Gynecologist warns against spread of birth control misinformation on TikTok

Dr. Staci Tanouye is an In The Know wellness contributor. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok for more.

Recently, I have witnessed a barrage of TikTok videos and social media posts claiming that all types of hormonal birth control are “bad” — that they are inherently bad for your body, have too many negative side effects and are overall “too risky”, etc.

I have also spotted tons of misinformation — such as myths that birth control causes cancer or infertility, both of which are 100% not true — circulating on the video-sharing platform.

Between the public shaming of birth control users and the spread of such false information, birth control — more specifically, the pill — can get a bad rap. And this can prove harmful to public health.

As we mark the 61st anniversary of the FDA approval of the first birth control pill, we must pause to remember why that moment was so monumental. Margaret Sanger, who opened the first birth control clinic in 1916, dedicated her life and career to the research and development of birth control options, most notably the pill.

At the time, condoms and diaphragms were the only contraceptive options, and they weren’t (and still aren’t) always reliable. Sanger wanted an option that women could be fully in control of, without having to consult or tell their partners. She wanted more reproductive freedom, more choice. And this is what the pill provides us.

In the 1960s, the pill quickly became widely used, proving that women desired more options — although, the first versions of the pill were not without faults, some of them significant. The medical community failed to recognize that deep-vein blood clots, stroke and heart disease were risks of the pill until a decade after it went on the market. And the rate of unpleasant side effects like nausea, weight gain, headache and decreased sex drive were all quite high as the dosages of progestin and estrogen in the earliest versions of the pills were five to 15 times that of today’s pills. 

But women continued to demand better, and the pill continued to evolve drastically.

Dosages were significantly lowered, and thus risks and side effects were also significantly lessened. In addition, more options were being developed at the same time, which meant more choices in achieving reproductive freedom.

We are no longer limited to fertility awareness methods or barrier methods. We have pills, patches, vaginal rings, shots, IUDs, implants and permanent sterilization options. While each of these methods has its own profile of benefits, risks and side effects, the fact that we have so many options supports reproductive freedom in a way that allows as many people with periods as possible to achieve their goals.

Still, we have to discuss the potential side effects of hormonal birth control, such as stroke and blood clots. But, we also have to remember to weigh these risks against both the potential benefits of birth control (like regulated periods, decreased cramps and clearer skin), as well as the risk of what they seek to prevent: pregnancy, which comes with an even higher risk of blood clots and stroke than the pill.

People who take to social media to vilify all hormonal birth control think they are empowering, when in fact, they are doing the opposite. They present a one-sided attack from a skewed perspective that seeks to coerce through shame.

The result is incredibly disempowering.

So, when a TikTok video goes viral because one person had an awful experience with a certain birth control method, we can still validate that experience while also recognizing that it’s in the minority of cases.

We can validate them without generalizing or insinuating that all people will have the same experience. We can validate them without shaming others for choosing to pursue reproductive freedom. 

To be clear: Their experiences are valid independent of other’s experiences, their experiences are valid even if they’re in the minority and their experiences are valid without the need to shame others.

But a single experience is rarely the whole story.

While people deserve to know the downsides and risks, they also deserve to know the potential benefits so they can weigh that balance for themselves.

Reproductive freedom is not only about preventing or planning the timing of pregnancy, it’s also about providing women the opportunity they deserve to pursue the education and career path they want. To freely live their lives as healthy, sexual human beings.

@dr.staci.t

Stop shaming people for choosing birth control – it’s misinformed and harmful. #learnontiktok #tiktokpartner #birthcontrol #BeKind #choice

♬ original sound – Staci Tanouye, MD

The power of birth control choice is a freedom we should celebrate. Limiting those options by shaming people is incredibly disempowering.

What’s truly empowering is having the knowledge of all risks AND benefits in order to truly be able to make an informed decision for yourself.

If you found this article useful, learn about the things that can actually “cancel out” your birth control.

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