The EU just approved a natural birth control app, but don't put all your eggs—ahem—in that basket.
When it comes to birth control, women have more options than ever—pills, implants, condoms, IUDs—and they work. As long as you take them as directed, oral contraceptives are more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, while long-acting contraceptives such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) or the Nexplanon implant are close to being 100 percent effective.
Still, many women prefer a more natural (read: non-hormonal) way to prevent pregnancy, whether because of side effects, health concerns, or religious reasons. Depending on your specific concern, your options are essentially condoms, a copper IUD, abstinence, and natural family planning. That last one can be done by charting your temperature to predict the dates you'll ovulate, checking the consistency of your cervical fluid on a sheet of toilet paper, or charting your menstrual cycle to estimate when you're likely ovulating. The old-school method involves tracking these things on a paper calendar. But like most things today, there are now apps for that.
The Natural Cycles app (now a certified method of birth control in the European Union) relies on your recorded basal body temperature (or your temperature while you're fully at rest) to determine whether or not you're fertile. (Fun fact: Your temperature rises a few days before you ovulate.) The app costs about $10 dollars per month to use, not including the thermometer.
While Natural Cycles can definitely help you become more in tune with your body, most experts wouldn't recommend using it as your only method of birth control. "The app can be a great option for women who are transitioning off their birth control and are actually planning to start a family in the near future, or for women who have a religious opposition to conventional methods of birth control," says Rachel High, D.O., an ob-gyn and fellow at Baylor Scott & White Health in central Texas. "But it's not an ideal method for women who want to delay pregnancy indefinitely."
Factors such as restless sleep, stress, drinking alcohol the night before, or even just taking the reading earlier or later than usual can mess up your temperature reading, which is crucial in accurately predicting your risk of pregnancy. And although the Natural Cycles website says you may be able to begin using the app within a week of coming off hormonal birth control, your cycle may take longer than that to regulate. Traditional natural family planning requires you to chart your periods for six months before actually using the calendar method as birth control, and it's possible it could take as long for this method as well.
Prior to its approval, the Natural Cycles team conducted a clinical research study with more than 4,000 women using the app, reports NPR. The results showed that the app is 93 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, quite a bit lower than the IUD and Pill mentioned above. (To be fair, that's better than using natural family planning methods alone, which are about 76 percent effective, according to Planned Parenthood.)
The founders aren't out to "replace other forms of birth control, but to provide a more accurate, mathematical update to an ancient option," per NPR. And that's exactly how you should approach the app—fine if you're against using other methods. But if pregnancy is the last thing you want right now, and you have no major objections to conventional forms of birth control, stick with those.