The FDA Just Approved the US’s First Birth Control App
If you've ever been frustrated with your birth control and thought to yourself, “It's 2018! We should have an app for this by now! We need a birth control app!” Well, my friend, you are in luck. As of last month, the FDA has officially approved an app as a form of contraception.
Wondering how on earth an app could help prevent pregnancy? You're not alone there. Read on to learn more about this smartphone app that could help you with your family planning.
The birth control app is called Natural Cycles and it was first approved as an official contraceptive by governing health boards in Europe, where many women wanted a more “natural” form of contraceptive. And as good as it sounds, the app underwent some initial controversy, when 37 women sued the company, stating that the app did not work and they actually got pregnant as a result of following the app's directions. The women sought abortions and worked with a Swedish hospital to file the lawsuit.
Clearly though, the birth control app is still gaining popularity and when I spoke to the company's rep at the time of their lawsuit, they mentioned that they did have plans to expand to the U.S.–and now, their time has come.
How can an app prevent pregnancy?
Natural Cycles, which as the name suggests, is aimed towards working naturally with a woman's cycle, works as many other “natural family planning” type methods work. A woman uses the corresponding thermometer to take her basal body temperature every morning and input the temperature into the app. The app then uses the recorded temperature and other symptoms that the woman monitors, such as cervical mucus, cervical position and any external events such as sickness or breastfeeding to calculate her fertility.
Because a woman's body temperature changes with ovulation and the days she is fertile, over time the app is able to “learn” a woman's fertility pattern and predict what days she will be fertile and what days she is not. The app then has a calendar with “green” days, when a woman is “good to go” and have sex without protection, while fertile days will show up as “red,” as in “stop and use protection” if you're trying to prevent pregnancy.
Of course, the app could also be used to achieve pregnancy too, and a woman could have unprotected sex on red days to try to increase her chances of getting pregnant.
Does it work?
Obviously, this is the #1 question and fortunately, the Natural Cycles app has some pretty impressive science to back it up, which make sense, considering it was approved by the FDA. They like studies and stuff, who could have guessed? Their website states that the app has a perfect-use failure rate of 1.0, which means that only 1 in 100 women who use the app will become pregnant, even when using the app perfectly. Compared to oral birth control pills, which will lead to about 9 in every 100 woman getting pregnant, according to the FDA's website, that's a pretty darn impressive rate.
Of course, inputting your temperature every single morning and keeping in mind that a woman's body can do interesting things sometimes, like ovulate on different days, change as a result of stress or travel or sickness, and the fact that no one is perfect, it can be somewhat frightening to leave the prospect of having a baby up to your smartphone. But for some women, the negatives are a much smaller risk than other forms of contraception currently available to women. Having to take a pill every day, getting shots, or dealing with unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, acne, or severe mood and even mental health changes can make a more natural option very appealing.
Some women may also appreciate that the FDA is finally recognizing that women want different options and not everyone can or wants to alter their hormones in order to not get pregnant, so I think this is a great step towards a more broad range of reproductive healthcare for women. Women may want to learn more about how their cycle works and try to work “with” it, not against it, and the birth control app provides a way to do that in an approved way that even the most skeptical of doctor can see.
Will you try the birth control app?