A non-hormonal and non-invasive method of contraception was once the stuff of myths. A contraceptive that doesn’t involve rubber, copper or hormones – how could that be?!?! But, due to advances in technology, there has been a surge in the popularity of natural planning methods lately, particularly with the emergence of fertility app – Natural Cycles. The app seems pretty impressive. Not only does it boast a very high effectiveness rate, but it is the first app approved for contraception in Europe and has been sanctioned by certification body, Tuv Sud.
On its website, Natural Cycles says that when it comes to pregnancy prevention, it’s more effective than a condom, less effective than an IUD and is just as effective as the pill. The app uses a thermometer and a specially designed algorithm (designed by Nobel Prize winning physicist, Dr Elina Bergglund and her husband Dr Raoul Scherwitzl,) to determine a women’s fertile and non-fertile days. For optimum accuracy, women are told to take their temperature every morning and enter it into the app. Due to our slight temperature changes of up to 0.45C after ovulation; the app can figure out all of the days we will be fertile. Clever!
I was intrigued when I first heard of this app. As someone with polycystic ovaries and an extreme sensitivity to hormonal changes, I had been dreaming for a new contraceptive method to swoop in and save us all from the Middle Ages, or as I call it – the era of the pill. I had considered a non-hormonal IUD, however a couple of unusual horror stories on the internet and a pretty invasive insertion procedure managed to dissuade me. I have a long-term boyfriend, so STDs are not an issue right now, however pregnancy prevention is the name and game for me. After all, a twenty-four-year-old with only £70 in the bank a week before pay day, (yet still finds justification for an impulse Zara purchase,) should not be trusted to raise a bub.
With all of that said, I decided to try it out. On one of my first mornings of using the app, I wanted to check that the thermometer was recording my temperature accurately and not just spurting out random numbers; so I made my partner check his temperature too. Luckily, my fears of a dud thermometer were put to rest when I learned you can ‘calibrate’ your thermometer through the app whenever you want, to make sure it’s working correctly. One of my other worries was the fear of everlasting sperm. I’m not kidding. As I was told in sex ed at school, sperm are sneakily resilient and can actually live for days and days. They might even have the audacity to impregnate you, days after you let your guard down. Sly buggers. But, the app has thought of that too! After a bit more online reading, I discovered that it factors ‘sperm survival’ into its algorithm.
However, after about a month of using the app, I became frustrated by the number of red days (fertile) and green days (non-fertile) as they were about neck in neck. I thought this app was meant to make things easier! But, after about another six weeks, I had only 9 red days in my month! Basically, as the algorithm gets to know your cycle, it becomes more and more confident in its assessment of when you’re ovulating.
At this point, I was pretty sold. I asked *Jenna, 26, if she would ever consider trying the Natural Cycles app, however she remained sceptical of the whole natural planning method, let alone trusting an app with her fertility: “I am happy that there is another option for women out there, but this would not be for me.”
I probed her further and asked whether any other contraception options were more up her alley: “Condoms are a pretty gross and are an ancient form of contraception, but I don’t feel like any of the contraceptive methods out there are particularly desirable to be honest. Everything sounds like a hassle, uncomfortable or suspicious. I think my go-to would be the pill, as it seems the simplest to start, use and stop; even though it comes with serious side effect baggage.”
Despite a bleak shelf of contraceptives to choose from, Jenna said she still couldn’t be persuaded into trying the app:“I’ve never really fancied ‘experimenting’ with this aspect of my body. Also, I don’t want to be invested in a routine of having to test my temperature first thing every morning. I don’t want to have to consider my sex life, let alone fertility that early every day.”
I have to admit, for me, it’s a slight bother to have to check my temperature every morning. But, I don’t find it any more inconvenient than having to remember to take a pill at the same time every day.
I’m now three months in to using the app, and I’m not sure if I trust it 100%. It seems to predict my period well enough, and has been successful so far. But every now and then, the uncertainties set in. I mean, how accurate is it really? Maybe that’s the problem, I still feel like I don’t know enough about the science behind it. I don’t know if I can trust the experts to predict my fertility changes, when I know my body to be a bit of a hormonal rollercoaster. I’ll happily eat food without asking what’s in it and I’ll go outside without checking if it’ll rain. I’m happy to leave so many things up to chance; yet I don’t feel that blasé about my reproductive health.
My main concern is my slight insecurity with this app, the ‘what if’ factor. Natural Cycles says you should take your temperature as soon as you wake up, but you should disregard your results on days that you’re hungover, sick, or did not get your normal amount of sleep. But how hungover is too hungover to include a temperature reading? Can I go to the bathroom as soon as I wake up if I’m busting to go? Or does getting out of bed ruin the thermometer’s read? What if the smallest inaccuracy or oversight on my part leads to an unwanted pregnancy? Much like the pill, this method strongly depends on the user’s diligence. I am quite the Sceptical Sally when it comes to women’s health, and I myself am the product of a contraceptive that failed due to human error, (thanks Mum!)
It’s great that there’s more and more contraceptive options with high success rates becoming available for women. However, as it stands for contraceptives in 2017, it seems you still have to deal with the health risks associated with hormonal contraceptives, invasive contraceptives like IUDs, or the constant risk of human error. For me, I’m going to continue using the app, at least for now. It’s working so far, and I think benefits currently outweigh the risks, (knock on wood.)