You may not be familiar with Natural Cycles. Or, you may have seen it online, advertised on instagram or have numerous friends banging on about it. My guess is the latter.
Natural Cycles is changing the way I think and act about sexual activity and the female body. The app is a method of contraception, available in Europe and the US, 93% effective and completely natural. Not only that, at the opposite end of the spectrum, it also serves as a simple way to plan pregnancy. And if you’re interested in neither right now, A) one day you will be, so keep note, and B) you can also make use of the app for period planning, and simply getting to know your cycle and yourself better. You have a choice of plans available depending on what you want to keep track of; ‘Prevent’ if, as the name suggestions, you want to prevent pregnancy, and ‘Plan’, if you’re planning to conceive.
The Natural Cycles method is comprised of a basal thermometer and an app. It provides a digital space for you to take, collect and store all kinds of data about your cycle - and let’s just be clear, I mean your monthly cycle and not just the period part. You can not only track your basal body temperature (which is what helps to determine your fertility), you can also log whether you’re on your period, whether you’ve taken an LH ovulation test (which analyses the levels of luteinising hormones in your urine to let you know when you’re the most fertile), whether you’ve had sex or not, and add any other notes manually that might be important; for example, mood, energy levels, skin and hair condition, pain / nausea, sleep, diet / cravings, digestion - whatever you like!
Natural Cycles is the brainchild of Elina Berglund. She discovered that the body temperature changes throughout the menstrual cycle – something that is well-known and well-researched. She then started analysing her own temperature, applying her statistical knowledge from particle physics to detect ovulation and map out her fertile days. Using the techniques she had learned through the Higgs Boson project, Elina created an algorithm to analyse temperature readings, taking factors like sperm survival, temperature fluctuations, variations in cycle length, ovulation day, and the length of the follicular and luteal phase into account to identify fertile and non-fertile days.
She used to plan and monitor everything and her partner suggested she turn the algorithm into an app. Natural Cycles was born. Initially, it not only helped Elina and her partner to prevent pregnancy – but also to conceive when the time was right. In 2013, they announced that they were switching from the app’s “Prevent” mode to the “Plan” mode, and they didn’t have to wait long for good news. “With a little luck, and the precision of the app, we got pregnant the first cycle”.
Now the app is available and used globally and is having positive benefits to understanding how our body functions but also our our relationships, intimacy and awareness.
How it works & how to use it
Using a basal thermometer provided, you are required to take your temperature first thing each morning (a minimum or 5 times a week) and enter it into the app. You then add the data to your app where it is then processed and logged, and working with your previous recordings and a number of other factors in the algorithm, it highlights whether or not you are fertile. The app will indicate red days as days you need to use contraception to prevent pregnancy, and green days for days when, as far as the algorithm is concerned (and depending on how consistently you have input data), you are not fertile and so unlikely to get pregnant and able to, if you feel comfortable, avoid using any other form of contraception.
A few things to bear in mind
You have to be 18 or older to use Natural Cycles.
To use NC you must ideally have a structured daily routine and are therefore able to manage the discipline and commitment required. Natural Cycles is straightforward to use but requires discipline. It is not simple, and not necessarily for everyone.
You initially need to use the app for a few months before completely trusting it, as it needs enough data and some time to get up to speed with your cycle. To begin with, until it knows enough about you, it will indicate more red days than usual to avoid any risk of unwanted pregnancy.
Users should be willing to measure a minimum of 5 times a week and use condoms on red days. You should also discuss the whole process with your partner, as it is a shared responsibility - which is great!
Natural Cycles encourages couples in a steady, long-term relationship with a structured lifestyle to use the app. It is all about being responsible and taking control, so just because it gives you a green indication, you still might want to be extra careful if you are frequently with new partners and not in a serious relationship yet.
The method does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
No contraception is 100% effective. Natural Cycles is 93% effective and note that a pregnancy can still happen even if you use a contraception perfectly.
My experience & why I use it
I used to be on the pill, from the age of about 16-22. It always affected me, especially within the first few months of using it when I remember bursting into unnecessary tears in the sixth form common room, totally uncalled for and confused. I personally didn’t get on well with the extra hormones and I feel it affected my weight and my skin slightly too. I persevered though, as, back then, there were few other options. When I got to 22 and was completely changing my diet after discovering more about unnatural foods and how to make the most of natural, healing nourishment, I also began to question why I was taking this pill everyday, which was definitely not natural. In school, you are taught and scared into believing how easy it is to get pregnant, but then when you get to older and you’re trying to conceive, you’re told its only really possible a few days a month. Obviously I understand in school a little extra discipline never hurt anyone, but I wish I had had Natural Cycles as an alternative, had I felt capable and responsible enough to commit to it. I am by no means against the pill or hormonal methods of contraception, however, I’m keen to have a more natural lifestyle and so am very, very pro this alternative at this stage of my life.
People say things like “I came off the pill with plenty of time, to give my body a chance to get back to normal”, which is such a strange sentence to me. It makes me think, shouldn’t we want our body to be in a ‘normal’ state, all the time? I think the pill is good for some people, and I know it is used for other things, such as healing acne and in some cases even balancing hormones, but I think other factors also need to be explored and taken into consideration before depending on a pill, and for anyone wanting to try something hormone-free, I would totally recommend Natural Cycles. It gives you more control and more confidence, I think. It shows that you are taking more responsibility and taking matters into your own hands, and it empowers you with knowing what’s going on with your body. It also brings you closer to your partner as it forces you to ensure that they are also involved and prepared to take part of the responsibly by understanding the process and doing their part, especially on red days.
How to take your temperature using the thermometer
Is the pill really bad?
The pill is not bad, however from my personal experience, I didn’t get along well with the effect it had on my hormones and consequently physical and mental health. All though, it’s important to know that the pill carries many additional health benefits for some women.
How confident do you feel not to get pregnant using this and no other contraception?
I had to give the app a few months before I really felt comfortable to trust it. I feel confident that the data is accurate, however, I am still careful on ‘red days’, purely because I am absolutely not at the right stage of my life to even consider falling pregnant just yet. I feel confident and trust the app, however, no contraception is 100% effective. With NC there is a 7% chance of still getting pregnant, so you really need to ask yourself what is important and how careful you think you should be.
How do you know that your change in temp is only due to your cycle?
You need to be disciplined and consistent with taking recordings. You take your temperature before doing anything else - before getting out of bed, before brushing your teeth, before drinking anything - so that your temperature doesn’t deviate due to external factors. If it is particularly warm weather, the temperature is still accurate as your body will still work to maintain its natural body temp. However, it would change depending on if you are ill, sick or hungover. Thankfully, the app has an option to select whether your recording is taken whilst you are ill, sick or hungover, and it treats it as a ‘deviating temperature’. Basically, it doesn’t trust it. You just need to be aware of these things and honest and accurate in the data you provide.
Do you believe it will be reliable?
I would still be a little bit cautious, personally, simply because I am not ready to take any risks. At times of the month where I know there is absolutely no chance that I am fertile, then I rely wholly on this method and, so far so good!
Does it affect with your mood?
Not at all.
How do you know you are taking your temperature correctly?
See diagram above.
Is it more sustainable / eco friendly?
Yes! I guess you won’t be using so many condoms, and you won’t be consuming pills everyday which come in a fair amount of packaging, so less waste in that respect!