As awareness grows for the fertility awareness method (FAM), a burgeoning market for books, apps, and thermometers attempts to reframe the narrative surrounding reproductive health and the over-medicalization of the female body. And a nuclear physicist from Sweden might’ve just handed us all a huge win.
For the past few years, physicist and entrepreneur Elina Berglund has been working to create, test, and gain medical approval for her app Natural Cycles. She and her team of specialists have worked tirelessly through the loss of funds, privacy leaks, and public smear campaigns to stop their product from receiving medical clearance. But nevertheless, she persisted and has the data to back it up.
Natural Cycles conducted its first study of 317 women, aged 18-39, to better show the accuracy of their app. This amounted to 1,501 menstrual cycles. Each participant input the first day of their menstrual cycle, their daily BBT, and the results of ovulation tests into the program. According to an analysis of the results, Natural Cycles accurately estimated ovulation within 1.9 days of a positive ovulation test.
After the success of their first study, Natural Cycles went on to conduct a second study based on retrospective data collection. Meaning, they searched for discernible trends among data input by participants. This data was collected from 4,054 users, totaling 483,221 daily entries. This information was then applied to an algorithm to determine the effectiveness of the app. What they discovered was the use of the app, and adherence to FAM guidelines resulted in a rate of unplanned pregnancy of only 7.5% over the course of a year. In other words, of the 4,054 users whose data was tracked and analyzed, 143 women became pregnant. However, upon further analysis of the input data for each of the women who became pregnant, it was discovered they not only had more intercourse overall but were also 49% less likely to have protected intercourse than their non-pregnant peers.
Women have been using FAM for years with high rates of success, what difference does this product make? Here’s why this is a big deal: the thermometer and app created by Natural Cycles are classified as a medical device, making FAM an officially accepted method of birth control in Western medicine.
This means FAM has just as much of a right to be listed as an effective form of birth control as condoms, the pill, and an IUD.
Not only that, according to Planned Parenthood’s data on the birth control pill, 9 out of 100 users will become pregnant over the course of a year with “typical” use. By comparison, Natural Cycles research shows that only 7 out of 100 users will become pregnant over the course of a year with “typical” use of the app—making it as effective (if not more so) than the pill.
Natural Cycles studies have helped pave the way for FAM enthusiasts to finally be taken seriously. Women who use FAM tend to do so because they are looking for a natural, safe, low cost, and effective form of birth control. Many of these women also previously experienced side effects from hormonal birth control options like the pill, Depo-Provera, or the NuvaRing.
The fertility awareness method is an incredibly effective form of birth control that allows women to better understand their unique bodies, helps women and girls get in touch with their reproductive selves, and empowers them to become a better advocate for their own health. Despite all that, it has lacked some legitimacy within the medical world. That is until now.
This is a huge deal.
Amy Sutherland is a period-positive advocate, educator and writer. She prefers tackling topics like reproductive health, fertility, sexuality, feminism, social justice issues and all those tricky subjects you avoid talking about at family gatherings. Amy holds a Master’s Degree in Women’s Health as well as a Graduate Certificate in Holistic Health Studies. Read her full bio here.