TikTok is Not Your Gynaecologist: Misinformation, Fear and Contraception

By Bethany Roth

Whether it’s debating political action taken in the United States or raising awareness around the unfortunate side effects of the contraceptive pill, social media is frequently used to promote all sorts of opinions surrounding birth control.

As an eighteen-year-old woman, I’m no stranger to the conversation surrounding birth control on almost all social media platforms. From Twitter to TikTok, contraception has always been a popular subject.

Bringing personal stories and urgent warnings to its largely young and teenage audience, discussions surrounding the dangers of taking hormonal contraception are common.

Most popular are the ‘storytimes’ detailing women’s experiences of the contraceptive pill failing to prevent conception, causing weight fluctuations and mental health problems. Users of the recently trending sound ‘Can’t Stop Singing’ have described events such as the insertion of the copper coil or the contraceptive implant.

Ban Rigevidon?

More dangerous, though, are the number of posts popping up on our timelines every day warning young women against taking hormonal contraception. In particular, users have posted videos and tweets explaining their personal experiences with Rigevidon – usually the first combined pill prescribed to the 3.1 million women taking the birth control pill as of 2018.

This is not to say that expressing your personal experiences of contraceptive methods isn’t helpful. Instead, the lack of information surrounding the negative side effects of women’s birth control is undeniably part of a wider problem surrounding the lack of funding and research of female health issues. Less than 2.5% of publicly funded research is dedicated to reproductive health, though 1 in 3 women in the UK will suffer from gynaecological issues in their lifetime. 

Furthermore, though 90% of women suffer from premenstrual syndrome, there are five times more studies into erectile dysfunction (which affects 19% of men) than into PMS. So, while medical professionals continue to ignore women’s health, it is undeniably important that we share our experiences.

Nonetheless, the conversation around Rigevidon is dangerous. A simple search of the brand on TikTok reveals over 221,200 views on videos containing its hashtag.

Comments on videos detailing the effects of this pill on women’s weight gain and mental health include “That stuff is hell”, “Honestly terrified now”, and “World’s worst contraceptive pill”. Commenters demand to know the brand of the pill being complained about so that they can stop taking it. Others believe it is a completely ineffective form of contraception as they watch a Rigevidon-taking woman bouncing her baby on her lap.

Meanwhile, a Twitter search reveals thousands of tweets discouraging women from taking the pill. The top tweet stating that all combined pills increase the risk of depression in young women by 80% – a tweet with over 13.7 thousand likes.

Maybe not

I’ve been on Rigevidon for four years, and I’ve fortunately had very few side effects. As someone who’s extremely grateful for the contraceptive pill, which has lessened my endometriosis symptoms and proven to be an effective contraceptive so far, the negative comments surrounding contraception anger me.

This is not least because it misinforms hundreds of thousands of young girls, 81.3% of whom will likely use contraception in their lifetime. The spread of misinformation, education and ‘fake news’ on all social media platforms is increasingly present around all topics. Most concerning, however, is that surrounding women’s health.

Reading tweets and viewing videos about the life-changing mental, physical and emotional effects of Rigevidon only serves to create more anxiety around contraception.

It’s also important to note that bad news sells better than good news. I probably wouldn’t rave about how great the birth control pill is on Twitter, simply because that would be a bit strange. A frantic warning about how dangerous and horrendous it is, however, would appear more like friendly PSA to all the Rigevidon-taking women out there. 

Do your research

All forms of hormonal contraception can cause problems, and no doctor can predict what problems each individual method will have for you specifically. The little folded-up leaflet in the packet that you never read states that any combined pill may increase your risk of blood clots and strokes. All may cause a plethora of side effects, from anxiety and depression to migraines and weight gain.

Moreover, contraceptive pills are only 99% effective when taken correctly. That means taking it at exactly the same time every day for twenty-one days. Antibiotics and herbal remedies can make the pill less effective, as can vomiting and diarrhoea.

Social media users are not medically certified. They are not your doctor, nurse, or gynaecologist. If you have any issues with your contraception, a consultation with your doctor or a conversation with your nurse at your annual contraceptive check-up is far more effective than a tweet or TikTok. 

Not only are you able to receive accurate medical advice tailored especially to you, but it avoids intensifying the already huge bubble of fear created on social media around hormonal birth control.

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