By attacking birth control pills, American influencers spread disinformation

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Misinformation about birth control is exploding on social media platforms.

US wellness influencers are increasingly targeting birth control pills, forcing their followers to give up contraceptives with false claims of infertility and low libido that researchers say leaves them vulnerable to unintended pregnancies.

The explosion of misinformation on platforms like TikTok and Instagram comes as reproductive rights take center stage in the looming presidential election, in a country where abortion is banned or restricted in nearly half of states.

Many influencers – who are not licensed medical specialists – are part of what appears to be a cottage industry of self-proclaimed health gurus who make money off misinformation by promoting “healing” oils and fertility tracking services.

People looking for reliable information about contraception are confronted with internet personalities who overemphasize the side effects of pills.

That includes Taylor Gossett, a TikTok influencer with nearly 200,000 followers who explicitly called the drug “toxic” in addition to offering to participate in her “masterclass” in “natural” birth control.

Conservative commentator Candace Owens suggested on TikTok that birth control causes infertility problems, while “life coach” Naftali Moses told his 280,000 followers that it “changes your sexual behavior.”

Podcaster Sahara Rose called birth control the “divorce pill” in a video that has been viewed more than 550,000 times, claiming it affects who “you’re attracted to” and leads to users choosing the wrong partner.

The pill’s effect on libido has been debated for decades, with some women complaining about its impact on their sex drive.

But while some women may experience such side effects, medical experts say individual experiences do not represent widespread causal links.

Experts also say there is no direct causal evidence that birth control pills lead to widespread infertility or altered attraction and sexual behavior.
—’More fear’—

“Misinformation can keep people from using contraception that could help them with contraception,” Michael A. Belmonte, a fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told AFP.

“The most concerning thing about this political landscape that we have in the U.S. right now is that misinformation about birth control could lead to people getting pregnant… and now they may not have access to abortion.”

Belmonte said he had personally treated patients who became pregnant after avoiding birth control because of the “harmful misinformation” they heard or saw online.

The increase in misleading videos reinforces what researchers see as a deteriorating state of reproductive health care following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the nation’s right to abortion in 2022.

The landmark ruling cleared the way for 21 states to implement full or partial bans on abortion.

“This spike in misinformation about contraception correlates with restrictions on abortion access in a number of states,” disinformation researcher Jenna Sherman told AFP, adding that many of the online falsehoods stemmed from “anti-abortion actors.”

“People need more guidance on reproductive health decisions and are more afraid to talk to a health care provider,” she said.

‘Too bad, stigma’

Many influencers recommend fertility awareness-based methods (FAMs), which involve careful monitoring of menstrual cycles and body temperature, to help users time sex to avoid their fertility window.

But experts say it is far less effective than medical contraception, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating the failure rate at 23 percent – ​​resulting in unwanted pregnancies.

A slew of female influencers are also advocating for going off birth control to lose weight – despite a lack of direct medical evidence linking pills to weight gain – often with dramatic before and after videos.

“It likely contributes to further shame, stigma, and distorted body images,” says Sherman.

Birth control pills are considered safe and effective by health experts, but like many other medications, they can cause a number of adverse effects, most commonly nausea, headaches and bleeding between periods.

In rare cases, they can also lead to blood clots and strokes. The Food and Drug Administration says the risk of clots may affect three to nine women in 10,000 who take the pill.

Many of these side effects can be alleviated by switching to a different type of contraceptive or waiting for symptoms to go away, health experts say. This distinction is rarely made by influencers who, in the hunt for clicks and followers, often exaggerate the negative aspects.

“People don’t realize that many of these influencers have their own financial incentives to spread false or misleading stories that also don’t prioritize the health of the people they target,” Sherman said.

The decision to discontinue birth control “should be made based on legitimate health information and the guidance of a health care provider, not an influencer,” Sherman added.

© 2024 AFP

Quote: US influencers attack birth control pills and spread misinformation (2024, May 13), retrieved May 13, 2024 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-05-birth-pills-misinformation.html

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