No doubt you’ve seen the ads pop up on your Instagram feed, and chances are you know someone using it too- the number of women relying on the Natural Cycles smartphone app as a means of contraception has seen a 2,400 per cent increase in the past year, from 5000 users to the current 125,000. The £40 a year app monitors body temperature to give you an indication of days on which you can fall pregnant in your cycle (there are only six per cycle according the app’s makers). Green means go, but if you’re on a red day, you’ll need to use protection. The app claims to be 93 per cent effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies (typical use of the pill puts it at 91 per cent) while being side-effect free.
We’ve reported on such side effects previously, with hormonal contraceptives being linked to depression , blood clots and most recently an elevated risk of breast cancer even in modern forms of hormonal contraception , and it could be that fears around hormonal methods of contraception are contributing to a decline in women taking the pill in the UK. According to NHS sexual health statistics, pill use dropped by 42,000 in 2015-2016, with NHS experts commenting that some women are actively seeking non-hormonal contraceptive methods due to a concern about the short and long term side-effects and potential risks of using hormonal birth control.
While Natural Cycles is seeking approval to be used as an official method of contraception in GP surgeries and sexual health clinics, large independent trials are yet to be conducted, and while the NHS states that methods such as tracking basal body temperature can be up to 99 per cent effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies when used perfectly, its experts underline that when typically used (i.e, taking into account the fact that we’re all fallible humans), it’s more likely to emerge as 76 per cent effective. Of course, it should also be stated that condoms remain the only contraceptive method to protect against STIs. Add to this the fact that hormonal contraceptives can have advantages over and above preventing unwanted pregnancies, such as lighter periods and milder PMS, clearer skin if you’re an acne sufferer and a lower risk of womb, colon and ovarian cancers , and the argument for abandoning hormonal contraceptives isn’t clear cut by any means. As always, contraceptive methods are a deeply personal choice, but we deserve safe options, evidence based birth control and individualised advice and support, not least because no woman is an algorithm.