Women continue to research alternative methods of birth control to figure out what's going to work best for their bodies, but is it possible that the next best thing is already in your pocket? Natural Cycles, a free app available for both iPhones and Androids, has officially been approved as a form of contraception by the European Union. While this seems pretty incredible at first glance, experts aren't exactly giving the go-ahead just yet.
Here's how it works. Users download the app and enter their precise body temperature measurement as soon as they wake up in the morning to decipher whether or not they're ovulating.
By tracking the woman's menstrual cycle, the app is able to identify when the chance of fertilization is high (red days) or low (green days).
Translation: It's basically just a digitized version of traditional family planning.
The app was approved before undergoing a series of studies to determine its accuracy.
In theory, this method definitely makes contraception convenient, but there's a bit of a high risk factor associated with it that's kind of hard to ignore.
According to a clinical study published in The European Journal of Contraception & Reproductive Health Care, the app showed a 0.5 percent failure rate for users who tracked consistently.
A second study focusing on those who did not log their information consistently claimed users were at a seven percent risk of pregnancy.
And that's where the research stops.
Maybe I'm just a skeptic, but the idea of leaving my chances of pregnancy up to my cell phone doesn't quite do it for me.
While apps like Natural Cycles may help women to better understand their bodies, there's no solid evidence that this technology is as effective for preventing pregnancy as, say, oral contraception or condoms.
Plus, it's important to note the European Union's approval is not the same as an FDA certification.
Victoria Jennings, director and principal investigator of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University, told Today that women should be hesitant to use Natural Cycles — or any other smartphone application of the like — as their primary form of contraception.
A birth control method has to be studied very carefully in a very specific type of trial. Zero [of these apps] have been submitted to that type of scrutiny, including Natural Cycles. That's a concern.
It should be noted here, however, that Jennings is involved with a competitor app called DOT (which stands for Dynamic Optimal Training), a tool that was similarly created as a result of empirical studies conducted at Georgetown University.
Personally, I don't even fully trust my phone's alarm to wake me up each and every morning, let alone tell me when I'm most likely to have a baby.
There's nothing wrong with using this type of technology, but there is a huge risk in depending on it with no other back-up.
According to Dr. Nathaniel DeNicola, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The George Washington University's School of Medicine & Health Sciences, smartphone fertility trackers, in general, do not provide a more reliable method of contraception than the pill, condoms, or even long-acting reversible contraceptives like implants and IUDs.
What it really comes down to in the end is personal preference and the risk factor you're willing to live with.
As new technology and research allow new forms of contraception to develop, I personally don't see the harm in experimenting with these kinds applications -- as long as you do so with a grain of salt.