Online communication groups can increase positive attitudes towards contraceptive methods
Peers are an influential source for information on types of birth control and people often consider them more trustworthy than clinicians. Peers are also more likely to discuss their negative experiences with birth control methods, meaning people may be missing out on information about the benefits of certain methods. Creating opportunities to communicate with users who are satisfied with their birth control method can shift the balance of the available social information of a given method.
New research from the Person-Centered Reproductive Health Program examined the role of online exposure to opinions from satisfied users of a less common method, the intrauterine device (IUD). Researchers created an online discussion group community called Birth Control Connect in which individuals using IUDs could discuss their lived experiences with nonusers. They studied the impact it had on the knowledge and attitude of IUD non-users towards this method
After two weeks of using the online group chat, IUD nonusers who communicated with IUD users reported an increase in positive attitudes about IUDs. The difference in attitude was slightly greater for hormonal IUDs than nonhormonal IUDs. A majority of individuals who were unfamiliar with IUDs before participating in the online chat groups reported knowing more about IUDs after the two weeks. People who hadn’t used an IUD who spoke with IUD users more frequently agreed that the discussions gave them new information and helped them learn what it would be like to have an IUD. These findings show that internet-based communication like Birth Control Connect can help spread information about lesser-known birth control methods and increase awareness.
While this study used IUDs as an example, its promising results show that it can serve as a model for future research for other birth control methods. The research team encourages future research to use existing social media platforms to assess the impact of peer-based information on contraceptive methods, foster conversations on a wider range of birth control methods and include a more representative range of experiences with the methods. This form of contraceptive education can also lead to more patient-centered contraceptive choice. Because it occurs outside of the clinical environment, it avoids the inherent power dynamics between provider and patient that can lead to pushing patients toward particular methods. By allowing a space for peers to communicate about their positive experiences with a specific method, people can receive and weigh information, and ultimately make their contraceptive choice on their own terms.