Press Release: Reddit yields new information about how people make personal decisions about abortion—and how the internet shapes their decisions

Press Release: Reddit yields new information about how people make personal decisions about abortion—and how the internet shapes their decisions (6/30/2021)

CORE: The Collaborative for Reproductive Equity
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Contact: Samantha Herndon


Press Release: Reddit yields new information about how people make personal decisions about abortion—and how the internet shapes their decisions

A new article published by a team of researchers at the UW-Madison Collaborative for Reproductive Equity (CORE) innovatively studied Reddit users to cast a revealing light on the barriers facing people as they choose whether to have an in-clinic abortion or a pill abortion at home. The study, published in the prestigious American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, studied Reddit users’ posts about their abortion experiences, revealing four key themes:

  • Structural Barriers, such as concerns about cost and transportation;
  • Emotional Experiences, such as desiring the support of the clinic staff in cases where a pregnant person did not have family or friend support;
  • Pregnancy Profiles, such as when someone has an underlying medical condition;
  • Process-Specific Concerns, such as the length of the appointment.

CORE Researchers Laura Jacques, MD, Emma Carpenter, PhD, Taryn Valley, MA, Barbara Alvarez, MS, and Jenny Higgins, PhD, MPH turned to Reddit to better understand how pregnant people who want an abortion decide what type of abortion care to choose. Reddit, a website used by nearly a quarter of US-based young adults, with over two million user-created message boards, provides a unique source of information. Online anonymity may make the internet appealing for those seeking abortion information, and anonymity is a key feature of Reddit.

Barring specific medical reasons in the first trimester, people can select the abortion method that feels most comfortable to them. An in-clinic abortion involves a brief procedure and is often performed in outpatient clinics. A pill abortion can be accomplished in people’s own home, but in many states, including Wisconsin, patients are required to make one or more visits to a clinic to obtain medications and/or follow-up care. Some Reddit users expressed a preference for being in a health clinic setting with professional providers present, while others wanted the privacy of their own homes.

The novel use of social media as a source of information about patient decision making offers a unique opportunity for researchers to capture the thoughts and experiences of people who have not yet or may never make it to a clinic. The study presents a new source of data for researchers going forward that can inform abortion policy, information, and provision of care.


The Collaborative for Reproductive Equity (CORE) is an initiative within the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. CORE investigators conduct rigorous, interdisciplinary research focused on reproductive health, equity, and autonomy in Wisconsin, and beyond. Visit to learn more about our research.


JAMA Press Release

Press Release for JAMA Internal Medicine Publication, April 2021

Samantha Herndon
CORE: Collaborative for Reproductive Equity
University of Wisconsin-Madison

When It Comes to Contraceptive Use, Sexual Impacts Matter: UW-Madison CORE Director Jenny Higgins and Colleagues Publish New Study in JAMA Internal Medicine

This week at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Professor and CORE Director Jenny Higgins and colleagues published a new article in JAMA Internal Medicine, a major peer-reviewed journal put out by the American Medical Association. The paper is titled Association Between Patients’ Perceptions of the Sexual Acceptability of Contraceptive Methods and Continued Use Over Time.” 

Contraception, which is one of the most commonly used healthcare products in the United States, is a sexual product and not just a public health good: it allows people to engage in sexual activity without experiencing unwanted pregnancies. But contraceptive research, education, and clinical care rarely consider the birth control’s sexual acceptability—that is, how contraceptives affect people’s sexual experiences, and how those effects may shape use over time. 

Higgins and colleagues’ new study in JAMA Internal Medicine sheds light on this important issue–and suggests that contraceptives’ effects on people’s sex lives can have major consequences for birth control practices. 

Led by CORE Director Jenny Higgins, a research team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Utah conducted a study of 2,000 people who started a new contraceptive method and could switch or discontinue their method at any time for free. They found that at one month, about half of contraceptive clients reported that their method had led to a positive impact on their sex life (26% said it “improved my sex life a lot,” 27% “improved my sex life a little), 30% reported no sexual change, and one in six reported a negative sexual impact (2% said it “has made my sex life a lot worse,” 14% “has made my sex life a little worse”). 

The team then examined how these sexual impacts at one month helped predict people’s continued use of their contraceptive method at six months. They found that those who reported a negative impact on their sex life were upwards of three times as likely to discontinue or switch their method compared to people who reported a positive sexual impact. And this effect on contraceptive use over time was much stronger than factors that we more commonly consider: changes in vaginal bleeding, physical side effects such as headaches or bloating, and psychological side effects such as changes in mood. 

“Our study shows that people’s sexual experiences of their contraceptive method seem to matter a lot in whether people like their method and use it over time,” said Higgins, the study’s lead author. “It’s important that we pay more attention to sexual acceptability in our contraceptive research, clinical care, and education.” For example, both clinicians and educators could emphasize that patients’ sexual experiences of their methods are important and encourage them to find a method that works for them, sexually and otherwise. “It’s also great news that contraception seems to have a positive sexual impact on so many people’s sex lives,” Higgins said. “And I urge those people who think their method is a sexual detractor to keep trying other methods—they deserve to find one that they like!” 


CORE, the Collaborative for Reproductive Equity, is a research center within the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Wisconsin’s flagship Madison campus. CORE investigators conduct and translate rigorous, interdisciplinary research to inform policies and programs so that all people in Wisconsin have access to the full range of high-quality, evidence-based reproductive health information and services.