By Imogen Robinson
Nearly half of women have had “serious trouble” with their current or previous form of contraception, with 16% of these stating that they didn’t receive adequate care for the trouble.
In fact, just one in four women in the UK believe the potential side effects of their chosen form of contraception are explained to them in depth.
Almost half of women reported that side effects were only “barely” or “briefly” explained to them, and 6% said side effects weren’t explained to them “at all”.
These shocking statistics have emerged after The Femedic surveyed over 1000 women, asking about their experiences of getting contraception, how they got on with their contraception, and whether or not they were given adequate information, support, and care.
When asked if there are enough resources and information available, one person responded: “All resources assume you will want to get pregnant at some point because you should and also that you are in a hetero monogamous relationship.”
Another said: “The implications of hormonal contraception and what it does to mental health are not examined enough.”
The results of the survey are all the more astonishing when you take into account the examples of side effects that women reported experiencing.
These included constant bleeding, blood clots, suicidal thoughts, and some women even needed surgery because of complications.
One woman said: “I got constant bleeding, a burst ovarian cyst, weight gain, mood changes, and severe migraines with aura.”
Another said: “I got depression, one of my Mirena coils came out, and another Mirena got lodged in my uterus wall and had to be removed under general anaesthetic. I also had chronic migraine, and weight gain.”
“All resources assume you will want to get pregnant at some point because you should and also that you are in a hetero monogamous relationship.”
Despite this, many women said that they didn’t feel their complaints or concerns were listened to or taken seriously when they went to seek advice from a healthcare professional.
One respondent said: “I was told to stay on it and see how it goes,” while others said their GP laughed at them.
Another woman said: “I bled for six months constantly and was severely anaemic. The doctor didn’t help me until it got so bad that I needed a blood transfusion.”
45% of the women polled said they don’t feel there is enough information available about contraception and associated risks.
A number of women also reported feeling like their contraceptive choices weren’t even in their own control.
A quarter of women reported feeling under pressure from someone, be it a family member, a healthcare professional, or a partner, to take the form of contraception they use.
Only two thirds of women felt that their choice to use the contraception they currently use was theirs and theirs alone.
Finding the right contraception
Many women have few or no issues with their contraception and 28% of respondents said they had been on their current form of contraception for more than five years. A further 50% said they had been using the same form of contraception for two or more years.
Despite this, the results of the survey suggested often women have to do a bit of experimenting before they do manage to find something that works for them.
One in ten respondents admitted trying five or more than five different pills, and 70% of respondents said they at tried at least two different pills in their reproductive lifetime so far.
“The survey results expose a deep need for a cultural and organisational shift in the way we speak about and value reproductive health, and contraception.”
While contraception effectiveness and options have improved hugely since the pill was first introduced in the sixties, it is clear options and resources are still inadequate in many respects.
The survey brings to light the nation’s dissatisfaction with the contraceptive options – and the services providing these options – available to them, and shows that more research and funding needs to be spent on educating the population and allowing them access to suitable contraception options.
It also highlights the short shrift given to women’s health issues, and women’s complaints of pain or problems related to their reproductive health.
However, the statistics come at a time when NHS staff are particularly stretched, and sexual health clinics are being forced to close as local governments find their funding slashed.
Due to austerity, the burden falling on GPs to provide adequate contraceptive care is becoming even greater.
In January, Dr Mark Lawton of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV warned that up to 600 people per week are being turned away from oversubscribed sexual health clinics in one London NHS Trust, speaking after several central London clinics were closed in 2017.
In August, the Local Government Association (LGA) warned that sexual health services were at “tipping point”, after seeing a 25% rise in patients seeking help in the last five years, combined with total cuts of £531m to public health budgets by 2021.
Founder of The Femedic, Monica Karpinski, said: “The survey results expose a deep need for a cultural and organisational shift in the way we speak about and value reproductive health, and contraception.
“The results of our survey should in no way dissuade women from using the form of contraception that works for them.
“Nonetheless, the more choice women have, and the more information they are given, the more confident they will feel about pursuing what they know is best for them.
“More awareness of women’s experiences will, hopefully, counter any impressions that their pain is not as serious or deserving of care.”
More money needs to be spent on improving sexual health services and keeping clinics open, and more time needs to be spent creating suitable informational resources for users of contraception.
Finally, more time and money needs to be invested in developing newer forms of contraception for women, and forms of contraception for men, so that the burden doesn’t always fall on women.