For the First Time Ever, FDA Approves ‘Natural Family Planning’ App: But is This a Good Idea?
Sex educator/sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman explains the possible issues with this app and the rhythm method
For the first time in history, the Food and Drug Administration has cleared a natural family planning method as a form of contraception. While natural family planning (also known as the “rhythm method”) has been around for thousands and thousands of years, in the modern era this method has gotten an update in the form of apps for a woman’s smartphone. And, now, one of these apps (Natural Cycles) has won the FDA’s stamp of approval as a method of preventing pregnancy. But is this a wise choice for women who don’t want to add to their family?
“There is no denying that our current options for birth control can be quite problematic,” says Dr. Laura Berman, leading sex educator, popular television personality, radio host, and New York Times bestselling author. “Birth control pills come with a bevy of side effects, condoms are not foolproof and methods like the diaphragm can come with user error and other issues.”
On the other hand, natural family planning requires no hormones. It’s free, it’s accessible for everyone and it doesn’t require any doctor’s visits. “For many women, that’s temptation enough to try the plan,” says Dr. Berman. “No costly or painful shots or pills. No implants in the arm or IUDs to contend with. It’s easy to see why this ‘new’ method of birth control is gaining in popularity.”
However, Dr. Berman fears that a lack of sex education and accurate knowledge of female anatomy could make this choice of birth control problematic. “There is a shocking lack of sex ed in this country. Many women grew up in schools where things like menstruation and ovulation were simple not discussed at all, hence, they are pretty much in the dark now when it comes to their own bodies. This could pose a major roadblock when trying natural family planning.”
Before encouraging widespread use of natural family planning, Dr. Berman thinks that the country first needs to overhaul its sex-education programs and reach out to those teens who are most at risk of pregnancy. She also points out that consent is a huge topic which is currently missing from this natural family planning debate.
“All the apps in the world aren’t going to prevent pregnancy if you have a partner who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer or who berates his partner into having intercourse, even when she’s ovulating. Until we really start prioritizing messages about consent and bodily autonomy in our schools, then apps like Natural Cycles aren’t going to be very useful for at-risk populations,” says Dr. Berman.