There have never been so many choices when it comes to birth control, and now the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a ‘digital contraceptive’ for the first time.
Natural Cycles is a fertility-tracking app for women, which uses algorithms to calculate the days of the month on which the user is most fertile, and therefore should not have unprotected sex should they wish to avoid getting pregnant.
Using data like daily body temperature and monthly menstrual cycle tracking, the app is said to have a fail rate of nearly 2% for “perfect use”, and a fail rate of 6% for “typical use”, not unlike barrier methods and the pill.
Natural Cycles has been approved as a contraceptive method since 2017 in the European Union, but it’s taken a little longer for the US to get on board, which may be due to concerns about the app’s effectiveness as a means of avoiding unwanted pregnancies.
One Stockholm hospital launched an investigation into the app following 37 unplanned pregnancies in women who were using it.
Despite this, the popularity of digital contraceptives has skyrocketed as women look for alternatives to hormonal methods like the pill, which often causes unpleasant side-effects like weight gain, mood swings and migraines.
The rhythm method
Although it’s not known whether our ancestors understood the link between fertility and the menstrual cycle, the rhythm method of contraception is one of the oldest, and was particularly popular amongst Catholics in the early 1900s, for whom barrier contraceptives were forbidden.
With 600,000 active users, the popularity of Natural Cycles is part of a wider trend for digital health monitoring, with heart trackers, exercise apps and meditation apps making up some of the 3.7 billion that were downloaded in 2017.