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How social media can lead to unplanned pregnancies

Influencers can be more persuasive and influential than traditional celebrities.

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Close up of woman sitting on pot holding pregnancy test stick. Young woman hands holding pregnancy stick with positive or negative result. Teenager girl waiting fir the result of a test in bathroom.
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By Alice Clifford via SWNS

Taking contraceptive advice from social media influencers could lead to unplanned pregnancies, warns a new study.

People who watch influencer videos are more likely to receive information about stopping hormonal contraception rather than advice on safe sex or how to use contraception, according to the findings.

Researchers say that is due to a high percentage of influencers on social media platforms talking about coming off hormonal birth control.

Social media influencers can have a profound impact on young people’s lives.

Previous studies suggest that influencers can be more persuasive and influential than traditional celebrities due to their relatability and accessibility.

People see them as highly trustworthy, with young women saying that influencers can seem like close sisters.

YouTube influencers are particularly likely to give out personal information, as it strengthens their bonds with followers.

While social media can be a valuable source of information, it can lead to a flood of misinformation.

Researchers from the University of Delaware analyzed numerous YouTube videos posted by influencers with up to 2.2 million followers.

They found 50 videos posted between December 2019 and December 2021 by influencers with 20,000-2.2 million followers.

The videos were analyzed to determine the influencers’ attitudes toward hormonal and non-hormonal birth control.

This included contraceptive pills, injections and implants, and non-hormonal versions, such as fertility tracker apps and condoms.

Most influencers talked about stopping hormonal birth control, with 92 percent saying they were using it or had used it.

Out of the influencers, 74 percent said they had discontinued, or planned to discontinue, it.

Their main reasons for stopping hormonal birth control were the desire to be more natural and to improve their mental health.

However, the study indicates that the connection between depression and hormonal birth control is still unclear.

Some 40 percent of the influencers said they were using or had used, non-hormonal birth control, with fertility trackers being the most popular method.

Displeased frustrated African American woman looks stressfully at pregnancy test, finds out she will become mother, looks desperately at result. Close up shot of young lady has problems with fertility
(Cast Of Thousands via Shutterstock)

Influencers liked non-hormonal birth control because they felt it was more natural, with fewer side effects and it was more cost-effective.

Lead author and doctoral student Emily Pfender described some of the information as “potentially harmful," with the popularity of fertility trackers being a concern.

She said: “Tracking cycles may not be as effective at preventing pregnancy as hormonal birth control.

“Additionally, what young viewers don’t see in influencer content is the amount of effort and meticulous planning that goes into tracking cycles.

“For example, to use the cycle tracking method as intended, women must faithfully measure basal body temperature and viscosity of cervical fluid at the same time every day, track cycle lengths to calculate their fertile window and refrain from having sex on specific days of their cycle.”

Few of the influencers who discontinued a hormonal contraceptive said they had switched to an alternative method.

Only 20 percent had started a non-hormonal contraceptive and 14 percent had started a different hormonal one.

Ms. Pfender said: “The discontinuation of hormonal birth control is risky because it increases the likelihood of unplanned pregnancy.

“Influencers’ videos that discourage the use of a highly effective option for birth control and fail to encourage using other forms of protection to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections are a public health issue.”

However, there were limits to the study. These included a lack of information about who was watching the videos, whether some age groups found them more persuasive than others and if the keywords used to search for the videos picked up all the relevant examples.

Ms. Pfender added: “Getting sexual health information from social media gives young adults the opportunity to get peer perspectives and seek out relatable information.

“It is an especially good way for underrepresented groups such as LGBTQ+ young adults to get tailored sexual health information.

“It is important, however, that young people critically evaluate the health information they receive on social media and the source of the information.

“They should be skeptical of taking a one-size-fits-all approach to health based on the information we find online.”

The study was published in the journal Health Communication.

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