Back when I started this blog there was no such thing as a birth control app.
Yes yes, there were tracking apps and technology such as the lady comp but stand alone apps intended for use as birth control by themselves weren’t quite a thing.
The fact that these apps are now quickly coming onto the scene, being studied, and getting press is AWESOME. That means there is a lot more interest in ditching birth control and learning about your body. Always a good thing.
However, with the recent news blitz about the natural cycles app I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions. Is it legit? Too good to be true? Am I losing anything by going with an app instead of learning something like the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness?
So let’s dig into these issues, shall we?
Are these apps legit?
Awesomely enough, there is science behind these apps. BUT, and this is a kind of big but, so far the studies have only been done retrospectively. That means that they have compiled past data to get their stats rather than recruiting people before use of the app began and studying their efficacy rate.
That means that the science can succumb to recall bias, among other things, and isn’t the gold standard for efficacy studies.
Regardless, the efficacy should not be too far off from what is advertised.
The other thing you want to look out for is participant cycle length and age. Some apps have only been studied for those with certain cycle lengths, so if that’s the case for the app you want to use, make sure you fit those parameters!
For example, the Natural Cycles app study was done on those from 20-35 years old, meaning teenagers and 35+ can not rely on the stated efficacy. However, they did not control for cycle length, coming off hormones, or the like, which is common to do in studies of methods that are partially calendar-based.
The ladycomp, which is the same technology as the daysy, is another notable in the “done for you” technology category. Similarly to natural cycles, their study is done retrospectively with a survey from users who purchased the device. They have similar methodology and results, though one notable fact from their study is that those with a BMI over 24 have a statistically significant increased risk of pregnancy (this likely being due to more irregularity in cycles of those with a higher BMI, so if your cycles are irregular it could apply to you).
If you’ve been around here for a while, you know that I loooove the sympto-thermal method. I think including cervical fluid in a fertility awareness practice really brings in a great amount of body literacy and a lot more info about hormonal health (not to mention a bit better efficacy). However, there are a couple times I can see a huge benefit to using an app or electronic device.
First, use effectiveness (meaning not perfect use) tends to be pretty low with most technology. I think this is due to users putting a lot of confidence in the technology and seeing something plain as day telling you you are safe or unsafe tends to make you pay attention. The sympto-thermal method also seems to have good use-efficacy, but the data is a little more lacking in that department since studies have primarily been done with highly motivated individuals.
The second thing is that it’s just plain more simple. Some people get literal cold-sweats thinking about checking and charting cervical fluid and taking the responsibility into their own hands
I think there are two primary drawbacks, but if you identify with the benefits above, the drawbacks may not mean much to you.
The first is the ability to have a new skill and it be completely your own rather than reliance on a piece of equipment. This can make you feel more sound in your method due to not having to worry about, say, forgetting the device or breakage causing you to temporarily have no idea what’s going on.
The second is the overall empowerment. I’d say that the tech devices certainly can be and are empowering for many people, but I do think that there is a deeper level of empowerment that comes with knowing more about your cycles and hormones that you get with the sympto thermal method.
The third is that there can be more potentially fertile days since there is less precision with the opening of the fertile window, as there is with the sympto-thermal method.
And something cool
You know how I said a lot of this science has been done retrospectively? Well, there is an app that is working on a prospective study right now! Unfortunately, this method is more (/completely? I’m still not entirely sure after reading their material.) calendar based and is only good for those with cycles 20-40 days long.
I believe they have now finished recruiting for the study, but you can see more at their website.
Check out the studies for yourself here:
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/13625187.2016.1154143 <natural cycles