Backlash Against Natural Cycles

Good news, everyone! The FDA has approved the “contraceptive” Natural Cycles. I put “contraceptive” in quotes because Natural Cycles is technically a fertility tracking app, not a true contraceptive in the sense that the Pill or condoms are. It involves no artificial hormones or devices and is “natural” because the woman is monitoring her body’s signs and using the app to track them. She is not altering the natural state of her body but merely observing it to determine when her fertile and infertile phases are. Based on her body’s natural signs, she can determine whether to avoid or achieve pregnancy during that particular cycle.

Fertility tracking is supposedly coming back into style because many are not satisfied with the Pill because it causes unwanted, uncomfortable side effects and is bad for the environment. Other hormonal contraceptives are often mistrusted for the same reasons. More “mechanical” methods such as condoms are not trusted because they were never known to be as effective as the Pill and the other hormonal methods. There is also the relatively recent obsession with having a cleaner environment, and hormonal contraceptives such as the Pill have been known to pollute the environment.

Upon approval by the FDA, Natural Cycles was met with backlash because, well, it caused women to have unintended pregnancies and was billed as a contraceptive when in reality, it is not. Used correctly, Natural Cycles and other fertility tracking methods can be extremely effective at preventing pregnancy, even more so than the Pill. However, they require a lot more “work” on the user’s part to reach the optimal rate of effectiveness. The user can’t just simply take a pill or put on a condom. Natural Cycles and other similar methods work best when both partners agree on using them and commit to using them properly. Together, the partners decide whether each cycle would be the right one in which to avoid or a conceive a child, and that decision influences how they will use the information from the Natural Cycles app. Using this kind of method without the involvement and full knowledge of the other partner is dishonest, so it is really meant for those who are in long-term, committed relationships.

It seems, from reading the negative comments about Natural Cycles, that people don’t like that there is an “ideal user” of the app. The “ideal user” is someone in a committed relationship, and that should honestly be the case for all contraceptives. Ideally, the decision to use (or not to use) them should belong to both partners. The “ideal user” is also mature enough to and organized enough to keep track of her cycle and handle the consequence properly if the app happens to “fail.” I would argue that Natural Cycles really isn’t meant for very young women who are in college or high school.

The app should not be used with the attitude that if the contraceptive fails, abortion can be used as a backup method. Supposedly (and very sadly), Natural Cycles was “causing” more abortions because it failed so often, but again, I think that is more a result of the FDA not giving it a proper label as a fertility tracker rather than a contraceptive. It is also more a result of users falsely believing that it is just as “easy” to use as more common contraceptive methods. Entering information into an app may seem super easy, but the information needs to be entered accurately for the app to correctly analyze the data.

In short, it is wonderful that the FDA approved Natural Cycles, but it won’t truly be effective or widely used and understood unless the overarching mentality around contraceptives, sex, and babies changes… and it will probably a long time before that happens.