If a few years ago someone had recommended going off the pill, most women would have laughed in their face.
But, thanks to new technology and growing awareness of side effects of synthetic hormones, more and more women are ditching the pill in favour of ‘natural birth control’ methods, using little more than a smartphone.
But the tech-revolution around birth control has just taken a giant leap forward with a nordic startup company bursting onto the scene with their scientifically proven method that revolves around….your temperature.
Yep, a Swedish startup promoting ‘natural’ birth control by temperature tracking has just received $6million in funding. The company, Natural Cycles, uses your smartphone and a thermometer to track your cycle and ovulation as birth control method with what they say is more effective than the pill.
Two thoughts immediately compete for headspace: what is ‘natural’ birth control? And why are so many people throwing their money at the idea?
Going off the pill has been the topic du jour in my circles over the last few years. With my girlfriends ranging from their young 20’s to their late 40’s, the responses have been mixed. Some are all for it, preaching the health benefits of not taking synthetic hormones, whilst others – usually the ones who have had pregnancy scares in the past – scorn anyone ‘stupid’ enough to take the risk of unprotected sex.
So with the news of Natural Cycles monster funding campaign, I dug a little deeper for information on natural birth control…and the answers were surprising.
What the heck is natural birth control?
Natural birth control basically is just tracking your cycle, and using the data to predict ‘safe’ times for unprotect sex. Thanks to our smartphones, a whole bunch of apps just like Natural Cycles have hit the market with easy reminders and data insights customised just for you.
Ok, so what makes ‘Natural Cycles’ so great then?
This app goes one step further than just tracking your period. Natural Cycles is based on science, specifically the fact that a woman’s body temperature rises after ovulation. Their theory? If you’re able to accurately track body temperature, then you’re able to identify when ovulation is occurring. This can specifically pinpoint a woman’s fertile window.
Does it work?
Yes, more accurately than even the pill. In a review from Tech Crunch, only 7/100 women would fall pregnant as opposed to 9/100 women on the pill. “Using the Pearl Index metric, which is based on typical usage — so accounting for human error — seven out of 100 women using the system would get pregnant versus nine out of 100 using the pill,” says the website.
“…on a perfect use basis, where you take human error out of the equation, the study indicated Natural Cycles would have a failure rate of five out of 1,000 women versus three out of 1,000 women for the pill.” How to compare different types of the pill. (Video continues after post)
Unlike the pill, daily temperature tracking gives you an almost instantaneous indication that something might be up (the duff). Whilst there are lots of factors that can affect your basal or ‘resting’ body temperature – such as illness or alcohol – long term tracking of your temp will heed extremely accurate results.
But also importantly, getting in touch with your natural body cycles is so important to knowing your fertile times and avoiding accidents. The pill has a bit of a ‘set and forget’ mindset which can completely disconnect women with their bodies and their periods.
But why would anyone want to go off the pill?
Well here’s where it gets interesting. Whilst there is *a lot* of garbage online about bogus side effects of taking the pill, there is also a lot of truth behind some of the symptoms. Sure, we might all know about fluctuating weight and breast size, and acne management, on and off the pill…but what about: >> Impaired sex drive >> Decreased sexual enjoyment >> Depression or mood swings >> Hair thinning >> Subtle loss of ‘sexual attractiveness’ to men >> Skin hyperpigmentation >> RARE risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, high blood pressure, liver tumors, and gallstones.
Another great reminder from the app when PMS is around corner, and also good to know when your period is due! ???????????????? #TrackFertility ???? A photo posted by Natural Cycles (@naturalcycles) on Jul 4, 2016 at 10:54am PDT
What can I expect when I go off the pill?
Firstly, your period is going to be all over the shop. Expect several months to pass without a period, or massively heavy flows just two weeks apart. It will take anywhere from six months to a year for your body’s natural cycles to return to a ‘normal’ schedule.
Your PMS and cramps might also get worse – as many know, going on the pill can ease both symptoms. You might also lose weight and experience your breasts shrinking slightly.
Without regulation of your hormones, thinks might start to feel a little funky downstairs: many women report a higher sex drive, but also a higher level of discharge. Fear not – this will ease off after a few months.
But the most important thing to remember is that you no longer have a safety net. Having sex after going off the pill is likely to leave you pregnant. Sounds obvious, but this can be hard to wrap your head around after so many years without that fear.
Is natural birth control becoming popular?
Short answer, yes.
Unlike other contraceptive options such as IUD devices which still block or hinder hormone production, natural birth control does not interfere with your body’s natural movements.
“The pill is the most common form of pharmacological birth control,” says a study from the US Guttmacher Institute, “studies show some 4 out of 5 American women use them. Yet, nearly 30% of all users stop using the pill because of side effects that include nausea, weight gain, sore or swollen breasts, spotting and mood changes according to research from the CDC.”
Are there any added benefits?
The Natural Cycles app actually packs in a few. The in-app messages also remind you to conduct breast checks regularly, and will alert you if your cycle seems irregular – helping detect any potential health problems.
It will also alert you a few days out to when your period is due, which can help avoid the omg-I’m-at-work-with-no-tampons surprise period moments.
And, for those looking to maybe get pregnant in future years, you will have an unreal backlog of cycle data to show your doctor should you find yourself struggling.
Is it for me?
Natural birth control is bloody risky. It's best used alongside protective sexual practices like condoms, especially in your fertile times of the month. You are now without your 'safety net', and are extremely fertile.
Using apps like Natural Cycles is great for long-term couples who are settled into a routine of sorts. It's also great for women trying to fall pregnant, as they can track cycles and fertile windows.
But if you are single and sexually active, it might be worth exploring other options. Natural birth control requires an almost obsessive attention to the details of your period cycle and temperature - you'll be taking it every morning, people! - and even just skipping a single day can interfere with the data and the overall success.
If you are interesting in finding out more about the Natural Cycles app, check out their website here.
It's got plenty of information to help you make an informed decision. After all, no one option is perfect for all women - do your research and listen to your body.