Could This Thermometer Overtake The Pill As Our Go-To Method Of Contraception?
The Debrief: We spoke to women using the modern rhythm method as their main form of contraception
There’s an old saying: what do you call people who use the rhythm method? Parents.
The adage comes from the very real fact that the rhythm method is a very basic form of contraception. By simply counting the days after a period, the theory goes that you can predict when ovulation is going to happen, and either avoid sex or use a barrier. It relies solely on past cycles to predict future ones and, if used accurately and rigorously, it can work but there's no escaping the wide margin for human error.
Technology, however, has rebooted natural family planning in recent years, making it far more reliable and user-friendly, and as a result, women are increasingly ditching the pill in favour of it. The name has even changed – most women who use it these days refer to it as the fertility awareness method or (FAM).
One popular tool among FAM devotees is the Daysy fertility tracker. It’s a highly sensitive thermometer that reads basal temperatures (the lowest body temperature attained during sleep) and then feeds the data into its tiny onboard computer that uses a complex algorithm to figure out if you might be fertile. According to the manufacturer, it’s able to tell you if you are fertile or not with an accuracy of 99.3% (the pill and IUD are both over 99% effective). Both the NHS and Planned Parenthood say on their websites that some natural family planning methods if used properly, can be 99% effective.
While the majority of women who use the pill or other hormonal birth control options have no side effects, some do. As a recent Debrief investigation found, 45% of women who use the pill said that they believed they had experienced depression which they attributed to their hormonal contraception. That said, using FAM to prevent pregnancy is still highly controversial – partly because the technology is still so new, and partly because of the misconception that it’s just the rhythm method by a new name. To find out exactly how and why women are replacing hormonal contraception with a fancy thermometer, The Debrief spoke to four women who use the Daysy to hear their stories. (Spoiler alert: none of them got pregnant).
Amy Vaughan, a 24-year-old educational coordinator, was on the pill for five years before she started using the Daysy. She wanted to come off the pill because she had tried a number of different brands and they all gave her unwanted side effects such as acne and thrush. Vaughan started looking into nonhormonal alternatives and that’s when she came across Daysy; her boyfriend split the £244 cost of it with her. 'I'm so glad to be off birth control, it's not good for a woman's body and the time my body has taken to adjust coming off the pill is testament to that,' she said.
Vaughan said that she finds Daysy very easy to use – she takes her temperature with it every morning and it lights up green if it’s non-fertile day (and she can have unprotected sex), red if it’s fertile (she has to either use protection or avoid sex), or yellow to show that it’s still learning cycle so best to be cautious.
'The only time I have trouble is when I wake up at a strange time of the morning and don't take my temperature,' Vaughan said. For the Daysy to work accurately, you have to take your temperature with it by putting it under the tongue immediately after waking up. Missing a couple of days is fine, however, as the device is able to account for the omissions.
Erika Koch-Weser also finds the Daysy very easy to use. The 20-year-old student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign said that taking her temperature every morning has seamlessly become part of her daily routine. 'I recommend Daysy to all the women in my life, because it’s so simple for anyone to use, and I think it is so empowering for women to have a thorough understanding of their bodies,' she said.
Like many women who use the device, Koch-Weser said one of the biggest benefits has been gaining a better understanding of how her body works. 'My belief is that everyone should be charting their cycles, getting to know how their body operates,' she said. 'Daysy absolutely isn’t only useful to those who are trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy. In my opinion, it is a wonderful tool for anyone with a uterus!'
Julie Kelly, 33, tried both the pill and IUD before settling on the Daysy. A trained acupuncturist, Kelly had a bad experience having her IUD fitted. 'I went into shock on the table and had to be monitored for three hours in my OB/GYN office after insertion,' she said. 'I remember shaking uncontrollably and cramps that were so severe, it led me to keeling over and having difficulty breathing the pain was so bad.'
While what Kelly experienced is rare, according to the NHS in the UK and Planned Parenthood in the States, women who get an IUD do report mild discomfort, cramps or pain during insertion. Nonetheless, it was reason enough for her to look into other options.
'I love using Daysy. She’s my most prized possession,' she said. Kelly said that while there are other FAM trackers on the market, such as Wink by the popular cycle tracker app Kindara, she concluded that Daysy was the most straightforward.
'With [other fertility trackers] you still need to interpret the data in your chart on your own and know what it means when you have a spike or dip in temperatures,' she said. 'You don’t need to know how to interpret the chart [with Daysy].'
Kelly does caution that she doesn’t think the Daysy is for everyone. Women who drink a lot, for example, might struggle with the Daysy because both a bad night’s sleep and booze will affect the reading. While it’s fine to omit the odd reading once in awhile, the more frequently it occurs, the more red days you’ll get.
Megan McNamara, 24, never wanted to use hormonal birth control. 'After delving into the literature about hormonal birth control and learning about the many side effects, I feel I've definitely made the right choice,' she said.
McNamara said that she came across the Daysy when she was looking into the fertility awareness method. She said that while her boyfriend was very supportive of her decision to use it, her doctor was not as open-minded. 'Telling my doctor was a bit uncomfortable,' McNamara said. 'She seemed skeptical and made me feel belittled in my choice.' She said that she felt the doctor didn’t really know very much about fertility awareness methods and was only comfortable recommending hormonal birth control options.
'I think many doctors have good intentions and want to provide patients with a reliable form of birth control. However, too often the risks of hormonal birth control are overlooked and hormonal options are over-prescribed,' McNamara said. 'My fertility is not a disease to be treated with drugs. I celebrate my cycle and I am thankful everyday for the body literacy that I have gained in this journey.'
While there's no doubt that the stakes are high when it comes to contraception not working, what's certain is that women are unsatisfied with the conventional, traditional and mainstream options available to them. Attitudes to contraception are changing; women are searching for natural and reliable methods and, as a result, something of a tech revolution in contraception and fertility is underway.
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