As post-Easter exams approach, Life and Style's Jess Howlett shares her tips on how to remain motivated over EasterWritten by Guest Author on 19th March 2018
Fertility Tracking: What’s App-ening?
Phoebe Hughes-Broughton explores whether fertility apps can really be considered a reliable method of contraception
In this day and age there’s an app for everything, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that there’s hundreds of apps that claim to track your menstrual cycle and work as birth control contraceptives. They do this by collecting the data that you input about your period – when it starts, how long it lasts, which days are heaviest – and using that to work out when you are likely ovulating, and basically tell you to not have sex then if you don’t want to get pregnant.
One of the main benefits of these apps is that some women choose to use them as an alternative to hormone-based contraceptives like the pill. If the hormones in these contraceptives cause issues with your periods or your mood, then cutting them out could seem like a great idea – although it is always best to speak to your doctor first. One such woman who has gone down this route is YouTuber Hannah Witton, who has been tracking her journey of coming off the pill in her popular series ‘The Hormone Diaries’, in which she also talks very openly about her experience of these apps.
However, despite their many benefits and their ease of use, these apps do still have their limitations. In particular, even when used effectively they can only stop you from getting pregnant and are definitely not an alternative to barrier methods like condoms for protection against STIs.
“Since they only work by extrapolating from the data you give them, couldn’t you just work out when you’re ovulating for yourself?
Additionally, they can only ever be as good as the data you input. These apps will get better with time, as you give them more information about more cycles and they get to know how your body works, so for at least the first few months of use they shouldn’t be used alongside other methods of contraception. However, this does bring up an interesting point: since they only work by extrapolating from the data you give them, couldn’t you just work out when you’re ovulating for yourself? In fact, you can.
Just a little bit of research tells you that the average menstrual cycle is 28 days, with day one being the first day of your period and day 28 (or however long your cycle lasts) being the day before your next period. Ovulation typically happens 2 weeks before your period, so by tracking your cycle for a couple of months you can work out roughly when you are ovulating and choose to abstain from sex or to use extra protection for a couple of days around this time. Admittedly, though, the idea of a potential pregnancy may make these calculations seem far scarier than they perhaps should be.
So if you do want to use one of these apps, your best bet might be Natural Cycles, the only fertility app that is currently EU-certified as a contraceptive. It costs around £7 a month, which is pricey for an app (especially since other cycle tracking apps like Clue are free), but pretty reasonable compared to condoms. However, it has since been certified that at least 37 women in Sweden have had unwanted pregnancies. On the one hand, this is obviously not ideal, but on the other hand the app argues that this effectiveness rate is pretty typical of any contraceptive (700,000 other women have used it with no problems), and in line with the company’s claim of 93% effectiveness against unwanted pregnancies.
“It still relies on the accuracy of their extrapolation and your ability to abstain or use extra protection while you’re ovulating
If you want a more scientific approach to cycle tracking, apps like Kindara can be connected to a thermometer (costing around £100) that you use to measure your temperature each morning, which helps them to work out when you are ovulating. Despite the technology and the price you pay for it though, the information it gives you is similar to other apps, and it still relies on the accuracy of their extrapolation and your ability to abstain or use extra protection while you’re ovulating.
So, while they might be a fun way to keep track of your menstrual cycle, as contraceptives these apps aren’t necessarily your best bet, and they definitely shouldn’t be used as a replacement for other methods.