Apps do everything these days, don’t they? I have one to tell me when to sleep, when to get up, how far I’ve walked, where to park and where the nearest cash point is, but would I trust an app to tell me when I’m not fertile? I’m not sure I would.
Despite my own reservations, thousands of women in the UK have been doing just that by using the Natural Cycles app. Sadly, a few have found the app might not be as reliable as they thought.
I can certainly see the appeal – natural, drug-free contraception, without having to convince your partner to get the snip. But some things are just too good to be true and it looks like Natural Cycles might be one of them.
Unexpected pregnancy when you think you’re being careful is a massive deal. For most people, it will have a huge effect on their mental health, with the potential to take its toll physically too.
I’ve seen a lot of nasty comments on social media since stories cropped up again last month about how Natural Cycles wasn’t always effective. So many people left comments along the lines of “serves them right, why trust an app?!” under the news stories. I can’t believe how many trolls this story has dragged out, especially when it’s about such a sensitive subject.
If I found out I was pregnant tomorrow, I’d be shocked but pretty pleased. We’re not trying but I would like another baby, so if I got one a little earlier than I’d planned, it wouldn’t be a massive deal for me.
But not everyone is like me.
I expect there will have been some heartbroken women who would have had no choice but to get a termination. I can’t imagine the upset to their physical and mental health that this would have caused.
There will undoubtedly have been people who have gone ahead with the pregnancy, not knowing how they’ll manage with another mouth to feed. The government has already stopped supporting families who have more than two children (except for in special circumstances), unexpected pregnancies will have definitely put a huge strain on those families who are already struggling.
The people who have fallen foul of misleading marketing have been publicly vilified for doing what they thought was best for them. They weren’t some reckless reprobates who needed a wake up call. They were people paying £5.99 a month and taking their temperatures daily to find out how high their risk of pregnancy was. I’d say that involves much more effort than taking a pill with your breakfast or using condoms.
When I went on the Natural Cycles website, I spotted this mini infographic:
This suggests that the Natural Cycles app offers higher protection than both the pill and condoms. Google tells me condoms are 98% effective and the pill is 99%, so you can forgive people for expecting the app to be reliable. Especially when they’re paying a premium and taking their temperature daily, which has an added clinical feel to it. After seeing this on their website, would you trust an app to handle your contraception? If I didn’t know what I do now, I’d be pretty convinced.
I actually use a free app that’s similar in the way it shares information. I don’t take my temperature and I mostly use it to track my periods, because as a woman in my 30’s I felt I shouldn’t be surprised by my period as often as I was. My app notifies me when I’ve got two days to go.
Here’s what my app looks like:
Yes this is a screenshot of my app today, yes my period is coming on Friday. Sorry for the TMI. It also tells me when I’m expected to ovulate, when I might fall pregnant, and when I’m less likely to. It says that this close to my period, I shouldn’t be very fertile, so I’d be safe to chance it.
Although I’m tempted to, I don’t use this for contraception because I know there are too many variables when you’re talking ovulation. Stress is a big one for me. When my dad died, I skipped 3 periods. When I was studying and working full-time, I missed a couple then too.
I also know that because I started the keto diet this month, my period might not come on time, which in turn means I probably didn’t ovulate when the app thinks I did. (For more on the keto diet here’s an interesting blog post).
I imagine temperature-taking adds to the app’s accuracy, but even that can surely fluctuate? I bet your body temperature is lower when you wake up to find your husband had stolen the quilt all night. Your temperature naturally increases when your body fights infections too, which means the start of a cold could throw off your results.
User error has got to be accounted for as well, and the more you expect the user to do, the higher the chance of error. There are lots of reasons why this app could have failed, and it probably wasn’t communicated to those who signed up.
What I’m trying to say is, I have sympathy for those who trusted the app. The app’s marketing team have done a good job at positioning it as a reliable alternative to drugs and other contraception (a position it perhaps doesn’t deserve).
With the way the information is presented on their website, I think there’s a good chance I’d have trusted that app. Would you?