I'm Using A Thermometer (And App) As Birth Control And It's Working

Natural Cycles offers women an unconventional way to tackle their fertility.

I'm Using A Thermometer (And App) As Birth Control, Seriously

I have to admit, the idea of writing publicly about my birth control plan made me uncomfortable, (even though I know no one actually cares). As the mom of two kids, it’s no secret I’ve had sex. But still, it’s a touchy subject. That said, I'm grateful I discovered Natural Cycles and hope other women benefit from it, too. And, for the record, this is not an ad.

To start, I’m pretty darn sure I’m done having babies. Unless there’s some unexpected change of heart in the next couple years, we’ll take more drastic measures to keep the swimmers from swimming, so to speak. But, for now, I still want to leave the option open, just in case life throws us a curveball.

It’s funny how many friends have asked me why my husband doesn’t just get a vasectomy when I say we’re done having kids. And, really, the answer is twofold. I know he likes being a dad and if something were to happen to me, I wouldn’t want to make it impossible for him to have kids with another partner, (contrary to what you might've heard, vasectomies can be difficult to reverse). And, I guess, on some level, I’m not 100% ready to shut the door.

Nonetheless, I refuse to use hormonal contraceptives. Been there, done that. It took me years in my early twenties to realize how much the pill was messing with my body. From IBS-like symptoms to dizziness and nearly passing out on multiple occasions, I had a really hard time with hormones. Once I stopped using hormonal contraceptives (the patch included), everything got better.

Hormonal birth control definitely isn't for everyone.
Hormonal birth control definitely isn't for everyone.

And, to be perfectly honest, I survived the second half of my twenties with the much-warned-against pull-out method. While I was well aware of the risks, I also read that for many couples it worked (if the man is able to show restraint). Combine that with being married and knowing I wanted babies down the road, and I was willing to take the chance. In five plus years we never had an accident, (although I feel it’s my duty to say we may have been lucky).

Then we had babies and between pregnancies, breastfeeding, and knowing we wanted multiple children, three more years passed without the need for more drastic measures. However, as soon as I had my second child, I knew we were going to have to be more careful. The mere thought of adding a third baby to our lives was enough to induce panic and I needed to know we were doing everything possible to prevent pregnancy, short of hormones or surgery.

I did consider the copper IUD, but as someone who already has a lot of period pain, I wasn’t impressed by the promise of heavier, crampier periods. And, the idea of causing chronic inflammation, even localized, didn’t sit well with me either. So, it was back to the method of my early days of sexual activity. Condoms. 

I’m convinced nobody likes condoms. Seriously, nobody. We’ve already been through various brands, including several that claim to be toxin-free (which is apparently something else we have to worry about), and I don’t love any of them. My husband flat out hates them. I think he’s even coming around to the idea of a vasectomy just to forego them forever.

So, when I heard there was an app that could help pinpoint ovulation and make it possible to not need condoms all of the time, I was definitely curious. I mean, it sounds too good to be true to not use any other form of protection during “non-fertile” windows, but it also makes sense. After all, women are supposed to only be fertile for six days a cycle, so with the right math and careful tracking, it seems plausible you could safely have sex without the worry of pregnancy during certain times of the month.

Natural Cycles relies on daily thermometer readings, LH tests, and an algorithm to calculate each women's individual (and changing) fertile window.
Natural Cycles relies on daily thermometer readings, LH tests, and an algorithm to calculate each women's individual (and changing) fertile window.

Still, I’m pretty sure my second daughter was conceived just days from when I was expecting my period (which makes little sense) and I really don’t want another baby, so I did my research. As it turns out, Natural Cycles is an approved form of birth control by the FDA and the EU. In a study of more than 22,000 users, the efficacy rate was 93% with typical use, slightly better than the pill, which completely blew me away.

Even so, I had to dig deeper. I just couldn’t chance it. So, I googled and of course found stories of unintended pregnancies, because MOST forms of birth control have a failure rate. And, much of the criticism I found didn’t even match the way the app works. It’s not just temperature readings, you also get reminders to do an LH test around the time you’re likely to ovulate to help confirm your fertile window. Accordingly, it’s not your grandma’s rhythm method or even your mom’s calendar method of fertility awareness. It’s based on your body and a highly-sensitive algorithm.

I found this all to be convincing enough to give it a shot. But, to be completely honest, even with the app in play, I’ve resorted back to the pullout method on the days I’m supposedly not fertile, (condoms when I am). Despite all the fuss around withdrawal not working, it has a 78% efficacy rate according to Planned Parenthood, so I figure it’s a little extra protection if for some reason Natural Cycles didn’t work. And, combined, the two have to significantly lessen my chances of getting pregnant, right?

I really do hate condoms. We had one malfunction while using the app and at least it was nice to know where I was in my cycle, even if it also induced anxiety.
I really do hate condoms. We had one malfunction while using the app and at least it was nice to know where I was in my cycle, even if it also induced anxiety.

When it comes to the daily work required by Natural Cycles, there are some drawbacks. You have to take your temperature at pretty much the same time every day when you first wake up. No getting out of bed or even sitting up, as these actions can cause your temperature to rise. Moreover, if you’re sick, hungover, or didn’t get your regular amount of sleep, the measurement doesn’t count. And, as the mom of a toddler and preschooler, I’m finding there are a lot of mornings when I can’t use my reading because I either didn’t sleep enough or am fighting off a cold, (in fact, this month, I've been sick and wasn’t able to pinpoint my ovulation).

So, it’s not a perfect system and it’s definitely ideal for a certain type of person. In order for the app to work, you have to be generally healthy, have a fairly consistent schedule, and the discipline to take your temperature every morning. If you miss a day or two, the app adjusts, but it really has to become part of your routine. And, you have to be less risk averse than most because even if it works, it still takes a lot of trust to step away from everything you’ve been told about avoiding pregnancy your whole life.

Nonetheless, it’s exactly the extra information I needed to balance condoms and withdrawal. It’s a bridge to get me through these last few childbearing years where pregnancy wouldn’t be the end of the world. While I don’t want another baby, my life wouldn’t be ruined if I had one. In fact, I know I’d be happy once I adjusted my vision for the future. So, for women in a similar space, who don’t want to deal with hormones or surgeries, and could cope with an unexpected pregnancy, it’s an empowering tool.