In this article, I’ll be sharing my review of the natural birth control app Natural Cycles.
Let me begin my explaining that I never wanted to take the pill. But after a condom-splitting incident with my partner, just 6 months into our relationship, I felt I had no other choice.
That was until I spotted an ad on social media for a natural method of contraception. Enter, Natural Cycles. And I’ve been using the app to prevent a pregnancy for over three years.
If you found your way here, chances are you’re looking for an alternative birth control method to the pill or the implant, and you’ve heard of Natural Cycles, but you want to know if it actually works. And that’s exactly what I’m going to cover in this article.
Natural Cycles Review:
- What is Natural Cycles?
- Should I stick with the pill instead?
- Does Natural Cycles really work & how?
- The app is backed by plenty of research,
- But has also had some bad press.
- My Natural Cycles review: the highs & lows
- Is the app right for you?
- How much does it cost?
- How to get started
What is natural cycles?
Natural Cycles is an FDA approved and CE marked hormone-free birth control app that enables women to either prevent or plan a pregnancy, founded by Dr. Elina Berglund and her husband, Raoul Scherwitzl. It currently boasts more than 1.5 million cyclers.
There are plenty of other period tracking apps on the market today including Clue, Dot and Spot On, but Natural Cycles is the only one certified as a contraceptive method.
Should I stick with the pill instead?
I know this is a review of Natural Cycles, which inadvertently dismisses the pill, but the contraceptive pill was a brilliant invention; and having access to it has given us freedom and control over the way we live our lives.
But 60 years later, we’re experiencing a birth control backlash. As with most things, there are many pros and cons to taking or abstaining from the pill.
Health benefits of the pill include:
- Regulating heavy or painful periods
- Treating acne or hirsutism
- Reduces the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers
- Helps with conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and adenomyosis.
Issues with the pill include:
- Low libido
- Thyroid issues
- Adrenal fatigue
- Gut health issues
- Digestive distress
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Mood swings
- Infertility (if used for long periods of time)
According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll for Evofem Biosciences, 55% of sexually active American women do not use any form of birth control; while 36% of those who do claim they would prefer a non-hormonal method.
This points to a definitive move away from the pill, in the search for a natural approach.
I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad trend since it pushes people to look at their overall nutrition, lifestyle, and stress levels.
—Navya Mysore, M.D., a primary-care physician.
If the natural route is what you’re looking for, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have stated that using an app like Natural Cycles is far more effective than a traditional tracking method, which are only between 76% to 88% effective.
How does Natural Cycles work?
You use a basal thermometer to measure your temperature each morning before getting out of bed. This measurement is then recorded in the app, along with bleeding days.
Over time, Natural Cycles gets to know the rhythms of your cycle, and can tell you when you’re fertile (red days) and when you’re not fertile (green days). This is based on dips and spikes in your body temperature.
Cyclers are reminded to use contraception (a condom) if having sex on red days, or to abstain. To begin with, you’ll have more red days while the app errs on the side of caution and gets to know your body, but green days will increase over time—as long as you continue to measure your temperature regularly.
LH tests can be additionally purchased, and used to confirm ovulation, but this isn’t necessary.
Most women don’t know this, but our fertility window is only ever about six days long. It’s men who are fertile all the time. Natural Cycles enables women to make the most of this and enjoy unprotected sex with their partner (if they want to), without the need for a hormone-based contraceptive.
But I want to point out that Natural Cycles does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. If you’re having sex with someone new, and you haven’t yet had that talk, always use a condom.
Does Natural Cycles really work?
A big part of my review of Natural Cycles is helping you understand whether it actually works as a form of natural contraception, and how. Because if it doesn’t, I wouldn’t want you to use it either!
As reported on their website, Natural Cycles is 93% effective with typical use and 98% effective with perfect use.
This statistic comes from a study of over 15,000 women, but what does it actually mean?
What is perfect use?
Perfect use means that you use the app correctly 100% of the time, which means you always abstain from unprotected sex on red (fertile) days.
The statistic “98% effective with perfect use” means out of 100 women, 2 will get pregnant during 1 year of using the app, even if they use it perfectly.
