. In the two years I’ve run The Lowdown only one person from a pharmaceutical company has responded to my emails or taken a call with me. It’s depressing how little they care about improving this drug category. 

Oh and obviously the recent abortion changes in the U.S. are terrifying. 

Your survey showed quite clearly that there’s still a lot of work to be done. When reflecting, were there any findings that you found particularly surprising or interesting?

I think the number of women who pay, or would pay for contraception is surprising. This reflects how difficult it can be to get hold, and how much we value ease and convenience in a post-covid era. The feedback we’re seeing from our paid consultation and prescriptions service shows just how much women value being able to choose their brand of pill, and not run the risk of having it switched or changed by their GP. 

In what ways are the results of the survey impacting your work at the Lowdown and overall what do you think can or should be done to address some of the pain points you identified?

Everything we do at The Lowdown is about tackling the data, access and advice problems that the survey identifies. 

A strong message from the anecdotal responses was women wanting an honest and informed discussion around contraceptive side effects, and to be taken seriously when they feel they are impacting them. This is something we’re proud that our data and community is spearheading. 

We need to realise that traditional research has its limitations – it’s slow, you have to have large studies that are rigorously designed to be valid. Also, in part due to the historical lack of funding, there’s not a huge amount of gold standard research evidence when it comes to contraception and its side effects, meaning we don’t have the answers. It’s ok not to know. Why can’t we say we don’t know, instead of gaslighting women when they think they have problems?

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