What Is Natural Cycles? The Period Tracking App Is The First To Ever Receive FDA Approval

These days, there’s pretty much an app for everything. Relocating your house keys, figuring out where the heck your friends are when it’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night and you’re sitting at the bar all by yourself, and even timing your period are all possible now via iPhone and Android. Of course, using your smartphone to understand your menstrual cycle and prepare for Mother Nature’s monthly visit isn’t exactly “new,” but Natural Cycles is the first FDA-approved period-tracking app thus far, so if you’re going to trust any technological algorithm to track your cycle, it seems like this would be the one.

Does the name ring a bell, BTW? It might, considering Natural Cycles was already making headlines back in July 2017 when the European Union approved the free app as a form of contraception on their side of the pond (clearly ahead of the game). The thing is, up until now, the jury was still out over whether or not period-tracking apps could be considered legitimate forms of contraception. After all, these types of tracking apps are basically just digital versions of traditional family-planning practices, or "rhythm methods," in which you closely keep track of your cycle to identify when you're ovulating (aka when your body is the most fertile), and when you can either avoid sex entirely or use contraception to ward off an unwanted pregnancy. According to Planned Parenthood, these methods are only about 76 to 88 percent effective, whereas the birth control pill, for example, is 99 percent effective when used correctly, the organization says — which is a pretty significant difference. So, really, any hesitation the FDA may have had in 2017 about these types of period-tracking apps is understandable. But times are changing, and it looks like period-tracking apps (or at the very least, the Natural Cycles app) are about to have a moment.

In a press announcement on Friday, August 10, Terri Cornelison, M.D., Ph.D., assistant director for the health of women in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, made it clear that while the Natural Cycles app is supported by the FDA, anyone who chooses to use this form of contraception should be aware that no form of contraception is 100 percent effective. In other words, do your research and take precaution, friends. Cornelison said in a statement,

Consumers are increasingly using digital health technologies to inform their everyday health decisions, and this new app can provide an effective method of contraception if it’s used carefully and correctly. But women should know that no form of contraception works perfectly, so an unplanned pregnancy could still result from correct usage of this device.

In theory, being able to track your period via the technology you already have at your fingertips sounds fabulous, but no form of birth control — not the pill, not condoms, and certainly not the internet — is 100 percent foolproof. So in order to ensure you’re getting the most out of this progressive technology, it’s pretty much vital for your uterus that you take the time to really learn the ropes of the app, and use it as it was intended to be used for best results.

On that note, Natural Cycles does seem pretty easy to use; you just have to stay consistent with it. According to the app's website, here's how it works: First, download the app. You can download a trial month for free, use monthly for $9.99, or yearly for $79.99. Once you log in, every morning when you wake up, you take your temperature with either the Natural Cycles’ two-decimal basal thermometer (included when you purchase a yearly subscription of the app), or a basal thermometer of your own, and you log your numbers into the app.

Keep in mind, according to the app's website, it will take a few weeks of using the app before it begins to accurately track your cycle. But once you start logging your information consistently, the app will analyze your temperature of the day and then, based on your day-to-day temperature patterns, cycle irregularities, and sperm survival, among other factors, determine where you are in the four phases of your menstrual cycle. Based on these details, the app will use its unique algorithm to identify when your chances of getting pregnant are high (these are considered "red days"), and when the chances are low (aka "green days"). The app will tell you if you're in the red or green, as well as suggest when you should be using other forms of contraception.

Personally, and maybe I’m just being a skeptic here, but I know myself, and I definitely wouldn’t put all my trust in an app on my phone to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Natural Cycles might not necessarily be new to the market, but it’s still newly approved by the FDA, which means it's definitely in your best interest to talk to your doctor about it before you make the decision to switch from whatever form of contraception you're currently using. And during that conversation with your doc, you could also ask some questions about a new vaginal ring called Annovera, which also received FDA approval on Friday, August 10, according to a news release from the agency.

The device, per the news release, was designed by global nonprofit research organization Population Council. The FDA's announcement describes Annovera as a "reusable donut-shaped (ring)" that is non-biodegradable, flexible, and meant to be placed in the vagina “for three weeks followed by one week out of the vagina, at which time women may experience a period (a withdrawal bleed).” Annovera can be used for one year before it needs to be replaced with a new device, the announcement explained, and it's meant to be washed every 21 days, during that seven-day period it isn't being used each month.

Of course, whether you're considering giving Natural Cycles a try or you want more information on Annovera, it's important to talk to your doctor first before switching your current contraception method. Just because contraception is advancing in terms of products and in the digital space, that doesn't necessarily mean these types of birth control are what's best for your body. Stay curious, stay cautious, and speak to your doctor to figure out what's best for you.