Perfect use includes women who had protected sex on a red day, but their chosen method failed (the condom broke etc.); and women who had unprotected sex on a falsely given green day.
What is typical use?
Typical use is the average number of women who will get pregnant while using the app due to all possible reasons.
That includes measuring their temperature incorrectly, inputting it into the app incorrectly, and failing to use protection on a red day—which is the most common cause of pregnancy when using Natural Cycles.
“93% effective with typical use” means out of 100 women, 7 will become pregnant during 1 year of using the app.
To compare, the contraceptive pill also has a 93% effective rate with typical use, and a 99% effective rate for perfect use; which means you can choose Natural Cycles knowing that it’s just as effective as the most popular forms of contraception.
The birth control app is backed by plenty of research
We’ve all heard the saying, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And I think this is why Natural Cycles has found itself in the firing line over the past few years. But there’s plenty of research and medical approval to back the apps’ claims.
Natural Cycle’s founders have carried out three clinical studies, which I’ve summarised below:
- Clinical Study I – Prediction and identification of fertile window.
Natural Cycles was found to be effective in identifying the cycler’s ovulation day and fertile window.
- Clinical Study II – Effectiveness of Natural Cycles.
This study showed that the app appears to improve the effectiveness of fertility awareness based methods.
- Clinical Study III – Effectiveness of Natural Cycles.
And this final study confirmed Natural Cycles has a 98% effectiveness rate and a 92.5% effective rate with actual use.
Are Natural Cycles FDA approved?
Yes! Natural Cycles are FDA approved, and are the only menstrual tracking app that have been to date.
But Natural Cycles has also had some bad press
Like all forms of birth control, Natural Cycles is not always effective. There have been many reports of unwanted pregnancies attributed to the app, which has led to two European investigations.
It was reported that 37 out of 668 women in one of Stockholm’s hospitals sought an abortion, after relying on the app for birth control. However, in December 2019 The Swedish Medical Products Agency completed its review and found the pregnancies matched the stated failure rate by the app.
That is the downside of working with contraception. Since no contraception is 100%, there will always be pregnancies. We very much empathize with all women that experienced an unwanted pregnancy but that is unfortunately what happens.
—Co founder, Dr. Elina Berglund
I’ve also come across data privacy concerns, since Natural Cycles openly states it stores all user’s data, and there are never any guarantees as to how this data will be used in the future.
I have to admit this is a concern that has crossed my mind a couple of times. But if you took data privacy seriously, you would probably end up not using the internet or owning a smartphone; both of which are almost unavoidable in our world today.
It all comes down to what’s most important to you. For me, being able to use a natural method of birth control outweighs the potential risk of my data being used inappropriately in the future.
My natural cycles review
Does Natural Cycles actually work?
I’ve been using the app for over three years to prevent a pregnancy, so I can confirm that yes, it does work.
But that doesn’t mean it will definitely work for you; it all depends on your current lifestyle and how regular your cycle is.
My journey: the highs
Like I mentioned at the start of this article, I felt forced into taking the contraceptive pill because there were no other options available to me. I’ve never liked the idea of taking a drug every day and messing with my natural rhythm; but at the same time, I was grateful that I had this choice. Many women around the world still don’t.
I first came across Natural Cycles through a social media ad by the company in late 2016. I loved the claim it was making, but in the back of my head all I could think was, “does this really work?”
A year later, after speaking with my boyfriend about it, I decided to give it a try. He didn’t like the idea of me being on the pill either, but loved the promise of at least being able to have condom-free sex some of the time.
It took a little bit of getting used to at first. Measuring my temperature each morning, and making sure I was doing it correctly. Remembering to bring my thermometer with me if I slept at his place. And understanding the app and how it actually worked.
But it was only a few months before we both adjusted to it. Aside from being free of the pill, I loved getting to know my cycle on a more intimate level, and the opportunity understand how my body works.
My journey: the lows
I will be open in my review of Natural Cycles, and say there have been a couple of hiccups along the way.
A few months after becoming a cycler, my partner and I decided to move from the UK to Bali. Brilliant on the one hand, but a little risky when it comes to relying entirely on an app for birth control when you’re 7000 miles away from home!
