The European Union has certified a mobile app as an effective method of birth control
The European Union has, for the first time in its history, certified a mobile app as an effective method of birth control, as valid as the pill or condom. It’s the first time that a piece of software has received official certification and it illustrates a paradigmatic shift in the use of new technologies in this field.
The app is based on software that uses algorithms and data analysis. Elina Berglund, Swedish physicist and co-founder of the app, developed a system that measures and analyses the temperature of a woman’s body (using a thermometer) to establish her stage of ovulation.
The temperature of a woman’s body determines whether the app marks the pregnancy risk level as green or red. Berglund, who participated in the Boson Higgs project and has won a Nobel Prize, devised the app with her partner, also a scientist, because the couple were tired of using the pill.
So, the two scientists set about trying to come up with an alternative method of birth control. ‘In fact, controlling basal temperature is one of the oldest contraceptive techniques. Now, thanks to new algorithm-based technology, the methods our grandparents and great-grandparents used have been improved and updated,’ explains Carlos Dosouto, gynecologist and specialist in assisted reproduction at the Dexeus Clinic in Barcelona.
Although the app has been available for a year and already has 100,000 subscribers, it has only just been endorsed by the scientific community which has been studying the results obtained by the method.
Imagen via Natural Cyles
Natural Cycles was tested in over 4,000 women between the ages of 20 and 35. Of these, ten had experienced unwanted pregnancies over a year of using the app correctly and only maintaining sexual relations on days marked green.
This figure is relatively close to the percentage of accidental pregnancies that occur with the birth control pill: three out of every 10,000 women. That’s why experts have calculated that the algorithm behind Natural Cycles is 99.5% reliable and deserves to be recognized as a legitimate alternative to other contraception products on the market.
Nonetheless, one thing that Natural Cycles can’t do away with completely – despite the scientific rigor behind the app – is the risk posed by human error. The study also found that 143 women experienced unwanted pregnancies due to mistakes or carelessness when using the app.
The app requires women to take their temperatures each morning and enter the data into the app. ‘This could be a problem for some types of users but not for others,’ says Dosouto. Moments of forgetfulness, or mistakes made when entering the data, could alter the algorithm and cause the app to provide inaccurate or misleading data.
The app offers a variety of rates. The annual plan with thermometer included costs €5.40 a month.
‘It’s an interesting development. But I also think that each patient should find the method that suits them best. One advantage of Natural Cycles is that it doesn’t cause hormonal disruption in women. One disadvantage is that women’s sex lives become subject to the calendar. Technically, the woman won’t be able to have sex on the days marked by the app, unless she uses a condom or other forms of contraception. And in today’s society – where we want to have everything – that may be too much of an inconvenience for some,’ says Dosouto.
The gynecologist is of the view that the ideal user for this type of application is a mature woman with a stable partner who is either seeking to get pregnant or to avoid it. It is also worth remembering that these applications do nothing to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Nonetheless, he concludes, ‘the app is an important development, especially because it gives women more choice.’
‘The modern trend is for women to seek more practical solutions that enable them to reconcile menstruation with sports, work and so on,’ he says. In the USA, a new method called Seasonique has recently become popular; it works by reducing the number of periods experienced during a year.
Taking the Seasonique pill every day guarantees that you only experience one period each season: just four a year.
‘In any case, from my point of view as a man, I think that there are already dozens of birth control methods for women, but it’s important that we research and investigate methods for men too. We’re forcing women to go to great lengths, when all a man has to do is have a vasectomy, which is a very simple procedure and reversible,’ Dosouto concludes.