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

Cosmopolitan (Australia) - - Contents -

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.’

Come again?

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.


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