Expertise | 7 min read

THE BIRTH CONTROL DEBATE – WHO AND WHAT IS BEING SAID ONLINE?

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The subject of birth control has long been a hot topic of debate amongst its users and its creators in the pharmaceutical industry. While many types of contraception exist, there is no perfect solution, with each method having its own pros and cons.

The pill still remains the most popular choice, despite its numerous side effects. And despite being advertised as a suitable alternative, Bayer’s contraceptive coil has also recently been said to affect mental health. Finally, the development of male contraceptives, long sought after by women, rarely goes further than testing due to resulting side effects.

But what is the general online consensus regarding contraception methods? We looked at how each method is discussed online: are side effects a major pain point? Do pharmaceutical companies need to address the concerns of anxious consumers? Are any birth control-related issues discussed on social media?

To answer these questions, we analyzed English-speaking conversations over a six-week period.

Birth Control – A website-driven discussion

Our analysis showed that topics surrounding birth control are primarily discussed on websites (39.1%), followed far behind by forums (13.5%) and Twitter (12.3%). Surprisingly, we found that blogs were a relatively unpopular medium, accounting for only 11.3%.

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Politics, Society, and Religion: pillars of the contraception debate

So, which birth control-related issues were being raised? Most discussions were of a political (38.3%) or social nature (36.3%). With regard to politics, Donald Trump’s policy choices, such as the Obamacare repeal plan, were a focal point, as were organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Religion was another key subject identified, where words such as "God", "Catholic" or "Christian" were commonly used in predominantly anti-birth control debates. Contraceptives were also discussed as a means to prevent "overpopulation" — identified through vocabulary like "India" and "Africa".

Social and health-related topics were also central to discussions. The main social issues were those revolving around HIV, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community), sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, and crisis hotlines. When it came to health, 38.7% of all posts deliberated the side effects of birth control.

We were able to analyze demographics to determine that females were the main participants in such conversation. All age groups took part and occasionally, both sexes.

A Detailed Analysis of Different Contraceptive Methods

When it comes to the media, there is a heavy focus on the pill and its associated side effects. The risks of thrombosis and the many hormone-related health issues are particularly highlighted.

According to our analysis, 21.7% of all posts were about the pill, with the majority published on websites (47.6%) and on forums (17.7%). Attitudes were generally neutral (93.2%), and only 27% of all posts focused on health-related side effects. Social (51.2%) and political issues (20.2%) were the main topics of discussion. 61.6% of all posts were published by women, less than expected, and the subject was covered by all age groups. The Hashtag Cloud identified topics like acne, which were also discussed alongside contraception.

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Regarding specific methods of contraception, the coil was talked about in 4.7% of all posts – a figure similar to its adoption rate amongst women. Evidently, the coil is much less popular than the pill. 56% of all posts were published by women, and websites were by far the most common channels with a 45.7% share. Once again, the main topics of discussion were of a social (47.2%) and political nature (21.1%). Almost 23.6% of all posts mentioned side effects: most notable illnesses such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), Menorrhagia, and Endometriosis.

Other than the standard keywords, the Hashtag Cloud also identified "Mirena" as a frequently-used hashtag. Bayer’s Mirena coil has been heavily criticised in recent months. Nevertheless, the attitude in all posts was noticeably neutral (93.2%), with only a small percentage of negative posts (3.6%).

The diaphragm was only mentioned in 0.8% of all posts, again similar to its adoption rate. Surprisingly, 32.9% of these posts addressed the associated side effects. This demonstrates that more people are concerned about the side effects of the diaphragm than those of the pill or coil, which are known to cause more reactions due to their hormones and active ingredients. This trend was confirmed using the Hashtag Cloud.

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Hashtags like #nohormones and #natural indicate that a hormone-free method of contraception is the preferred type of birth control for these people. Other discussions dealt with condoms, clinical studies, and research on birth control. When it comes to the diaphragm, posts were mainly dominated by topics regarding hormone-free and clinically tested contraception methods. Once again, websites were the most popular medium with 68.9% of posts.

Only 5.3% of all discussions included topics about condoms — slightly less than expected — and condoms were not discussed vis-à-vis contraception and health issues. We found that this form of birth control was not as popular online as the pill or coil, for example. Only 15.1% of all posts addressed the side effects. Both men and women discussed condoms (47.7% men - 52.3% women) and the debate primarily focused on sexually transmitted diseases, safer sex, and HIV.

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Less Negativity and More Politics than presumed

Our analysis presented some unexpected results, with the politics of birth control featuring much more heavily than anticipated. A prime example is President Trump’s policies on contraception and their consequent impact. Our findings would certainly have been different had we confined the scope to Europe.

The study also showed that negativity towards birth control is limited, with discussions on side effects not as prevalent as expected, particularly regarding the pill and coil. Given their recent excessive media coverage, one could be forgiven for assuming these methods would be much more popular talking points. On the other hand, there was stronger concern over the side effects of the diaphragm, and discussions revolved around hormones and natural contraceptives. Another hot topic of debate was the practice of prescribing hormonal methods of contraception to younger girls and women to fight skin problems, mirroring recent studies in the public sphere.

Social media data included in this post was analyzed using our social media intelligence platform, Radarly, Book a free demo to see how it works:

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