From condoms to implants to vaginal rings to the pill, for many women, deciding what contraceptive to take is a minefield. Unfortunately it's usually a test and learn process that is not very pleasant, and the only way you can find out side effects from the pill is by asking your doctor – who can only relay his/her patient’s experiences. Or by asking their group of friends, and we all know one friend's experience with one contraceptive is sometimes the complete opposite to another's. Both are useful, but small sample sizes.
This is why we're so excited to introduce you to Alice Pelton, Co-Founder of The Lowdown, the world's first review platform for contraception: www.theldown.com. They're on a mission to make contraception easier to choose, access and use! Check out our Q&A with Alice below!
Thank you so much for speaking with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself....
I’m Alice - I’ve spent most of my career working in digital product and strategy at News UK. Throughout my twenties I really struggled with side effects from The Pill - and decided to build and launch the world’s first review platform for contraception theldown.com. Now I’m working with my Co-Founder David to transform the world of contraception!
I was very impressed with the community you've built (over 2,500 reviews in a year!) in the space of a very short time, it goes to show The Lowdown is tackling a real issue women face every day. What made you want to start The Lowdown and why?
We’ve collected over 200,000 data points on people’s experiences with contraception - and our traffic has organically grown sixfold since December. This is a massively underserved area of women’s health and we speak to women every day who have problems making decisions about what to choose, or who have difficulties accessing high quality medical care or experience unwanted side effects
I started The Lowdown because I was also sick of side effects from contraception being minimised. It’s madness that women should have to waste so much time, money and effort navigating this minefield in the 21st century - struggling to get Doctor’s appointments, taking mornings off work for them, or not being able to access the method or brand they want. I wanted to do something to change this.
I also realised there was very little useful and accessible data in this space. The list of side effects in the Pill packet ('1 in 10 women are impacted’) is not helpful. At a higher level, I wanted to do something to close the gender data gap - and provide women with access to useful, user-based data to help inform their decision making.
How has the Lowdown helped women?
Lots of women love reading and searching through other women’s experiences before choosing or changing to a different method or brand of contraception. Whilst we appreciate everyone is different - our data gives women an indication of how their contraception may positively or negatively impact their mood, skin and periods and so much more.
The Lowdown has also helped reassure women that they are not alone. Our site and community is there for women to check whether other women have experienced the same thing.
We love educating women about how contraception works, and why it can change our minds and bodies the way it does. Understanding this, and our hormones, is fascinating and empowering!
Many women in Bloom have mentioned the pill has made them feel different and they have had to switch multiple times to find the right one. What have women said on The Lowdown?
In the UK finding the right Pill for you is a bit like playing a rigged game of russian roulette. The brand of Pill you are prescribed is impacted by where you live, the cost to the NHS, and its availability.
Lots of women come to us for help when switching Pill brands. There’s so much choice - we feature 38 different brands of Pill at The Lowdown. These pills contain one of 2 types of Estrogen, and/or one of 12 types of Progestogen. The types and amounts of these hormones can make a big difference to how they make women feel, and they all come with various side effects and benefits. Navigating and knowing which one to choose is currently too complicated - we want to change this.
This stat by The Lowdown is worrying, they discovered that 48% of their female reviewers found that their contraception negatively impacted their moods and emotions. How do we make sure that women are no longer negatively impacted by contraception?
Firstly, we need to gather data on these types of issues. And The Lowdown is one way of doing this.
Once we have data, we need to use it to encourage the science community to be open-minded and interested enough to fund more clinical research into this. The medical and scientific community has yet to prove (or agree) that there is a causal link between hormonal contraception and mental health - and there has been a lot of debate around the issue. But what’s the harm in researching this? Over 400m women globally use hormonal contraceptives. More than enough of us to warrant more research.
If a link is proven and accepted - the findings need to filter down to the local GP and medic level, so physicians are aware of and can inform women of these connections and potential risks when prescribing contraceptives.
I was listening to an interview you did on a podcast where you mentioned pharma companies have no incentive to make contraception better because it brings in a very small profit, can you tell us more about this and how The Lowdown plans to tackle this issue.
Unfortunately Pharmas aren’t very interested in developing or innovating in contraception. The main reason is money; contraceptives will never be able to be sold at the same prices as other types of drugs for things like cancer, autoimmune diseases and obesity. In 2018 US drug sales for hormonal contraceptives were $5.4bn in 2018; cancer drug sales were 10 times that - $58.4bn. This means there’s very little incentive for Pharmas to innovate or invest in developing new methods; currently the industry only funnels 2% of its annual revenues from contraceptives into R&D.
We’re constantly researching what the cost of dissatisfaction and stagnation in the industry is, and how it impacts both men and women. And tackling this by firstly having open conversations with Pharmas - sharing our findings with them, and using this to encourage them to innovate and set new standards. We are also supporting smaller biotech companies who are developing new contraceptives - helping them with user research, feedback and marketing.
For members of our community, how do you leave a review?
Just head to Lowdown reviews
What is the future for the Lowdown?
We’re currently building an app that will transform the way women choose, access and use their contraception. We are combining our data, with expert medical advice and a supportive community to save women time, hassle and embarrassment.
Eventually we want to be able to use our platform to give women the lowdown on all aspects of their health - from gynaecological disorders like Endo and PCOS, to broader support with their sexual health and wellness. Women are already telling us they want help with these things, and we want to be there for them the whole way through.