In a quest for a natural alternative, women are increasingly turning to apps and digital mediums to manage contraception and track their periods.
Menstrual tracking apps have typically been used to track a woman’s cycle and predict when she will be most fertile to conceive, but the same data is now being used to indicate when women may be least fertile and have a low chance of getting pregnant thereby claiming to work as an alternative form of contraception.
However, the apps are not necessarily a guaranteed way to prevent pregnancy, with experts warning that precautions should be taken.
Natural Cycles received a barrage of bad press last year after the UK’s advertising body ruled it as “misleading” and several women complained that they became pregnant while using the app.
Despite the backlash, it hasn’t stopped the industry from thriving.
Market analysts Frost & Sullivan have forecasted that femtech – incorporating software, diagnostics, products and services that use technology to improve women’s health – will be worth US$50 billion by 2025.
Types of digital contraception and period tracking apps
While there are many types of digital contraception apps and period trackers, Natural Cycles is one of the most popular. The app requires a woman to use a thermometer daily which measures her basal body temperature (BBT) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH) data to identify fertile and non-fertile days. The app’s algorithm identifies green days, when no protection is needed, or red days, when a condom should be used or when women should abstain from sex to prevent a pregnancy.
Flo is an ovulation calendar, period tracker and pregnancy app. Flo, which has 25 million monthly active users, claims to be “the first period tracker to use artificial intelligence for the most accurate cycle predictions”.
Moody Month tracks moods, hormones and cycles, with a focus on helping users to “improve your down days and power up your best”, while Clue, which has 10 million monthly active users, tracks menstrual cycles and offers an encyclopedia.
Apps aid fertility education
Sheree, 34, has used a period tracking app since 2010 to predict her period and observe her fertility cycles.
She has used the app to avoid pregnancy but doesn’t rely on it completely, ensuring she uses a condom on fertile days.
However, she has found the app to be quite accurate and discovered her cycle is almost always 28 days.
“I had fertility issues last year, and during several tests (both internal and blood) my doctor confirmed I was ovulating almost exactly when predicted by my app,” she said.
Overall, Sheree has benefited from monitoring her cycles through an app.
“It means I’m never caught unawares. I can begin wearing period panties on the day they’re due and not worry about any embarrassing accidents,” she said.
“I can also plan events and dates around when my future period is predicted. I was able to plan my wedding to fall exactly three days after my period ended, which meant I could wear white without any stress and enjoy my honeymoon uninterrupted.”
What the experts say
Tasha Jennings, 39, is a naturopath who specialises in fertility and has used an app for the past eight years to track her cycles.
She initially used an app to determine her most fertile days to maximise chances of pregnancy but has now shifted to using it to avoid having sex on her most fertile days.
Jennings has also found apps useful for treating her patients as they allow her to track their basal body temperature to garner information about fertility, thyroid health and hormone balance.
“I find it (apps) a very useful tool for fertility tracking as well as looking at hormone balance and general wellbeing however, I would not rely on it as the only form of contraception,” she said.
Social scientist Dr Lauren Rosewarne said tracking your menstrual cycle through an app can be useful for keeping electronic records of symptoms and personal health data.
“For women trying to conceive, it can help them determine their most fertile days. Equally, for those desperately trying not to conceive, it can also help identify days to avoid intercourse,” she said.
But Dr Rosewarne warns against using apps as a reliable form of contraception.
“Apps are only as good as the data you put in,” she said.
“Knowing the length of your cycle and the number of days you bleed is important data and can help give an approximate indication of your fertility window, but this method of pregnancy avoidance – also known as the rhythm method – is considered only about 75 per cent effective; substantially less effective compared to all other contraceptive methods.”
TELL US: Have you used an app or digital platform to monitor your cycles? Did they help or hinder your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.