The European Union has certified a mobile app as a form of birth control for the first time ever.
Developed by particle physicist Elina Berglund, the Natural Cycles app tracks women’s fertility using manually entered menstruation and daily temperature readings. An algorithm then suggests when a woman is most fertile, using red and green days, to either prevent or plan for a pregnancy.
Berglund, who was a member of the team that won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics for its work on the Higgs Boson project, quit her job after the particle was discovered and launched Natural Cycles the following year. She has previously said the mathematics used to track fertility patterns are similar to those used in particle physics.
Fertility tracking, of course, has been around for decades, although typically in more low-tech formats. Women have always tracked menstruation cycles with calendars – either on paper or electronically – and there are more than 1,000 apps that track menstruation available for download.
Berglund’s app is significant because it’s the first app to be officially approved as a contraceptive, not just as a supplement to other preventive methods such as condoms, the pill and an intrauterine device (IUD). It was first recognised as a contraceptive by Tüv Süd, a German inspection and certification organisation, in February.
Around 4,000 women participated in a clinical study of the app, and only seven out of 100 women who were attempting to prevent a pregnancy got pregnant using the app, compared to around 24 of 100 women who used a rhythm or calendar method. This success rate also puts Natural Cycles on par with the pill.
Berglund told The Guardian that the app’s ideal user is a woman in a stable relationship who is planning on having children at some point. She also said the app isn’t meant for women who are inconsistent with tracking cycles or have irregular cycles.
The app currently has 300,000 users and anyone can test the app with a free 30-day trial. Once that expires, it costs $US5.99/mth, with no thermometer included. There is also an annual plan for $US39.99, equating $US3.35/mth with a thermometer included.