Natural Cycle App: Great Idea, not so great results. Vasectomy still rules when it comes to reliability

Smart phones are everywhere and their applications are ubiquitous. There’s an app for almost everything. Why not an app for birth control?

Natural cycle is a smart phone application that uses algorithms based on the “rhythm method” to guide couples to have sex outside the “fertile window” of the woman’s cycle as a means of ensuring birth control. Another way of saying that is the couple stays abstinent during a woman’s “fertile window”. Great idea as a concept.

Unfortunately, the rhythm method itself doesn’t have a great track record. Reports suggest that, when done properly, the rhythm method offers a seventy-six to eighty-seven percent chance of success at avoiding pregnancy. Natural cycle represents its success rate to be 93% stating it uses a more sophisticated algorithm.

A woman’s “fertile window” lasts only about six days, starting five days before ovulation. So, as long as one can accurately predict ovulation, this should work. The Natural Cycle App uses basal body temperature to predict ovulation. Basal body temperature ticks up about a degree after ovulation. Once ovulation and its corresponding change is determined, that data can be used to predict the fertile window. Of course, it is known that basal body temperature is not completely reliable. Also, some women’s cycles vary in length from month t month and even a one day variation can lead to failure. Therefore, it’s not surprising that a Swedish hospital has documented thirty-seven “unwanted” pregnancies among women relying on the app for contraception. Those 37 women were among 668 women seeking an abortion at that hospital during a four month period in 2017.

Other forms of birth control also have a failure rate. Diaphragms are 86 to 94% effective. Condoms are 85 to 98% successful when used properly. Tubal ligation is about 98% successful and is a major surgical procedure.

Vasectomy continues to look like the promising alternative for permanent birth control as a minor surgical procedure with an effectiveness of 99.8%. And you don’t even need to own a smart phone.

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