What the American Board of Family Medicine has to say about the efficacy of apps for contraception (it's good news for those looking for natural birth control).
This past month a research paper was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine examining the efficacy of 95 fertility apps on the market for their accuracy and reliability in avoiding pregnancy. The results have been picked up by the mainstream media and used to create catchy headlines like “Most fertility apps don’t help women avoid pregnancy” and “You might be using your fertility app all wrong.”
As someone who has been teaching fertility awareness for close to a decade, (and also as the wife of a medical researcher), I had some different take-aways.
Of the 95 apps that were examined, six of them actually scored perfectly for predicting the fertile window accurately. To assess the apps' efficacy, they compared the algorithms with the established guidelines for Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FABM) that have documented efficacy. For those looking for hormone-free birth control, this is great news.
FAM is 99.4% effective when done correctly which means that for the first time ever, reliable, natural birth control is widely available to people around the globe.
Another study published this year in the European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care found that a commonly used fertility awareness app had mispredicted times of fertility in many cases, increasing the Pearl Index (number of unplanned pregnancies per woman year) of the app from 0.5 to 7 out of 100. Therefore, this paper underscores the importance of using a reliable app if you are going to use fertility prediction software, since many of the other apps reviewed scored poorly.
Included in the study were ten apps that do not provide fertility prediction but instead encourage users to receive proper education on fertility awareness themselves.
I appreciate that the investigators provided these apps with a high accuracy score – respecting that with proper education menstruators are capable of achieving high levels of contraceptive efficacy.
I am grateful for these types of apps, as they pair the convenience, portability and aesthetic appeal of an app (the best qualities of technology) with the power that comes from intimate knowledge of one’s body. They promote autonomy, personal responsibility and body literacy, all key values we hold at Red Tent Sisters.
Among the top five apps in this category was Kindara, a company we have worked closely with for many years. When other factors aside from accuracy were factored in, such as support, cost, and ease of use, Kindara tied for third place overall among the 95 apps.
While the research study was designed primarily to assess fertility apps, the real takeaway from this study is the importance of education. The concluding sentence for the abstract of the paper is:
“Relying solely on an app to us an FABM, without appropriate training in the method, may not be sufficient to prevent pregnancy.”
This is validating for Fertility Awareness Educators (FAE) like myself. It reminds us that computers, apps and phones perform best when they are used as tools, rather than as a substitute for human thought, wisdom and awareness. Overall, I hope this study, as well as the European Journal study, will encourage people to become aware that there are effective hormone-free contraceptive options out there. But more importantly, that there is no substitute for true knowledge of our reproductive cycles.
If you track your cycles but are new to the concept of fertility awareness or body literacy, you can get a brief introduction to the benefits of more accurate charting by downloading our free report below.
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Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for people seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.