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Special Report: Women now considering digital birth control

Special Report: Women now considering digital birth control

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She’s single, sexually active, and not looking to get pregnant right now. Mequon native Ansley Laev is a student at UW-Madison and like many 20-somethings, she’s on birth control. She currently uses the ring, but may make a switch.

“(The ring) is hormonal. It's putting artificial hormones into my body and suppressing my natural ones and I'm a big believer in keeping your body natural and letting it do what it naturally does best,” Laev said.

So now she’s considering the first birth control app ever approved by the FDA. It’s called Natural Cycles. The agency just cleared it this fall. 

"I like how it tracks your full menstrual cycle and that it's right on your phone," she said.

Along with entering information about their cycle, women also need to take their temperature first thing in the morning using a basal thermometer.

"That basal body temp rises slightly right around ovulation so that's how a person would know that they're close to ovulating," Meghan Benson, Education Director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, explained.

The information goes straight into the app to be analyzed and ultimately pinpoint which days women are fertile and which days they’re not.

"This is very much about patient's behavior and decision making. So someone needs to be willing, if they're looking to avoid pregnancy, to abstain from sex or use condoms during that time they're fertile,” Benson said.

The Natural Cycles birth control app can be highly effective, according to Benson, if it’s used correctly. She still has concerns though.

"It can be challenging for some people, having to do something every day at the same time. Having to record that information on a daily basis," Benson said.

All that personal responsibility is what leaves Laev a little hesitant about digital birth control.

"The only error it would include is user error. You're putting in 100% of the user data so it's completely up to you if it's working or not,” Laev said.

Natural Cycles says its birth control app is 98% effective with perfect use. Typical use knocks that rate down to 93%.

Numbers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration show contraception methods like an implant or I-U-D are most effective with a 99% effectiveness rate, but Natural Cycle’s effectiveness rate is higher than the pill (91%), the ring (91%), and condoms (82%).

Natural Cycles came under fire recently after a hospital in Stockholm said at least 37 women went to its health facilities for abortions after using the app as their birth control method. The Swedish Medical Products Agency investigated the claims, but found the number of unplanned pregnancies was in line with the 93% effectiveness rate with typical use of the app.

The app costs $9.99/month. Women who use it also need a basal thermometer which you can find online and in some drug stores for less than $10.

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