Smartphone contraceptive apps rarely work and can cause unplanned pregnancy, scientists warn

The apps were initially designed to help couples conceive, but many women are using the fertility tracking information as a form of contraceptive instead

Siobhan Fenton
Thursday 30 June 2016 14:20 BST
Research has warned that the methodology used by many apps lacks adequate scientific grounding
Research has warned that the methodology used by many apps lacks adequate scientific grounding (iStock)

Women are at risk of having unplanned pregnancies by using menstrual cycle apps in place of traditional conception, new research has warned.

Fertility apps were initially designed to help couples who are trying to conceive by informing them when a woman’s menstrual cycle means her fertility levels are at a peak. The apps use the dates of a woman’s period, her temperature and other symptoms to determine fertility levels.

However, instead of using them to increase conception chances, many women are turning to them for the opposite use and using them as a form of contraception, as the apps say when fertility chances are low or impossible too.

Research from the Georgetown University School of Medicine reviewed nearly 100 fertility apps to test how reliable and scientifically grounded their methodology is. They found that many apps rely on Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABMs) which may be insufficient to avoid pregnancy as they do not employ enough evidence based research and methodology.

Of apps analysed, just 6 were found to hold a “perfect score” for accuracy and having no false negatives.

The authors said: “The effectiveness of fertility awareness based methods (FABMs) depends on women observing and recording fertility biomarkers and following evidence-based guidelines. Apps offer a convenient way to track fertility biomarkers, but only some employ evidence-based FABMs.

“Of those reviewed, 30 apps predict days of fertility for the user and 10 do not. Only six apps had either a perfect score on accuracy or no false negatives (days of fertility classified as infertile).”

Study lead Marguerite Duane said of the findings: “Smartphone apps are increasing in popularity because more and more women are interested in using natural or fertility awareness based methods of family planning because they want to feel empowered with greater knowledge of their bodies.

“When learning how to track your fertility signs, we recommend that women first receive instruction from a trained educator and then look for an app that scored 4 or more on mean accuracy and authority in our review.”

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