I Tried the Contraceptive App Everyone's Talking About. Here's What Happened.

  Photo: Natural Cycles. Digital design: Grace Jennings-Edquist

Photo: Natural Cycles. Digital design: Grace Jennings-Edquist

A review by Florence Gaglione.

The pill gives me mood swings. The idea of a rod in my arm that requites surgical removal bugs me out. Condoms are forever breaking. And as for the withdrawal method  – well, as my mum liked to jokingly ask, “what do you call a couple that uses the pull-out method?” (Answer: “parents”.)

I’m grateful to have a range of contraceptive choices not available to generations of women before us – but, like so many of my girlfriends, I still haven’t actually found the birth control method that’s right for me. So when I started hearing talk of a new, non-hormonal contraceptive app called Natural Cycles that claims to be the only certified app for contraception (albeit in Europe, not in Oz), I was intrigued.

In the spirit of spreading sexual health information, I road-tested Natural Cycles for just over a month. Here’s how it went down.

What does it involve?

Natural Cycles involves a smartphone app and an ultra-sensitive basal thermometer. You take your temperature in the morning, on as many days as you can. The app predicts which days you’re at risk of pregnancy, and you have to use back-up methods of contraception on those days. On your non-fertile day, you can have sex without using a back-up method, and you shouldn’t get pregnant.

So it’s kind of like a high-tech version of the rhythm method, but apparently way more effective. The company says the app provides 99% contraceptive effectiveness if used perfectly. (If used "typically", the app is 93% effective, according to the company. The contraceptive pill, by comparison, is 91% effective.)

Does it prevent STIs?

Nope. So you still need to use a condom with a new partner (or if your partner has any new partners!) 

Any downsides to the method?

Here’s one thing I wish I’d known before I started Natural Cycles: You can’t really reliably measure your temperature if you’ve been drinking (roughly two glasses of wine after dinner) the night before. Maybe this reflects badly on my drinking habits more than anything, but having to count my wines for contraceptive purposes is not my idea of fun.

Then there’s the fact you still have to use back-up contraception on your ‘fertile days’. The app takes a couple of months to get used to your cycle, so starting out, this can mean using back-up contraception for, like, 15 days out of 30. Ugh, back to the pharmacy to grab some Trojans then…

What were the good bits?

As one of those women who turns into an actual replica of Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada when I’m on the contraceptive pill, I loved the fact this method didn’t mess with my mood, or cause any of the other usual nasty side effects.

Also, it’s kind of fun using the Natural Cycles app, which tells you when your period’s due (handy). And you don’t have to visit your doctor for repeat prescriptions or for IUD/Implanon insertion and removal.

Price?

About AUD $67 for a one-year subscription.

The verdict:

B+. Let's not forget, the app's still new, and the medical approval for Natural Cycles to be used as a contraceptive is issued for the European Union. I'd love to see some further studies and some local stamps of regulatory approval before fully getting on board the contraceptive app bandwagon. Also, for the more low-key among us, the temperature-taking and drink-counting angles might put this method in the “too hard” basket.

That said, I'm all about avoiding the side-effects often associated with hormonal contraception –and for that reason, this method's likely to be a winner for some of my friends.

Note: To Her Door was not paid for this review. However, Natural Cycles provided a free trial pack to the editorial team for review purposes.