Many women use the patch as a method of contraception. This birth control prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones into your bloodstream that keep your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation).
However, the patch only comes in nude forms compatible with white skin tones. This can mean it stands out on Black women and other women of colour who may wish to be more discreet.
Researchers from University College London, plus the Decolonising Contraception group, looked at the views and experiences of Black people when accessing sexual and reproductive health services.
They found that Black women might have reservations about the patch due to its visibility on their skin.
One of the respondents said: “The only issue I have with the patch is that it’s nude. And this is not really friendly for the tone of Black skin.
“If a white woman uses the patch, you can still see it, but it’s less noticeable. If a Black woman uses the patch, it’s just like a nude sticker on your arm, which is pretty easy to guess what it is. And although a lot of us use contraception, this doesn’t mean you want someone to just instantly see it on you and be able to identify that you’re using a particular type of contraceptive.”
The respondent questioned why the patches couldn’t just be made clear to suit a wider range of skin tones.
“It just shows to me that Black women or women of colour are just not important,” she said. “It’s not important for anybody to change anything about a contraceptive that was created obviously in an idealistic view of it being skin tone, but there are different skin tones, so why are we not changing this? It’s one of the things that really, really bugs me, it really shows you how certain parts of the health services are just not for Black women.”
And she’s not alone in the thinking. The Black Voices research project found that there are extra barriers for Black people in healthcare which are rooted in structural, institutional, and interpersonal racism.
It’s not the first time questions of visibility have been raised in healthcare. Plasters (band-aids), also made to match skin tones, up until recently came in colours suitable for white skin. Stoma bags are another device catering to white skin instead of a diverse range.
But these things matter, because a lack of visibility and representation was a recurrent thread in the research. Respondents said better representation is needed in clinic staffing at all levels, as well as in research, on posters, websites and health promotion materials.
They said a patient-centred approach should be holistic, flexible and collaborative, and service users should receive timely, confidential, non-judgmental access to care that addresses their needs.
Their research showed that Black people, as for all service users, want to feel welcomed, comfortable, listened to and supported to make decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health.
Making the contraceptive patch more inclusive is vital – but it’s really just the start.