Birth control — at least in pill form — has developed an increasingly bad rap for the hormonal imbalance it can create, and it can have very detrimental effects on mental health for some people. More and more women have been turning to birth control apps — even a few COOLS contributors volunteered that they used this method as opposed to the pill/IUD/birth control — but last week one such app came under fire for allegedly leading to 37 unwanted pregnancies.
Natural Cycles is an app created last year that quickly grew to 700,000 users worldwide. Designed by a team of married physicists, Elina Berglund and Raoul Scherwitzl, the app basically takes birth control back to its old-school, thousands-year-old state: women naturally tracking their fertility, and avoiding (or not avoiding) pregnancy on the days they are fertile.
But Södersjukhuset hospital in Stockholm reported 37 unwanted pregnancies from Natural Cycles and reported it to the Swedish Medicines Agency. Reactions were mixed, with some people expressing dismay that anyone would trust their fertility to an app, while others were saying that 37 is a fair margin of error for the number of Natural Cycle users. Twitter user @Jem_Collins said, “If I see one more natural cycles targeted ad I will scream. No, I do not want to entrust potential pregnancy to a glorified diary.”
Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin tweeted: “Birth control app @NaturalCycles uses an algorithm to say when someone has a high or low chance of getting pregnant. But ultimately, it relies on men and women changing their behavior. That doesn’t always work.”
Natural Cycles claims to be 93 percent effective. The birth control pill is 99.9 percent effective, which taking that into consideration, it makes sense that the app clearly states on their “science” page that they have a typical use failure rate of 7, which means that in total 7 women out of 100 may get pregnant during one year of use for, for instance, having unprotected intercourse on red days.
In general, the success of Natural Cycles depends on how aware you are of your own body on a daily basis — and if you can abstain from sex for several days at a time — which is easier said than done for some women. But if you have that particular form of self-control, Natural Cycles has many converts in the form of women who have had negative experiences with traditional birth control.
“No contraception is 100 percent effective,” Scherwitzl told Dazed. “It’s a truth you cannot get around. The more popular we get, the more happy users we will have, and a small fraction of women will have unplanned pregnancies. This is exactly what is happening in Sweden. We have the highest density of Natural Cycles users here. So, unfortunately, that means that a fraction of them will end up with an unintended pregnancy. We’ve had large investigations that confirm that there’s no reason to believe that there’s an issue with the product.”