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19th Jan 2023

Women warned about dangerous advice on contraception peddled by influencers

Sarah McKenna Barry

The study analysed contraception advice spread on YouTube.

Women are being warned about misinformation surrounding contraception after a study found that an alarming number of influencers are encouraging their followers to ditch hormonal contraceptives without taking into account the precision required for cycle tracking to be effective.

The research comes from the University of Delaware, and it was published this week in the journal Health Communication. For the study, researchers analysed videos that featured the keyword “birth control experience” or “Daysy” (an app that can track and monitor fertility cycles).

The study then concentrated on videos from channels that had over 20,000 subscribers and found that the influencers were likely to frame the discontinuation of the birth control pill in a positive light. 40% of influencers who spoke about non-hormonal methods of birth control said that their approach involved an app or the use of a basal thermometer. Additionally, the study found that the emphasis put on “natural” contraceptive methods could result in viewers misunderstanding birth control.

Emily Pfender, the study’s lead author said: “What young viewers don’t see in influencer content is the amount of effort and meticulous planning that goes into tracking cycles.”

She continued: “For example, to use the cycle tracking method as intended, women must faithfully measure basal body temperature and viscosity of cervical fluid at the same time every day, track cycle lengths to calculate their fertile window and refrain from having sex on specific days of their cycle.”

Pfender said that misinformation about birth control is a “public health issue”, particularly if they don’t encourage other forms of contraception to prevent against unwanted pregnancies and STIs.

According to Planned Parenthood, fertility awareness methods (FAMs) do not work as well as other types of birth control methods (contraceptive implant, intrauterine device or system, contraceptive injection, contraceptive pill, patch or vaginal ring). The organisation warns that FAMs are only effective when they’re used “as perfectly as possible”. This involves consulting with a doctor and a nurse and having the time and discipline to check your cycle every single day.

For comprehensive advice on family planning and contraception, head to the HSE’s website right here. Resources in other languages are available here.

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