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Fertility Tracking Apps Increasingly Appear to Not Be Viable Contraceptive Methods

On the home page of the popular contraceptive app Natural Cycles, you’ll see a message that reads “the only certified* contraceptive app.” That asterisk admits the app isn’t perfect at preventing unwanted pregnancies — the disclaimer says every year, 5 out of 1000 women get pregnant because they had sex on a day that the app marked as safe for unprotected sex.

Over the past few years, reports have trickled out suggesting that asterisk should be a little bigger. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising — apps like Natural Cycles don’t introduce new methods so much as they make older methods more convenient. Natural Cycles relies on self-reported temperature measurements from a companion thermometer — basically, the app is doing the hard work of using that data to, over time, predict ovulation. Apps like these mark days when women are ovulating as red, and all other days as green and safe for unprotected sex.

Sounds amazing — contraception with no condoms or caps, no drugs, and no urine tests! But, over the past few years, a number of findings have been asking women to think twice about relying on contraceptive apps to prevent pregnancies, a real eye-opener particularly because Natural Cycles costs a not insignificant $9.99 per month subscription. After this week, there’s going to be even more scrutiny.

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