The untold story of the contraceptive pill


IN AN AGE rapid medical discovery, why haven’t researchers developed a better pill for everyone yet? It is not so simple. “A lot of the research conducted on the side effects of contraception is inconclusive, and that’s because it’s inherently difficult to do,” says Mel Davis-Hall, clinical editor of the British medical journal and Medical Co-Director of The Lowdown. Side effects such as changes in libido and mood are notoriously difficult to measure because they are “inherently multifactorial,” she explains. “Women go through their lives going through their ups and downs due to all kinds of external factors, so you’re not really going to get definitive answers.”

This is where The Lowdown has its limits: As detailed as user reviews are, their experiences are largely subjective, making the information gathered difficult to quantify for use in scientific studies.

Pelton disputes this however, pointing to the mass data collection exercise undertaken through the NHS Track and Trace for the spread of Covid-19. “There’s a bit of snobbery around what we do with The Lowdown – the criticisms will always be that it’s based on self-reported and biased data. OK, but wait a minute – aren’t we doing this with Covid-19 as well? Didn’t that prove that millions of people can come forward, talk about side effects and be listened to? Why is contraception different?

What makes comparing contraceptive data even more difficult is the fact that there is “a lack of existing data on what a woman’s period normally looks like,” Pelton says. “I think there is a fundamentally sexist attitude towards women who self-report their pain, their problems and their self-report periods. Women are ignored because there is this attitude that we are somehow less reliable. This is complete crap.

As well as allowing women to share their experiences and make more informed choices, Pelton hopes the Lowdown can contribute to contraceptive research, particularly around side effects – and maybe even help guide research. the development of new options.

Frederik Petursson Madsen, a Danish entrepreneur and CEO of Cirqle Biomedical, contacted Pelton via The Lowdown because he too wanted to try something drastic: asking women what they want from a contraceptive product. “The approach was really about understanding what makes the perfect contraceptive and trying to find the technology to do it,” he says. “I have the impression that over the last decades innovation has been driven primarily on the research side by the scientists in the labs, not so much from the user’s point of view. “