Contraception – there’s an app for that isn’t there?

Fertility app proves as effective as the pill as a contraceptive aid


Would you trust an app on your smart phone to prevent an unwanted pregnancy? Would you have more or less faith in it than your current chosen method?

Researchers at the Karolinska institute in Sweden have been studying the ability of fertility apps, designed to let couples know the best time to try and conceive, to act as a contraceptive.

The app requires the woman to enter her body temperature daily from which an algorithm works out the individual fertility cycle over time and is able to indicate ‘green’ days when conception is more likely and ‘red’ days when it is highly unlikely.

For contraceptive purposes, of course, the indicators are reversed.

The research team followed the experiences of over 4,000 sexually active women aged between 20 and 35 over the course of a full year to see how many became pregnant during that time using only the app as an aid to contraception.

The results were expressed against the Pearl Index, the internationally recognised measure of contraceptive effectiveness developed by American biologist Raymond Pearl in 1933.

The Pearl index expresses numerically the number of pregnancies (failures) occurring during the use of a particular type of contraception over a timescale of 100 years of exposure. This could be the result of 100 women using the method for one year or 50 for two years etc.

The result forecasts the number of pregnancies that could be expected in 100 women over a year using any given method, providing a measure of effectiveness as a percentage figure.

The formula assumes perfect usage, meaning that the users of the contraception follow the precise instructions on implementation and that they will have provided absolutely accurate health measurements as required.

Used properly, for example, a condom should result in only a 2% pregnancy rate caused by material failures in the structure of the condom. In reality the failure rate rises to the level of around 18% because it is not worn properly, or applied too late or missed out altogether.

The contraceptive pill, still the most popular method used by most women, has a failure rate of 0.3% with perfect use rising to 8% in general use, usually because its daily intake has been interrupted or forgotten.

Incredibly, the app researchers found that their results were directly comparable to the pill, with a Pearl index of 0.3% with perfect usage rising to 9% when mistakes are made.

The app developers are keen to point out that their product has no side effects and has no impact on a woman’s physiology whatsoever.

One app, which has been on the market for over two years, has over 100,000 registered users but it remains to be seen how many of the 3.5 million women in the UK who have chosen the pill as their chosen method of contraception would be willing to switch.

A recent online poll shows 85% of respondents would not trust an app over the pill to prevent pregnancy.

We shall see.




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