With today’s technology, we can track how many calories we burn in a day, record our sleep patterns and even improve our mental health with daily mind exercises. These technologies, usually accessed through apps or wearable tech, encourage us to be more conscious of our health and make positive changes as a result.
One type of app, however, has caused controversy as to its efficacy: period trackers. There are many of these apps that have been created by reputable companies within the women’s health sector, and several (Flo, Clue and Natural Cycles, which currently dominate the app market in this category) have become extremely popular with women who wish to track their menstrual cycles through their smartphones. The main aim of a period tracker app is to record periods and associated physical, mental and emotional symptoms, usually in the form of an interactive calendar or diary. However, some period tracker app creators also claim that their apps can be used as a form of contraception. It is this claim that has caused concerns of safety, efficacy and legitimacy from health professionals.
The Theory Behind Period Tracking As Contraception
Period trackers allow you to input information about your period into an app. This information includes the length of your cycle, when it occurs, and sometimes any related symptoms such as headaches, cramps or mood swings. Over time, period trackers can use an averaging system to work out when your next period will be, and its length. It must be emphasised that this is an informed estimate; there is no app which can 100% accurately predict your period, due to the fact that every woman’s periods are different and the human body can be unpredictable.
There are some apps which go one step further than this, by predicting ovulation periods, too. This information is deduced on the basis that, typically, women ovulate halfway through their periods; therefore, if the app can predict when your periods are likely to take place from the information that you’ve provided, it can also estimate when you’re ovulating.
Due to this ability to calculate ovulation times, there are some apps which claim that their technology can be used as a method of ‘natural contraception’ (the term ‘natural’ is used when the method of contraception does not involve hormone manipulation or barrier methods). This has led to some users foregoing traditional contraception methods for the natural contraceptive method.
How Accurate Are Period Trackers?
One of the most popular period tracking apps claims that it is 93% effective with typical use, and 98% effective with perfect use. These figures are based on a study published in the journal Contraception. However, the NHS argues that this study was conducted retrospectively, which means that the results could be flawed.
In comparison to these figures, other contraceptive methods show similar percentages of efficacy; however, it must be considered that traditional methods have many years of research and development backing them, which, for some people, signals higher reliability.
Deciding which contraceptive method is right for you can be difficult, but it’s important to become well-informed about all available options. No contraceptive method is 100% effective, apart from abstaining from sex; therefore, whatever contraceptive method you use, you should be aware of the risks.
The Major Difference Between Period Trackers And Barrier Methods
The barrier method is one of the oldest and most popular methods of contraception. This involves creating a barrier which prevents sperm from reaching a woman’s eggs. Popular barrier methods include the condom, diaphragm, spermicide and cervical cap.
Some barrier methods not only help to prevent pregnancy, but they can also protect against STIs. This is protection which a period tracking app cannot provide, and it is one of the main differences between the two contraceptive methods.
Dr Albert Aka, Consultant Gynaecologist here at The Gynae Centre adds: “When used correctly, condoms can prevent the transmission of STIs such as HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. These STIs can spread easily, and can cause serious and permanent damage to your health. As well as practicing safe sex, it is important to get regular screenings for as long as you are sexually active.”
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