Natural Cycles has been given medical approval to be used as contraception in the European Union, a first for an app. Doctor Elina Berglund, one of the scientists that discovered the Higgs boson particle, and her partner Raoul Scherwitzl designed it as an alternative to hormonal contraception such as the pill.
Users are asked to measure their temperature in the morning, ideally before they get out of bed and input the data into the app. By doing this every day, the mathematical algorithm then learns to map and even predict the user’s ovulation. Whilst sounding futuristic, it actually relies on the oldest method of contraception there is, natural family planning.
Natural family planning has been in use for thousands of years, well before condoms or the pill came on the scene. Women track their cycles and work out when they are likely to be fertile to either plan or avoid a pregnancy, depending on the individual. It is the only method of contraception authorised by the Catholic Church.
However there are a number of issues with this traditional method. It is not recommended for young people, as menstrual cycles are subject to fluctuations and can be disrupted by stress amongst other factors. There have been calls from sexual health organisations including the Faculty of Reproductive Health of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for more large scale independent trials to ensure apps such as Natural Cycles are on par with other forms of contraception (for more information refer to sources). Crucially an app will not protect against STIs, meaning that unless a user and their partner have both been tested, they will still have to use a condom.
As an alternative to the pill however, it doesn’t seem like a great trade off. One of the reasons people dislike the pill is having to remember to take it every day. With the app you have to remember to test yourself each and every morning which is more hassle than swallowing a pill. Most importantly, if someone is having casual sex then the app is moot as a condom should be used anyway. Apart from those flaws, the app seems to have genuine potential and may help those in long term relationships who have been fully tested, and who can agree to only have unprotected sex on the days the app allow. It’s a good update to natural family planning, especially for those who cannot use other contraception for religious and/or health reasons.