If you’ve scrolled through an influencer’s Instagram profile in the last few weeks, you’ll probably see something a little different from their usual latest collab with a fast fashion brand or sponsored giveaway. This new post features them in their bed, looking effortlessly glam, smiling and holding what appears to be a thermometer. No they’re not promoting Covid tests for the NHS or even announcing a pregnancy – they’re doing adverts for the Natural Cycles app.
The Natural Cycles app is a form of natural and hormone free contraception that allows users to track their fertility in order to know when it’s safe for them to have unprotected sex and not get pregnant.
When it was first released it was seen as the kind of contraception women dream about. Finally something that offered hormone free contraception. We could say goodbye to the mood altering pill and the invasive coil. But in 2018, it was soon over everyone’s Instagram pages, and not for the right reasons. In one Swedish hospital alone, 37 women who had fallen pregnant using the app, underwent abortions.
That same year the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) banned an ad for the brand on Facebook. The brand claimed: “Natural Cycles is a highly accurate, certified, contraceptive app that adapts to every woman’s unique menstrual cycle. Sign up to get to know your body and prevent pregnancies naturally”, the brand also stated it was a “clinically tested alternative to birth control methods”. However the ad was banned as the ASA found those claims “highly inaccurate” when taken together.
One user told the BBC at the time she had been swayed by the Facebook advert but felt “misled” as the advert suggested the software on the app was easy to use. Though she struggled with using the app she persevered but still ended up pregnant.
After a few quiet years the app is back on our feeds with influencers such as Olivia Attwood, Amber Turner and Tiffany Watson promoting it. In their posts they talk about their own experiences with contraception, how this app is now their “golden ticket” and share a discount code.
The app meets all legal requirements and is approved for use in the United States and the EU. It works by the user taking their temperature in the morning, recording it in the Natural Cycles app and then the app analysing the date to tell the user if they are fertile or not. This is shown as a red day for fertile or a green day for non fertile.
In all the influencers’ posts and on the company’s website they state it is 93 per cent effective as a form of birth control with typical use and 98 per cent effective with perfect use. They also make it clear the app is for over 18s and does not protect against STIs.
Despite this, many people have shared their experiences claiming to know people who have fallen pregnant whilst using the app. So is it actually worth the risk? We spoke to Dr Sonia Adesara about the risks involved with the app.
She said it requires “real motivation, time commitment and attention to detail” in order for this method of contraception to work. Dr Adesara also says that realistically you need three months in order to be able to reliably track your fertility and that combining it with other measures would more accurately tell you how fertile you are.
She said: “It is more effective when two or more of these signs of fertility are monitored, such as your period patterns and the thickness of the fluid in your vagina. You need to be monitoring this for at least three months, so you get to know your pattern, before you can reliably predict your fertile days.”
Natural Cycles disagreed with this statement and said the app is reliable from the first day of use.
There are also numerous factors that can impact your results. According to the BBC, alcohol consumption, disturbed sleep, going to the toilet or taking painkillers in the night, travelling and working shifts can all impact the results of your fertility reading.
Natural Cycles told The Tab though these things can impact your fertility readings it will also be the same with other forms of contraception.
They said: “While these things can impact your fertility reading – it’s important to note that other common forms of birth control are also impacted by the same situations. Whether it’s the birth control pill, condoms, or other methods, outlying factors such as alcohol consumption and taking medicine (and even diet!) can impact effectiveness.”
The biggest concern for many considering taking the app is its effectiveness in preventing pregnancy.
Dr Adesara says in an ideal setting there is a “failure rate of two to four per cent” however “we’re not perfect, and in real-life, fertility awareness methods like this app, have a failure rate of 15 per cent to 24 per cent”.
Natural Cycles dispute these figures and state it is 93 per cent effective with typical use and 98 per cent with perfect use.
Dr Adesara said: “The combined pill has a real-life failure rate of eight per cent, the copper coil one per cent” and therefore users “need to consider your feelings on if you were to become pregnant, if relying on this method.”
Ultimately Dr Adesara advises women to speak to their GPs about forms of contraception and when it comes to influencers promoting products “you need to be cautious and inquisitive about anything that is being marketed towards you.”
She also expressed her worry with influencers promoting products without any medical knowledge. Though the influencers we have seen have all made clear their posts were paid promotions.
She said: “The problem with influencers is that it is sometimes unclear what their personal view is and what they are being paid to promote. I’m worried influencers are promoting ‘health’ things, without necessarily having expertise or full understanding about what they are promoting.”
The Tab contacted Olivia Attwood, Jessica Hayes, Jessika Power, Chloe Brockett, Elma Pazar, Laura Anderson, Tiffany Watson, Ferne McCann, Amber Turner, Montana Brown, Cara Delahoyde-Massey and Lucy Mecklenburgh who have all recently promoted the Natural Cycles app as part of a paid promotion on their Instagrams.
We asked them if they used the app and if they were aware of the previous controversies surrounding it.
Of these influencers only two replied. Reps for Cara Delahoyde-Massey declined to comment and reps for Jessika Power provided a statement from Natural Cycles.
A spokesperson for Natural Cycles said: “Natural Cycles is 93 per cent effective with typical use and 98 per cent effective with perfect use from day one – it does not become more reliable over time. While users may experience more red days while the algorithm gets to understand their body, the published effectiveness does not change over time.
“Natural Cycles is very different from other fertility awareness methods, which is why the app is more effective and cannot be lumped into the broader category as Dr Adesara refers to. The differences include Natural Cycles removing human error and using basal body temperature. Natural Cycles is 93 per cent effective with typical (or imperfect) use and 98 per cent effective with perfect use.
“For comparison, this would be like saying all SUVs have the same safety rating. When that’s not true – different cars have different safety features and therefore ratings. The same goes for fertility awareness methods.
“Natural Cycles has a higher risk than some other methods – the same goes for it being more effective than other methods. Also, Dr. Adesara references the combined pill having a real-life failure rate of eight per cent – Natural Cycles has a real-life failure rate of seven per cent, so Natural Cycles is in fact on par, if not slightly more effective.”