Should you trust a birth control app?
No hormones, no implants, and no baby. The rhythm method just got a high-tech makeover that sounds super appealing
YOUR GRANDMOTHER probably called it the rhythm method. But today there are a variety of fertility awareness-based methods ( FAM) – and thanks to technology, we’re once again talking about natural birth control. ‘ I’ve seen an increased interest among single women, married women, women of all faiths and backgrounds,’ says Dr Marguerite Duane, adjunct associate professor of family medicine at Georgetown University and cofounder of FACTS, a nonprofit dedicated to sharing the science around FAM. And it’s easy to see why, since hormones and implants can be a nuisance or come with side effects. According to Dr Duane, as long as you abstain from sex or use condoms during your babymaking window ( it varies woman to woman and by method but typically lasts 8 to 12 days), ‘ the rest of the time, you can have sex all day, every day, and not get pregnant.’
It may sound too good to be true, but FAM is increasingly backed by legit research. While past
generations mostly relied on marking down your period on a calendar and using math to estimate when you’d ovulate (hence the rhythm method’s high failure rate), the modern approach to FAM involves taking your temperature and observing changes in cervical mucus, which more accurately predict fertility.
A new crop of apps makes it easier than ever. One, Natural Cycles, was recently deemed as effective as the Pill by a clinical study. Earlier this year, it was certified by a European Union regulatory body as a method of contraception – although not yet here in Australia.
The failure rate of modern FAM is between 2 and 14 per cent with t ypical ( not always perfect) use according to the most recent study review. (The CDC’s failure rate, which still includes the oldschool rhythm method, is 24 per cent.) Condoms, by comparison, have an 18 per cent fail rate with typical use, and the Pill, 9 per cent.
FAM fails not when people have unprotected sex during their nonfertile window but when they misjudge or ignore their fertile window, says Dr Duane. The best fertility tracker apps can help reduce the margin of error. But beware: no app can safeguard you if you can’t commit to abstinence or strict condom use on all your fertile days.
The major drawback
Even if you are up for more than a week of abstinence or backup protection every month, FAM – like the Pill – does not protect against STIs. So make sure you and your partner test negative before signing up. Then enjoy the perks. ‘ FAM is free or lowcost and has no side effects,’ says Dr Katharine O’Connell White, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Boston University School of Medicine.
It may seem unlikely that a generation raised on pharmaceutical birth control could ever really trust pregnancy prevention to an app. But surveys suggest up to 60 per cent of contraceptiveusing US women (there aren’t any Aussie stats yet) are interested in learning more about it.
If you’re thinking of going allnatural, download an app and ask your gyno to show you how to assess your cervical f luid and any other markers you need to track. And before giving it a try, have an honest discussion with your partner. ‘ You both have to be able to respect the restrictions during your fertile period,’ says Dr White.
‘ LOOKS LIKE WE’VE GOT THE GREEN LIGHT!’