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Natural Cycles: Does It Really Work?

Natural Cycles: Does It Really Work?

Natural Cycles review

The contraceptive pill was a brilliant invention; having access to it has given women freedom and control over how we live our lives.

But 60 years later, we’re aware of birth control’s negative effects on our physical and mental health. Enter Natural Cycles: an FDA-approved and CE-marked hormone-free birth control app that enables women to either prevent or plan a pregnancy.

Founded by Dr. Elina Berglund and her husband, Raoul Scherwitzl, it currently boasts more than 1.5 million cyclers. There are plenty of other period tracking apps today, including Clue, Dot, and Spot On, but Natural Cycles is the only one certified as a contraceptive method.

Should I stick with the pill instead?

Issues with the pill include:

  • Low libido
  • Thyroid issues
  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Gut health issues
  • Digestive distress
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Mood swings
  • Infertility (if used for long periods)

According to a survey by The Harris Poll for Evofem Biosciences, 55% of sexually active American women do not use any form of birth control, while 36% of those who do claim they would prefer a non-hormonal method.

If the natural route is what you’re looking for, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have stated that using an app like Natural Cycles is far more effective than a traditional tracking method, which is only between 76% to 88% effective.

How does Natural Cycles work?

You use a basal thermometer to measure your temperature each morning before getting out of bed. This measurement is then recorded in the app, along with bleeding days.

Over time, the app gets to know the rhythms of your body and can tell you when you’re fertile (red days) and when you’re not fertile (green days). This is based on dips and spikes in your body temperature.

Cyclers are reminded to use contraception (a condom) if having sex on red days or to abstain. To begin with, you’ll have more red days while the app errs on the side of caution and gets to know your body, but green days will increase over time—as long as you continue to measure your temperature regularly.

Most women don’t know this, but our fertility window is only ever about two-three days long. It’s men who are fertile all the time. Natural Cycles enables women to make the most of this and enjoy unprotected sex with their partner (if they want to) without needing a hormone-based contraceptive.

Does Natural Cycles really work?

A big part of my review of Natural Cycles is helping you understand whether it actually works as a natural contraception and how.

As reported on their website, Natural Cycles is 93% effective with typical use and 98% effective with perfect use.

This statistic comes from a study of over 15,000 women, but what does it actually mean?

What is perfect use?

Perfect use means you use the app correctly 100% of the time. You always abstain from unprotected sex on red (fertile) days and input your temperature in correctly every day.

The statistic “98% effective with perfect use” means out of 100 women, two will get pregnant during one year of using the app, even if they use it perfectly.

Perfect use includes women who had protected sex on a red day, but their chosen method failed (the condom broke, etc.) and women who had unprotected sex on a falsely given green day.

What is typical use?

Typical use is the average number of women who will get pregnant while using the app due to all possible reasons.

That includes measuring their temperature incorrectly, putting it into the app incorrectly, and failing to use protection on a red day—which is the most common cause of pregnancy when using Natural Cycles.

“93% effective with typical use” means out of 100 women, 7 will become pregnant during 1 year of using the app.

To compare, the contraceptive pill also has a 93% effective rate for typical use and a 99% effective rate for perfect use, which means you can choose Natural Cycles knowing that it’s just as effective as the most popular forms of contraception.

My experience with Natural Cycles

I’ve been using the app for over five years to prevent pregnancy, so I can confirm that it does work.

But that doesn’t mean it will work for you; it all depends on your current lifestyle and how regular your cycle is.

My journey: the highs

I felt forced into taking the contraceptive pill because no other options were available. I’ve never liked the idea of taking a drug every day and messing with my natural rhythm, but at the same time, I was grateful that I had this choice. Many women around the world still don’t.

I first came across Natural Cycles through a social media ad by the company in late 2016. I loved the claim it was making, but in the back of my head, all I could think was, “does this really work?” I decided to try it.

It took a bit of getting used to: measuring my temperature each morning and ensuring I was doing it correctly, remembering to bring my thermometer if I slept at his place, and understanding the app and how it worked.

But it was only a few months before we both adjusted to it. Aside from being free of the pill, I loved getting to know my cycle on a more intimate level, and the opportunity to understand how my body works.

My journey: the lows

A few months after becoming a cycler, my partner and I moved from the UK to Bali. Brilliant on the one hand, but a little risky relying entirely on an app for birth control when you’re 7000 miles away from home!

About two months after settling into life in Bali, the Natural Cycles app decided to give me this shocker of a message one morning:

Your temperature is high today. Are you pregnant?

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My heart sank. I couldn’t be, could I?! But I could see that my period was a few days later than normal, so it was a definite possibility.

I spent the next two days in total fear, convincing myself I was pregnant. Every cramp, every sneeze, every thought pointed to pregnancy.

Thoughts like, can I get an abortion pill here, will we have to fly home so I can get an abortion, how stupid was I to trust an app circled my mind.

Until finally, I started to bleed. Panic over.

The funny thing is that I’ve probably been a few days late on my period a lot over the years. But because I’ve never been tracking it, I never noticed.

I clicked: “don’t show me messages like this again” in the app, and I haven’t had a problem since.

Is Natural Cycles right for you?

Natural Cycles has worked for me because I’m in a stable relationship, I have a regular sleep pattern, I don’t have many hangovers, and my cycle is very regular. But this is not the case for many women.

I came across this quote from a woman who tried Natural Cycles, which made me laugh a lot because it pretty much describes me:

The ideal Cycler is in a stable relationship with a stable lifestyle. She’s about 29, and rarely experiences fevers or hangovers. She is savvy about fertility and committed to the effort required to track hers. I could add that her phone is never lost or broken and she’s never late to work. She wakes up at the same time every day, with a charged phone and a thermometer within reach.

—Olivia Sudjic, The Guardian

Here’s when Natural Cycles may not be suitable for you:

  • You’re at university/college
  • You’re having regular, causal sex with different partners
  • You regularly drink alcohol and have hangovers
  • You’re a shift worker or frequent traveler
  • You have health problems and are regularly sick
  • You have an irregular sleep pattern and go to bed/wake up at different times
  • You’re not good at remembering to take your temperature each morning
  • If getting pregnant would be disastrous to you, and you cannot afford to/don’t want to take the risk

You know who you are and the lifestyle you currently live. So be honest with yourself about this.

Ready to get started with Natural Cycles?

  • Download the app
  • Choose a subscription
  • Buy a basal thermometer (this is included free in all annual plans)
  • Read the instructions and watch the welcome video carefully
  • Measure your temperature each morning (place your thermometer under your tongue)
  • Pop your temperature into the app, and wait to see if it’s a red or green day.

It can take around three months for the app to understand your cycle and become more effective.

My experience using Natural Cycles has been incredibly positive, and I can’t speak to its benefits enough. At the same time, I’m aware that it won’t work for everyone, and there are always risks when it comes to all forms of contraception.

The best advice I can give you is to trust yourself, trust your body, and make the choice that’s right for you. There’s no right or wrong. Don’t feel guilted into making a decision that isn’t what you really want and doesn’t give you peace of mind.

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