Fertility and Facebook – Monash University at the helm of research in the digital age

Dr Sara Holton, a Research Fellow from the Monash University’s Jean Hailes Research Unit (JHRU) in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, has had her pioneering Facebook hosted...

Dr Sara Holton, a Research Fellow from the Monash University’s Jean Hailes Research Unit (JHRU) in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, has had her pioneering Facebook hosted research published in the Interactive Journal of Medical Research. The research investigated the complexities of managing fertility in Australia.

The innovative social media based study advertised, recruited and was rolled out using Facebook; participants were added to a closed group and the research team prompted the discussion with questions posted to the group’s Facebook page about pregnancy, contraception and related health services.

“Our study was innovative in that we used Facebook as the platform for the online discussion group we facilitated. We demonstrated that Facebook is an effective method to gain insights into public opinion about sexual and reproductive health,” Dr Holton said.

The paper reports findings from JHRU’s recent Fertility Management project that identifies the barriers Australians face when managing their fertility including the cost of fertility services, accessing contraception and limited knowledge about sex and reproduction.

“Australia faces the paradoxical problems of high rates of unintended pregnancy and of infertility, and many Australians do not achieve their reproductive preferences. We know that most Australians want to have children, yet little is known about how contemporary Australians of reproductive age manage fertility,” Dr Holton said.

Small group discussions regarding how Australians manage their fertility were held and it became apparent that Facebook would be an ideal way to do undertake the research project.

“Australia has one of the highest rates of smartphone use worldwide and we are keen adopters of technology. Facebook was very easy to use and very beneficial in conducting sensitive health-related research – we wanted to capitalise on these facts to the benefit of our research and reach a wide range of participants,” Dr Holton said.

Four main themes about fertility management were identified: access; geographical location; knowledge; and cost. Participants reported that young people and people from rural areas face barriers accessing contraception and fertility services. Limited knowledge about sex and reproduction and the cost of fertility services and contraception were also said to impede effective fertility management.

“A key finding was that people consider their levels of knowledge about sex and reproduction inaccurate and inadequate for their needs.

“This confirms existing evidence of considerable knowledge gaps including low awareness of when women are most fertile; naivety about the likelihood of experiencing fertility difficulties; and the inadequacy of school-based sex education in topics such as emergency contraception, fertility, and pregnancy,” Dr Holton said.

The study found that the out-of-pocket costs of long-acting reversible contraception may be unaffordable for many women and that relative social disadvantage was associated with significantly increased odds of unintended pregnancy.

Dr Holton hopes to work with JHRU’s research partners to further investigate some of the study’s interesting findings, such as the misperceptions about long-acting reversible contraceptives.