About two months after settling into life in Bali, the Natural Cycles app decided to give me this shocker of a message one morning:
Your temperature is high today. Are you pregnant?
My heart sank. I couldn’t be, could I?! But I could see that my period was a couple of days later than normal, so it was a definite possibility.
I spent the next two days in total fear, convincing myself that I was pregnant. Every cramp, every sneeze, every thought pointed to pregnancy.
Thoughts like, can I get an abortion pill here, and will we have to fly home so I can get an abortion and how stupid was I to trust an app circled my mind.
Until finally, I started to bleed. Panic over.
The funny thing is, I’ve probably been a few days late on my period plenty of times over the years. But because I’ve never been tracking it, I never noticed.
I told my app: “don’t show me messages like this again,” and I haven’t had a problem since.
Is Natural Cycles right for you?
Natural Cycles has worked for me because I’m in a stable relationship, I have a regular sleep pattern, I don’t have many hangovers and my cycle is very regular. But of course, this is not the case for many women.
I came across this quote from a woman who tried Natural Cycles, which made me laugh a lot because it pretty much describes me:
The ideal Cycler is in a stable relationship with a stable lifestyle. She’s about 29, and rarely experiences fevers or hangovers. She is savvy about fertility and committed to the effort required to track hers. I could add that her phone is never lost or broken and she’s never late to work. She wakes up at the same time every day, with a charged phone and a thermometer within reach.
—Olivia Sudjic, The Guardian
Here’s when Natural Cycles may not be suitable for you:
- You’re at university/college
- You’re having regular, causal sex with different partners
- You regularly drink alcohol and have hangovers
- You’re a shift worker or frequent traveller
- You have health problems and are regularly sick
- You have an irregular sleep pattern, and go to bed/wake up at different times
- You’re not good at remembering to take your temperature each morning
- If getting pregnant would be disastrous to you, and you cannot afford to take the risk
You know who you are and the lifestyle you currently live. So be honest with yourself about this.
If you enjoy going out having cocktails with friends a few times a week, and are prone to waking up with hangovers, then it wouldn’t be responsible of you to choose Natural Cycles as your method of contraception.
On the other hand, if you’ve been in a long-term relationship for a while now, have a fairly settled life, are in good health, or regularly wake up at a similar time each morning, the app may be well-suited to you.
When I was at university, this would not have been an option for me because I woke up hungover a lot. But at 27, in a stable relationship, it made a lot of sense to me.
How much does it cost?
This review would not be complete without mentioning how much Natural Cycles will set you back.
In the UK, it currently costs £49.99 per year or £6.99 per month.
In the US, an annual subscription costs $79.99 or $9.99 per month.
All annual plans come with a free basal thermometer to track your temperature. It’s a simple design, compact and lightweight making it ideal to travel with (when you need to), and the battery lasts for around a year. You can buy replacement batteries inexpensively on Amazon.
How to get started
- Download the app
- Choose a subscription
- Buy a two decimal basal thermometer (this is included free in all annual plans)
- Read the instructions and watch the welcome video carefully
- Measure your temperature each morning (place your thermometer under your tongue)
- Pop your temperature into the app, and wait to see if it’s a red or green day.
It can take around three months for the app to understand your cycle and become more effective. To begin with, you’re likely to have more red days, so be patient and always use protection if having sex on a red day.
If you want to be extra cautious, keep using condoms even on green days during the first month or two until you’re comfortable and confident using the app.
And that is my review of Natural Cycles!
I wanted to be really transparent in this post, and I hope that has come across.
Personally, my experience using Natural Cycles has been an incredibly positive one, and I can’t speak to its benefits enough. At the same time, I’m aware that it won’t work for everyone, and there are always risks when it comes to all forms of contraception.
The best advice I can give you is to trust yourself, trust your body, and make the choice that’s right for you. There’s no right or wrong. Don’t feel guilted into making a decision that isn’t what you really want, and doesn’t give you peace of mind.
If you’re new to learning about your menstrual cycle, I’d recommend checking out this article that I wrote: Menstrual Cycle Planning: Flow With Your Cycle At Home & Work. It will give you a great intro into what your hormones are doing at different stages of your cycle, what the four main stages mean for you and how to work with them.