Article by Kimberly Gillan, Coach. Republished with permission.
Plenty of pregnancy-seeking women use fertility apps to try help them pinpoint their most fertile days each month, but can you use the same logic to protect you from unwanted pregnancy?
Women only have about six fertile days each month, which happen right before ovulation. So if you can predict when you ovulate and avoid sex on the preceding days, then the logic goes that you'll remain childless.
Women have been using the Billings method of contraception for centuries, monitoring changes in their cervical mucus and body temperature (your temperature rises after you have ovulated) as well as calendar dates to determine their most fertile days – and now you can use modern technology to help with this process.
The Natural Cycles app hit headlines last year when it was approved as an effective form of contraception by European Union health authorities who said that, with a 93 percent success rate, it was similar to the pill.
But with 37 unwanted pregnancies reported to Swedish authorities from women relying on the app as a contraceptive, questions have been raised about whether apps cut the contraceptive mustard.
The app's developer, Swedish nuclear physicist Elina Burgland Scherwitzl, says she couldn't find a natural contraceptive that suited her. So she developed an algorithm to help her pinpoint her most fertile days, analysing her past cycles and body temperature to determine her "red" days (abstain from sex or use condoms) or green days (go forth and get jiggy).
She turned it into Natural Cycles, which gets users to record their temperature each morning and track their cycle to give them an idea of when they should avoid having unprotected sex if they don't want to get pregnant.
It sounds good in theory but Kathleen McNamee, Family Planning Victoria Medical Director, says women's cycles can change and you might ovulate later than expected and end up with a surprise bun in the oven.
"The problem that we find with apps is that for most cycles they are probably going to be okay. But you never know when you're about to throw out an early or late ovulation and apps don't really allow for that," McNamee tells Coach.
"Checking the temperature does help because it goes up after ovulation but it often leaves you with a reasonably long time when you can't have sex."
In Australia, the pill is billed as 99 percent effective when used correctly, but if you forget a pill or vomit or have diarrhoea then it drops to only 91 percent effective.
According to The Guardian, the Natural Cycles app's 93 percent effectiveness basically means that for every 100 women using the app, seven will experience an unwanted pregnancy.
McNamee understands that some women have had negative side effects from hormonal contraceptives, such as the pill, implanon or injection, or don't like the idea of using artificial hormones so seek a natural contraception option.
"The copper IUD can be a really good choice because there are no hormones in that," she says.
"The Mirena hormonal IUD is actually quite a low dose of hormone and is basically going into your womb rather than your system and is something we talk to women about trying."
For others, using condoms until they have ovulated provides some peace of mind.
"Some people might use condoms in the first half of their cycle and then not use condoms after they have a temperature rise," McNamee says.
"But it's not completely accurate because your temperature can go up for other reasons too."