Smartphone apps designed to track a woman’s menstrual cycle are being used as contraceptives, a move that researchers have warned could lead to unplanned pregnancies.
Apps are a big deal in the modern world, and a few years ago a new genre of apps burst into the market. These ‘fertility apps’ were initially designed to help couples who were trying to conceive with a few technological tricks. Specifically they collected information about a woman’s menstrual cycle – such as dates, length, temperature and so on – and provided information on when she was likely to ovulate.
However, researchers from the Georgetown University School of Medicine have found that many women aren’t using the apps in order to fall pregnant at all, but rather to avoid pregnancy. Yes, fertility apps are the new technological contraception.
Researchers reviewed nearly 100 fertility apps to test their reliability and scientific methodology and found that many of the apps rely on methods that may be insufficient to avoid pregnancy.
Of this number 55 of the apps were immediately discounted as they either contained a disclaimer telling users not to use them as a contraceptive method, or didn’t use fertility awareness based methods (FABMSs) to determine fertility.
Amazingly the findings of the study, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, showed that only a small number of the apps on the market deliver accurate results, despite millions of collective downloads.
The authors said: “The effectiveness of fertility awareness based methods (FABMs) depends on women observing and recording fertility biomarkers and following evidence-based guidelines. Apps offer a convenient way to track fertility biomarkers, but only some employ evidence-based FABMs.
“Of those reviewed, 30 apps predict days of fertility for the user and 10 do not. Only six apps had either a perfect score on accuracy or no false negatives (days of fertility classified as infertile).”
Those are pretty concerning numbers when you consider how popular the apps are in the modern market. And they’re even more concerning when you consider that some women are relying on these apps to prevent pregnancy. So, while you may have heard stories from your friends and family about how they used the app to avoid pregnancy naturally, these apps are really only a good contraceptive option if you aren’t too fussed about becoming pregnant… which you might.
The good news is that with a little training, women can actually become their own fertility experts, with a number of relatively easy-to-learn methods out there both for predicting your own fertility, and tracking your cycle to avoid pregnancy. Or, as the brains behind the study put it:
“When learning how to track your fertility signs, we recommend that women first receive instruction from a trained educator and then look for an app that scored 4 or more on mean accuracy and authority in our review.”