Should You Ditch Your Birth Control & Use an App Instead?

Sep 3, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. ET
Image: Getty Images

If you’ve ever taken a spin through the world of birth-control apps, you know that there are approximately 1 million options, all of which promise to track your period and your fertility with reliable precision. How do you know which to pick? Is it the one your friends are using? The one with the best reviews? How about the one with certification by an internationally governing organization?

Natural Cycles is a birth-control app with the distinction of being the first to be certified as a contraceptive method by the European Union. You take your temperature in the morning and enter it into the app, and Natural Cycles’ algorithm tells you whether or not you need to use protection on that day. It’s essentially natural family planning managed by your phone. Sound good? Before you download it or any birth control app, though, read on.

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Experts such as Dr. Victoria Jennings, director and principal investigator of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University are urging women to be pragmatic when relying on apps such as Natural Cycles to do their family planning.

For one, EU certification and FDA certification do not meet the same criteria. The CE (abbreviation for the French term meaning European Conformity) is delegated based on safety, whereas the FDA, while concerned with safety, also looks into how effective the product is. The FDA has yet to approve Natural Cycles.

Jennings recommends anyone who’s considering using an app for birth control approach the process with care. “You really have to do your research beyond what appears on the first page of the reviews,” she explains.

While consumers should be careful due to a lack of standards (any app can arrive in the app store; there’s little regulation), it’s not that all apps are useless. “It’s important to acknowledge that many are trying hard to do the research about safety and efficacy,” says Jennings, “but often, claims are being made before the full process of research has happened.”

It’s also not that apps that operate based on natural family-planning methods are bad, although according to Jennings, there is skepticism about natural family planning, even in the reproductive health community.

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“There’s a bias against methods a woman can use on her own without intervention because of the emphasis on hyper-medicalization,” explains Jennings.

That being said, if you’re going to use a fertility app that’s based on natural family planning, you should know what you’re getting into.

In the case of Natural Cycles, you need to take your basal body temperature (the temperature you have when you’re fully at rest) daily. In order to get an accurate temperature, you have to do so first thing in the morning before doing anything else, which could prove a difficult habit to form and maintain, especially given variables. (What if you have to pee in the middle of the night?)

“There are natural family-planning apps that are helpful and promote fertility awareness, and we should be positive about them,” Jennings says. One such app that’s similar to Natural Cycles but is currently undergoing a rigorous efficacy study is Dot. The main requirement of this app is that you enter your period start date.

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Only you can decide if a fertility app is right for you, and if you do opt for one, you should proceed thoughtfully and cautiously since the consequences of the app failing are pretty significant to say the least. The bottom line? “Different people want different methods,” concludes Jennings. “Everyone should be able to have what they want, but make sure to look before you leap.”

By Chanel Dubofsky

Originally published on HelloFlo.