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Natural Cycles and Online Contraceptive Services: The Potential Dangers of Letting the Internet Into Your Uterus

November 7, 2018
Katie Visco

Services have been cropping up that promise an alternative way to birth control, either through cutting out traditional doctor visits or using new non-hormonal technology. The dangers of letting either type of service dictate your birth control are the lack of reliable research behind new methods or potentially using the wrong birth control for you.

  • What are the new delivery services?
  • What new technology is being advertised?
  • What’s the best way to use new methods safely

Delivery! Birth Control!

Birth control is important. Contraception has become easier to come by (thankfully) in recent years, but sometimes going to the doctor can be a hassle.

Services like Nurx, PRJKT RUBY, and The Pill Club, have been revolutionizing birth control by offering online consultations, home delivery, and automatic refills. Insurance may even cover the cost of these services, so you know they are legitimate and offering you the real product.

Consultations for birth control are done through various methods, like online questionnaires or video calls. This makes it easy to obtain birth control, even if you are busy or far away from a doctor.

If you have used birth control before and consulted a doctor about your best options, these services can be used to continue ordering a method you know and trust. For people using birth control for the first time, it can become overwhelming to consider all the options.

The potential drawbacks of online birth control services stem from the absence of other medical intervention. For people obtaining birth control for the first time, they may be unaware that some types of birth control may affect other underlying conditions.

Most questionnaires and consultations ask questions about medical history, but if a patient has an undiagnosed condition, such as irregular blood pressure or hormone imbalances, certain birth controls can exacerbate unknown issues. Women who do not have easy access to doctors may not have regular check-ups, so the possibility of undetected issues could be higher.

These online programs are great ways to get birth control, but make sure you are aware of your full medical history before seeking out contraception. While these services try their hardest to assist you, they cannot predict if you have other problems affecting your health.

Contraceptive Overhaul

Influencers are the backbone of Instagram, and many #ad campaigns have been widely successful in driving sales. One company that has been popular on Instagram is Natural Cycles, the first FDA-approved contraception app.

Natural Cycles is a Swedish app that claims to be a non-invasive, non-hormonal alternative to traditional birth control methods. There is a yearly subscription to have the service, but it includes a thermometer synced with the app that measures body temperature every morning.

The technology utilizes the same logic people use when trying to get pregnant: basal body temperature supposedly increases before and during ovulation, marking your most fertile window. While this method has been used by people struggling with fertility, it has not been fully used to prevent pregnancy.

Natural Cycles operates by correlating body temperature and fertility, an homage to the traditional fertility-awareness method. On days with low fertility, the app indicates it is okay to have unprotected sex.

The fertility-awareness method has a 25% failure rate with average use. It tends to be used by couples who are attempting to achieve pregnancy rather than avoid it, and for a good reason. Since the development of modern birth control methods, fertility-awareness has not been recommended by doctors. Too many environmental factors affect a cycle, so measuring body temperature alone is not reliable.

This became apparent as the app became more popular. As of early 2018, more than 700,000 women were using the app. Reports from Stockholm show that 37 of the 668 women who had an abortion were using the Natural Cycles app as their birth control.

Other contraception is not foolproof, but when an app explicitly promises that women can have worry-free, unprotected sex, it should deliver.

Additionally, following the app means you have to follow a schedule for sex. While this may be feasible for people in relationships, it limits more spontaneous decisions. The app also offers no protection from STIs, so condoms should be used regardless unless you know the other person’s status.

Doctors have weighed in, claiming the app is not a reliable method for birth control. In an interview with Vox, Dr. Lauren Streicher said, “What we know about reliable contraception is that it can’t be user-dependent. Long-acting ones like IUDs and implants will be the most reliable. The minute you rely on action, the efficacy goes down. So take something like this, and you know the failure rate is gonna be sky high.”

Simple actions like drinking a sip of coffee or going to the bathroom can affect your temperature reading. Temperature is also affected by sickness, which is uncontrollable but can throw off your fertility predictions.

Since the app has been approved, many people have been wondering if an app should dictate their reproductive decisions.

Safely Using Alternative Methods

In terms of online delivery services, knowing your health is the key to obtaining contraception online. The actual contraception itself has been FDA-approved for a long time, so it is just a matter of finding the right birth control for you and your body.

Using birth control effectively and comfortably also means keeping a line of communication between you and healthcare providers. Birth control has many known side effects, such as mood swings, depression, or weight gain, but some methods may be better for your specific body.

If you are unhappy with your birth control, make sure you speak to a doctor and your online service immediately. After all, your birth control should enhance your life.

In terms of apps like Natural Cycles, knowing the limitations of this method is important. There is a lot of room for error when using an app, so assessing your habits ahead of time can help you determine if an app is really the right method for you.

Even when used completely correctly, Natural Cycles cannot guarantee 100% pregnancy protection. If you want to completely prevent pregnancy, consider using another contraceptive method along with the app.

An app cannot protect against STIs, either, so using condoms is imperative if you are unaware of a sexual partner’s STI status.

There are many options emerging for women looking to change their contraception. Staying educated about what each option can realistically do is essential to maintaining good sexual health.

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