Originally proclaimed as being a facilitator of freedom for women, the Pill and contraception actually present us with a contradiction. Despite it being 2021, the brunt of the burden still lies with women.
Be More Girl dives in deeper with Alice Pelton – founder of The Lowdown, the world’s first review platform for contraception – to look at some of the feminist issues surrounding birth control.
I get annoyed about this because women are – in many countries – still the primary caregiver of children, it’s sort of seen as our responsibility. Even though it takes two to tango.Alice Pelton, Founder of The Lowdown
In 1961, the Pill was introduced in the UK on the NHS, for married women only. Then, in 1967 it was released to the general population of women.
Unlike many other things, over the following six decades not much seems to have changed. And the Pill is now taken by 3.1 million women in Britain — roughly 90% of the women prescribed contraception by their GP.
When the Pill was first made available in the ‘swinging sixties’, the idea was that it would give women freedom. It is intertwined with the feminist movement, described by Summers (2010) as “a potent symbol of women’s emancipation”.
But decades later, concerns over the lack of research, health risks and controversy surrounding the Pill are growing (The Contraception Chronicles part 1).
Does the contraception pill represent freedom or is it a failure of feminism?
“There are so many different facets to this; it’s really hard to pull them apart.
The Pill was originally discovered by accident; they were looking at developing a drug, and the mice that they were testing it on stopped reproducing.
When they did trials on women they didn’t initially tell them what it was for – which is totally ethically wrong – but when they did tell women that it would stop them getting pregnant, they were like, “Oh my god, yes – I want to try this!”.
“There’s so much of a link between this, and the increase in women’s economic independence. And, that’s still true today.
On the other hand, at The Lowdown we’re seeing a growing backlash against hormonal contraception.
Women want to discover more about their body and their natural cycles, and we see a growing movement developing around hormone-free approaches to contraception.
For example, the Clue app has recently announced that they’re going to help build an algorithm that stops women from getting pregnant.
We’re hearing from more and more women who don’t want to put artificial hormones into their bodies, they don’t want to be ‘poisoned by the Pill’.”
So for me, it’s less about the rights and wrongs of it being developed in the first place, and more about why – 60 years after the Pill’s initial launch here in the UK – the burden of birth control is still predominantly falling on women.”
The pharmaceutical companies don’t seem to have much appetite to bring a male pill to the market. In a BBC article, Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield said, “there’s been very little pharmaceutical company interest in bringing a male contraceptive pill to the market, for reasons that I don’t fully understand but I suspect are more down to business than science.
“Ironically, we’re further ahead when it comes to understanding women’s reproductive health versus men’s, but that’s also because it’s not been funded – no one thinks it’s important.
It’s a very litigious, lengthy and expensive process to bring a new contraceptive to market.”
We assume that women are happy, and men don’t need to take care of this. There’s also a 100% completely sexist assumption, around men’s tolerance for side effects.Alice Pelton, founder – The Lowdown
“There’s a perception that we have options [for women] that ‘work’, so there’s no point in either improving them or developing options for men. That the market is already saturated, which I think is ridiculous because you’ve literally ignored 50% of the population that you could sell contraception to!
And, whether men could be relied upon to take a pill when they aren’t the ones that could get pregnant – which I think is just an absolute load of bollocks – but that seems to inform what pharma thinks is important.”
Yes, so what about giving men more of a voice in all this – it does feel like they’re being ignored, somewhat. There must be men out there that do want more control and choice about contraception.
“Yeah, the deeper impact of fathers feeling in control of when they become fathers, is really interesting isn’t it?”
It’s a huge financial, mental, and emotional burden for everyone to have children when they’re not planned sometimes.Alice Pelton, founder – The Lowdown
“I remember male friends in their 20s, when they were out and about gallivanting, being terrified that they’d get a woman pregnant; they would have loved to feel more in control of their reproductive autonomy.”
Regardless of gender, there’s potentially some trust issues involved in contraception. This is where pharma and tech need to work more closely together – there must be a wearable device solution..?
“Yeah, and I think this year will be all about vaccine passports, so I think it’s the contraception equivalent of that.
You know – you meet a guy on a night out and he says: ‘Oh, I’m on the Pill’ or ‘I’ve had the injection’. It might be more reassuring for you to see there’s proof on an Apple watch, or whatever – something that he or she can show to prove that’s the case. Why not?”
The Lowdown is on a mission to change the way that women choose, access and use contraception. They do this by providing a platform for reviews and community, access to advice through private appointments with women’s health doctors, as well as providing a quick and easy way to order contraception.
The information they offer covers everything from the various pills to the withdrawal method, and all the content is reviewed by their clinical team.
If like Alice, you’re on a mission to improve healthcare for women, and you want help to articulate your purpose or embed it deeper within your business, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org