Natural Cycles could also be flawed, however contraception apps are nonetheless the longer term | Nichi Hodgson | Opinion


It’s with a heavy coronary heart that I’ve paused my subscription to the contraceptive app Natural Cycles this week. It follows the information that the Advertising Standards Authority has dominated that the app can not with confidence promote itself as a “highly accurate contraceptive”, primarily as a result of the statistics on its efficacy – that solely seven in 100 girls utilizing it would grow to be pregnant – come from a research carried out by the corporate that developed the app itself.

Natural Cycles promotes itself as a type of non-hormonal, non-intrusive contraception. Women enter details about their menstrual cycles and physique temperature into the app, and it makes use of algorithms to foretell which days they’re prone to getting pregnant within the occasion of unprotected intercourse.

The information from its personal research means that, if used accurately, it may be more practical than different strategies such because the mixed tablet (9 in 100) or condoms (18 in 100). But the NHS has criticised the research’s analysis strategies, saying it’s primarily based on retrospective information and isn’t neutral, on condition that it was paid for by the app’s founders. Others have pointed to the truth that the research into its efficacy are primarily based on a bunch of self-selecting customers.

So what does this say concerning the efficacy of Natural Cycles? Certainly not that it’s essentially a poorer contraceptive alternative than anything – simply that extra unbiased analysis must be accomplished earlier than we could be as assured in it as extra conventional strategies of contraception.

To some extent, that is all the time going to be an issue confronted by new contraceptives – we’ve had many years to analysis the effectiveness of condoms, the coil and the tablet, and there’s nonetheless an unease amongst many within the medical occupation relating to new tech-based options.

And but the recognition of Natural Cycles and ladies’s willingness to make use of it isn’t merely one other “tech hype” story. It tells us one thing essential about the way forward for contraception and what girls need: we’re prepared for one thing that disrupts neither our hormones, our moods, nor our pleasure. If algorithms can now predict Alzheimer’s illness earlier than medics, and if the prospect of biohacking our brains to optimise psychological efficiency is not merely the stuff of science fiction, then there’s certainly a job for tech merchandise in stopping being pregnant and affording us management over our reproductive future.

Teenage girl with pregnancy test

‘Senior medics I have talked with are concerned about the impacts of women and girls turning to less efficacious methods.’ Photograph: Alamy

While, based on NHS statistics, use of the tablet is probably not considerably down, anecdotally, on message boards and in dozens of journal articles, rising numbers of ladies are clamouring for one thing that doesn’t include the deeply disagreeable side-effects scores of them have reported – together with elevated urge for food and depressive temper. Senior medics I’ve talked with, together with on the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, are involved concerning the impacts – each by way of teenage being pregnant charges and the pressure on abortion providers if what they flip to as a substitute just isn’t efficacious (the tablet is, in spite of everything, the most affordable and best contraceptive to prescribe).

So whereas Natural Cycles, which has an annual subscription within the UK of £39.99, may need been accountable for 37 undesirable pregnancies in a single hospital in Sweden, we should always not dismiss the potential for tech-based contraception to supply inexpensive, handy healthcare in nations just like the US the place contraception is usually not lined by medical insurance (certainly, Donald Trump has rolled again the mandate even additional since taking workplace) and might find yourself costing girls as much as $50 a month. It even beats some variations of the tablet, which price the NHS round £70 a yr per individual.

What appears to face in its method is a prejudice towards tech, notably when it’s girls pioneering it (which echoes the backlash towards feminine contraceptive campaigners of the previous, resembling Annie Besant and Marie Stopes). Of course the corporate was incorrect to overclaim for the app on the premise of the obtainable proof. But basically we should always help female-owned companies attempting to give you an answer to a every day downside that disproportionately impacts girls – one thing actually uncommon within the tech and surgical tools industries.

It was solely final yr workforce of feminine engineers redesigned the speculum utilized in procedures resembling smear exams, the present model of which was first invented by a male gynaecologist within the 19th century, trialled on slave girls, and continues to be in widespread use at this time. In the 100 or so years because it was invented, no man has ever thought to attempt to make it extra snug for the thousands and thousands of ladies who encounter it. By comparability, the colonoscope, primarily used to look at males over 50 and assess their threat of colon most cancers – has been via a number of iterations.

From the female power duo that launched ethical, refined condom brand Hanx, to the Barcelona-based anarchist collective GynePunk, who created DIY gynae products with sex workers and the poorest women in mind, it is women who are coming up with the most ingenious ways to solve our contraceptive conundrums.

Although I’ve pressed pause for now, I’m optimistic that I’ll be using Natural Cycles again in the near future. As a thrombophilic thirtysomething hoping for a baby soon but not quite yet, who is in a monogamous relationship with minimal risk of STI infection, but is prohibited from taking the pill because of my congenital risk of blood clotting, for me it’s been a godsend – and, importantly, after two years’ dependency on it, I haven’t got pregnant. We should be supporting further efforts to develop tech-based contraceptives, not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Nichi Hodgson is a sex and relationships author and broadcaster

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