LIKE many teenagers, Alice Pelton went on the pill once she started to become sexually active with her first boyfriend.
"I assumed the turbulent time I had over the next few months was just part and parcel of being a teenager," she recalls. "I was so emotional; I didn’t have a grip on my moods. I had waves of anger and upset."
Then, after taking a break from the pill she returned to it aged 19.
"Within days of starting it again I ended up shouting at my mum over something really innocuous," Alice, now 30, recalls.
"She turned to me and said it was like I was 16 again. It was only then that it came to me that the common denominator was that I had been on the pill on both occasions – and maybe my massive mood swings were something to do with that."
The realisation of how much her choice of contraception affected her led Alice on a several year-long quest to find something that suited her better – and culminated, two years ago in a lightbulb moment.
"The idea just came to me one night: we review everything from our car salesmen to our hotels – why don’t we review our contraception as well," she recalls.
"It’s such a fundamental part of the lives of many young women but many are making their choices with relatively little information."
The result is The Lowdown, the country’s first comprehensive contraceptive review site, which features candid personal appraisals of all 16 main methods of contraception from progesterone only and combined pills through to IUDs and rhythm method.
It makes for eye-opening reading: the data it has gathered from the hundreds who have used it so far shows the extent to which women are paying the price for protecting their sex lives, with a large number reporting serious side effects, particularly from use of the contraceptive pill.
"By far the most common complaints are tender breasts – 42 per cent of women using various forms of the contraceptive reported that, with around 30 per cent of women reporting vaginal discharge, spots and womb cramps too," says Alice, who comes from Salisbury and now works for The Sun Online’s parent company, News UK.
"These are the common complaints but there are a lot of others too, from increased and darker body hair and dizziness to issues wearing contact lenses – two per cent of users said they could no longer use contact lenses after using contraception and one per cent said they could no longer use latex without having a rash or reaction.
"It’s an insight into quite how intricately the hormones can affect our body chemistry."
Then there’s the emotional impact: 39 per cent of those who had used the site said using hormonal contraception negatively impacted their moods and emotions.
It proved that women were happy to talk about this stuff online, but it also showed that while the majority of women were satisfied with their contraceptive choices about twenty to thirty percent weren’t
"Even with my own experiences over the years I was still shocked to see that number in black and white," says Alice.
Now she hopes that her site will help women navigate the minefield of choices available.
"With the pill alone there are so many different brands and varieties – we collect reviews for 27 brands of combined pill and 11 brands of progesterone on the market alone so it can be bewildering," she says.
"Usually you go and speak to your GP in a rushed conversation, or you go on the internet and read loads of scary forums or you ask your friends but it’s a small sample size.
"I realised that if there had been a platform I could look at where you could see that a lot of women who took this brand of pill complained of headaches it would have been incredibly useful. It helps build a picture."
The Lowdown: How it works
Anyone can leave a review for a brand or method of contraception you have tried or are currently using
- It only takes two minutes
- All reviews are anonymous
- You will be asked how long you’ve used the contraception and whether you had any side effects
- Rate it out of five and add comments about your experience
- Help other's understand contraceptive side effects – leave a contraception review NOW
Alice says she knew she was on to something, when an initial WhatsApp survey sent to thirty of her peers asking a few basic questions about their contraceptive choices quickly snowballed.
"Within two weeks I had 500 responses – and the feedback was fascinating," she recalls.
"It proved that women were happy to talk about this stuff online, but it also showed that while the majority of women were satisfied with their contraceptive choices about 20-30 per cent weren’t – so it wasn’t a problem only I had."
In her case, after a decade of trying different combined and progesterone-only pills Alice has now settled for a copper IUD coil.
She acknowledges that nonetheless, for most women, the combined or progesterone only pill is still the default choice.
"They all operate in much the same way – we are picking from a relative similar and small list of options," she says.
"It’s like leaving TripAdvisor reviews for the worst restaurant in a small area of London – they are going to be similar.
"But I think there is a huge value in collecting this data, and I hope to use The Lowdown to raise awareness of women's experiences – ultimately pushing for the development of better contraceptive options. We deserve better."
Yet the site has also thrown up some other interesting data too.
"Some women have left reviews about using the Natural Cycles app then unexpectedly getting pregnant even though they had followed the recommended advice which I found quite shocking," she says.
It’s not all bad news though: Alice points out that overall, 70 per cent of those on the site said they were generally happy with their contraceptive choice, while using the site had got other people to look afresh at their own choices.
"Some are realising that the condoms you said you were never going to use at 16 are not that bad after all," she says.
Their boyfriends and husbands might be less keen on that of course – and they are welcome to leave a review if they wish.
"Men can leave reviews but the site is geared towards women as they’re the ones who currently have to take the responsibility and feel the effects," says Alice.
"But we should be open to innovation. I am hoping my site might lead to a bigger national conversation."
To share your experience with contraception, visit The Lowdown.
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