When it comes to choosing the right birth control or barrier (if you choose to use birth control or barriers, that is), the process can be daunting. Should you go on the pill? Use the patch? Insert an IUD? Undergo a vasectomy? The options are seemingly endless. Luckily, there’s a new website that’s pretty much the “Trip Advisor” of contraceptives. It allows users to leave anonymous and honest contraceptive reviews to help others make the right choice for them.
The Lowdown — which went live earlier this year — is marketed as “the world's first peer-to-peer review site for contraceptives.”
The platform is the brainchild of Alice Pelton. According to The Sun, at the age of 16, Pelton began taking the pill and later noticed some negative side effects — namely, that her personality felt altered. After spending hours researching alternatives to the pill, and unsuccessfully finding solid reviews from real people, Pelton decided to create a review site specifically for birth control.
“I realized [contraceptive users lacked a resource for honest birth control feedback] whilst I spent most of my twenties trying to find the right contraception for me,” Pelton tells O.school. “I had so many questions I wanted answering; If I had bad side effects from Pill X, which one should I try next? Is getting an IUD fitted really painful if you’ve not had children? Resorting to Google, I found myself more confused than before.”
“I was convinced there must be a better way, other than the ‘try it and see’ approach,” she continues. “I also wanted to build something visually appealing that helps explain the detail.”
Currently, The Lowdown offers information on 15 of the most popular contraceptive methods ranging from the pill to the vaginal ring, condoms, to sterilization.
And by collecting peer reviews, the site’s team is able to collect data and track potential side effects for each method. Users can find the most relevant reviews by using the site’s search function which filters everything from brand, type, specific side effects to reviewers’ age, height, and weight.
“The review process was built from user testing and feedback from over 500 women,” Pelton explains to us. “We wanted to strike a balance between creating an engaging and lightweight review process, but ensure we ask the right questions to get a good gauge on your experience. In testing we found that four areas — periods, body weight, sex drive and mood — were the four key areas that can change, so we focus slightly more on these.”
Pelton also says that The Lowdown’s review process is also unique because the site also gets feedback from users if and when they’ve stopped taking a specific contraception. “This was really important to us, as contraceptive after-effects are often ignored,” she states.
“Switched to cerazette from microgynon due to migraine risk/age,” writes one reviewer on the site. “It wasn't till I stopped taking it that I realized how significantly it had effected [sic] my mood, drive and general happiness.”
While the most common side effects are often noted in reviews, such as tender breasts and vaginal discharge, Pelton noted via The Sun that lesser-known side effects are also listed by hundreds of reviewers on The Lowdown. These include increased and darker body hair, as well as dizziness and issues wearing contact lenses.
“[Two] percent of users said they could no longer use contact lenses after using contraception and one percent said they could no longer use latex without having a rash or reaction,” Pelton explained to The Sun. “It’s an insight into quite how intricately the hormones can affect our body chemistry.”
Furthermore, although the individual reviews are treated as an opinion, the information pertaining to contraceptive methods shared by The Lowdown is fact-checked by trained medical professionals. “Every one of the 48 brands of contraception we feature on The Lowdown has a page which details its ‘facts’ — what it’s made of, how effective it is and how it works,” Pelton tells us. “We work continuously with a number of doctors and medical professionals to check all of this information on the site is up to date and medically accurate.”
Pelton hopes The Lowdown will help folks make more informed choices when it comes to birth control methods, as well as provide them with a point of reference in case they begin noticing symptoms.
“I found that most women like me either speak to their friends, read an intimidating internet forum, or ask their doctor for their advice,” Pelton tells us. “All of these are small sample sizes, and you’re never sure whether one person’s experience is the norm or the exception.”
“We have long been expected to put up with side effects and lack of innovation in contraceptive medicine,” she adds. “I firmly believe if this was a male issue, hundreds of male entrepreneurs would have snapped up this space a long time ago.”
While sites such as The Lowdown are valuable resources, always talk to a trusted doctor/OBGYN who knows your medical history to ensure you’re choosing a contraceptive that’s right for you. At the end of the day, it’s important to take control of your health and wellbeing, and having a medical expert on your side is the surest way to avoid negative side effects — such as a bad reaction between two medications, etc.
“My vision for The Lowdown is to help change the way that women choose their contraception, shortcutting the trial and error approach many women have to go through,” Pelton tells O.school “In the next year we want to collect enough data to make this possible, and help us build predictive models from the results.”
She hopes that the site can be used as “a vehicle to improve the development and range of contraceptives themselves.” Pelton notes that the range of options currently on the market isn’t up to snuff, and she hopes to see more innovation and funding be put into the contraceptive industry. “I hope by raising awareness of dissatisfaction and side effects we can change this and lobby pharmaceutical and R&D companies to do better,” she said.
“TripAdvisor and the power of internet reviews has helped to revolutionise the hospitality industry, vastly improving standards of service and food. Why should contraception be any different?” Pelton said.
If you’d like to submit an anonymous review to The Lowdown, you can do so right here. You can also search for reviews for a specific birth control method or brand right here.