Natural Cycles: Would you trust an app to tell you if you’re fertile? Because it might be the future

Natural Cycles: Would you trust an app to tell you if you’re fertile?  Because it might be the future

Katherine spends 30 seconds with a thermometer under her tongue every morning. It measures your temperature and records the result in an app on your phone. After a minute, your screen will flash one of two colors: crimson red or bright emerald. The latter lets her know that she is not fertile. The former means you have and you should use protection if you have sex that day. The 30-year-old man uses natural cycles; the first contraceptive application approved by the US FDA. Think of it as working like a standard period tracking app, only powered by a very personal algorithm.

Natural Cycles allows users to plan or prevent pregnancy, and prevention is most popular among young women. However, there are some complications (and disclaimers) about the app that you should know first. The user’s basal temperature – or the warmth of their body when completely at rest – should be recorded every morning as soon as they wake up. This means that there is no need to snooze the alarm. You can’t have a drink, leave your bed, or even get off your pillow before reading. What’s more, the app advises users to skip submitting a reading if they’ve consumed alcohol the night before. Or if they feel sick or if they wake up two hours earlier or later than usual.

The mobile app, which costs £59.99 a year or £8.99 a month, was licensed in the European Union in 2017. However, in the UK, the NHS does not recommend the app as a method of birth control. Natural Cycles claims it is 98% effective at preventing pregnancy with perfect use and 93% with average use. It currently has 2 million users worldwide, and it’s likely to come: it’s being rolled out globally amid the support of many influencers. You probably won’t miss ads on your Instagram or TikTok feed these days.

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Fresh I’m a celebrity… Get me out of here contestant Olivia Attwood promoted Natural Cycles as well as The only way is Essex‘s Amber Turner and Married at first sightJessica Power. The common feature of the advertisements is that the influencer refers to the unifying belief of women who used contraceptives in the past: hormones are garbage. Horror stories of painful IUD coil insertions, never-ending periods, and mood swings caused by birth control pills are commonplace. “I tried so many pills when I was younger,” Attwood wrote in a promotional post for the app. “For me it was terrible, I had mood swings, I had migraines. I tried other options, but I found them uncomfortable. So when I found @naturalcycles I was like oh my gosh this is like the golden ticket.

Jana Abelovska, supervising pharmacist at Click Pharmacy, explains that more young women are rejecting traditional hormonal birth control options because they are fed up with the side effects. Common contraceptives, including the coil IUD or the combined pill, can cause a number of difficulties, such as headaches, mood swings, weight gain, breakouts, and nausea. “Hormonal contraceptives [like the IUD coil or combined pill] it can even lead to increased blood pressure and decreased sex drive,” adds Abelovska. For many Natural Cycles users, the app appears to be a much-needed alternative.

Katherine began receiving targeted ads from Natural Cycles on her Instagram feed last year. Like Attwood, she decided to try the app after a difficult experience with the birth control pill. “I had been pumping hormones into my body for over 12 years and decided it was time to take a break,” she says. He says his experience has been positive. “[Natural Cycles] more in tune with my body. I am now noticing a difference in my stomach like bloating [before my period]and pains in my breasts and ovaries.”

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From a health point of view, it is easier to choose the traditional form of birth control

Elizabeth King is a fertility expert

However, there is a risk that such exhaustive social media marketing can be misleading as to the effectiveness of the application. Nic, 25, used Natural Cycles for six months until she became pregnant and had to have an abortion. “I really liked the idea of ​​Natural Cycles,” she says, “but after I had an abortion, which was a tragic process for me, I would not have returned to the app.

Nic decided to go off hormonal birth control after a decade of taking microgynons, or combined birth control pills. She says it affected her mental health so much that she felt like a different person. The IUD also wasn’t helpful and made her periods “irregular,” she says. Natural Cycles seemed to be the only option left. While Nic admits he didn’t feed the Natural Cycles algorithm as precisely or consistently as he should have, he found the process challenging, especially compared to swallowing a small pill every day. “It’s all tricky,” he says. “The first thing you should do when you wake up is take your temperature and record it at that moment.” A light-touch approach to fertility seems built-in.

THE British Medical Journal An open study published in 2018 by scientists working with Natural Cycles found that using the app was most successful for those who opted out of less effective methods — including condoms, which are about 87 percent effective with average use. Fertility expert Elizabeth King recommends that those trying to prevent pregnancy using Natural Cycles also use a condom, just in case “the algorithm isn’t accurate.” She suggests that if a person records accurate information correctly, this method of fertility awareness can be effective for many people. “[But] if it’s your only form of birth control, I wouldn’t say the app is 100 percent effective.”

Chief Pharmacist Abelovska agrees, adding that the body’s core temperature must be carefully measured so that the algorithm is correct and the result of the application is effective. It also encourages users to use a condom for extra protection. “If users miss a temperature reading, contraception such as condoms must be used to avoid accidental pregnancy while the app’s algorithm corrects itself.”

A Natural Cycles representative said in a statement that the app’s “real-life effectiveness rates are consistent with our published rates. I can also confirm that the failure rate of our green day algorithm method when the user is fertile is 0.5 percent. This means that less than one in 100 women will get pregnant because of it. We are proud of this efficiency, which is regularly audited as a medical device and we consider it high.”

Will we see apps like Natural Cycles become widely accepted and treated as a form of birth control? King doesn’t think so. He believes health professionals will be reluctant to recommend fertility awareness methods, primarily because of how difficult it is for people to track their daily cycles and temperatures. “From a health perspective,” she says, “it’s easier to choose traditional forms of birth control, such as the pill or hormonal options.”

Contraceptive methods do not come without objections. Unfortunately, no form of birth control will be 100 percent effective or without side effects. But despite its vaguely dystopian optics, Natural Cycles isn’t as creepy as it seems. If anything, it’s little more than a digitized version of the “fertility awareness method”—or, arguably, the oldest birth control method in the book that existed long before the invention of the condom or the coil. However, it remains to be seen whether users will love it enough to make prone and fussy data entry part of their daily ritual.

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