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This App Was Just Approved By The FDA As Contraception

Photo by Milles Studio
August 15, 2018

To many of us, the idea of ditching our birth control pill for an app seems pretty out there. But it might actually be a viable option! The FDA just approved1 a fertility tracker, called Natural Cycles, as a form of contraception. And for the many, many women who experience unwanted side effects from hormonal contraceptives—like the Pill and the IUD—this could represent a whole new era of birth control.

You've probably already heard chatter about fertility trackers like Clue, Daysy, and Natural Cycles—which are all gaining popularity by the minute among women who are looking to prevent or plan a pregnancy, or simply get more in touch with their bodies. They're all a little different, but the gist is that you enter data into the app, and it uses a complex algorithm to predict things like when you'll ovulate, when you'll get your period, when you're fertile, and when you might experience certain symptoms.

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Natural Cycles, specifically, works by keeping track of your cycle length and daily basal body temperature, which is taken using a special thermometer every morning before you get out of bed. You can also take LH tests to confirm ovulation and add symptoms you might be experiencing. With all this information, the app is able to detect the temperature spike that occurs during ovulation and predict a woman's window of fertility, which extends a few days on either side of ovulation. When a woman is fertile, the app will notify her and she can either abstain from sex or use a backup form of brith control, like condoms. If you're surprised to learn that you can only get pregnant certain days in your cycle—you're not alone. It's an incredibly common misconception. But research shows that our fertility window is only about six days long.

That all makes sense, but you still might be wondering if you can actually rely on this technology as your birth control. And how does it stack up to the Pill or IUD? The research is promising and this FDA approval adds more credibility to the idea of using these apps to prevent pregnancy. When we talk about how well a birth control works (something known as its effectiveness rate), there are two important things to consider. The first is its "perfect use" effectiveness rate, which represents how well it's been shown to work if there is no human error at all (i.e., condoms breaking or accidentally forgetting to take your pill). The other is their "actual use" effectiveness rate, which accounts for all of that human error. Clinical trials have shown that, when used perfectly, Natural Cycles has a 98 percent effectiveness rate and a 92.5 percent effective with actual use2. To compare, the pill has a 99 percent effectiveness rate for perfect use and a 91 percent actual use effectiveness rate and the IUD is 99 percent effective across the board. In other words, Natural Cycles seems to stack up when you compare it to other common forms of birth control (especially the Pill) and has the added bonus of being side-effect-free and completely natural.

So while you might not jump at the idea of trading in your prescription medication for this new technology, it's worth knowing about and maybe even exploring—especially if your current birth control method has left you wanting. There are more clinical trials currently being conducted on similar technologies (one of them, Dot, is being tested at Georgetown University). Women have long been searching for an effective, hormone-free, completely natural form of birth control, and this new group of technologies just might be it.

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