A few people have sent me links to this article asking me to comment on it because I did a sponsored video with the app last year. The article is titled “‘I felt colossally naive’: the backlash against the birth control app”. And more articles have come out recently since the FDA has now approved the app to be advertised as birth control in the USA.
I would recommend reading the articles I’ve linked. But I wanted to reply to people’s concerns about my working with them last year. And I imagine people have the same concerns about other social media influencers who continue to work with them.
Natural Cycles isn’t for everyone
There is an ideal user of the app and if you don’t fit that box this method of contraception probably won’t work for you. I even talk about this in my video mentioning the type of person this would be best for:
- In a relationship
- Regular and predictable menstrual cycle
- Regular sleep routine
- Doesn’t travel across time zones a lot
- Doesn’t drink a lot
- Healthy (doesn’t get many colds, fevers)
But it seems a lot of people didn’t realise this and reported unwanted pregnancies (not great for a contraceptive app). But one of the things Natural Cycles is under investigation for is it’s advertising practices. Should Natural Cycles be more specific about the ideal user if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy? It might have meant that a lot of people never bothered with the app in the first place.
Fertility Awareness is a legitimate birth control method?
I think the main problem is that people just jump into this method without understanding how it works (e.g. it takes a few months for it to get to know your body so you should be using condoms for that time). And the other problem is that people aren’t talking to their doctors when switching to this method. The Fertility Awareness Method is not a new thing that came with apps. It’s a legitimate contraception, but whilst the app just tracks your cycle and temperature, with Fertility Awareness you also monitor your cervical mucus.
The NHS website also recommends you only use this method after being taught by a qualified fertility awareness teacher. So it’s complicated and requires commitment and training? I’m not surprised that if you aren’t given this information and just download an app and off you go that you might become pregnant. But if you’ve not had this specialist training and you’re using apps like Natural Cycles then whose responsibility is it to educate you? Yourself, the app, your doctor?
The ethics of influencer marketing
One of the other criticisms in the Guardian article was the way Natural Cycles has used influencer marketing – instagrammers showing the thermometer in stylish flat-lays. I think this criticism is fair because these posts promote a lifestyle – an idealised hormone free lifestyle – but with no education. It makes this method desirable without being clear that is doesn’t work for everyone. It may not even work for the person advertising it and yet they still claim it’s part of their morning routine.
Yes I know I made a whole video about Natural Cycles but it was a documentation of my experience using it and I very honestly came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t work for me. There is an expectation with influencer marketing that everything has to be super transparent and personal. Transparent, yes. Personal, not necessarily. Sometimes I promote stuff because I love it. Sometimes I promote stuff because it could be helpful to members of my audience.
So while I don’t regret working with them, I wish there was more education around how the app works. I don’t doubt it’s effective birth control when used correctly. But with human error, other factors that can effect results (alcohol, getting ill, travel, sleep) and a lack of education I’m not surprised there’s been a newsworthy/investigation-worthy amount of unwanted pregnancies reported. Maybe I’ll change my mind depending on what the investigations say but we can only wait.
All I’ll say is, whatever your birth control method, talk to your doctor, ask all the questions, do your research and use it correctly! I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you used the app? Do you think social media influencers should take more responsibility to educate on the things they’re promoting? Who’s more to blame – Natural Cycles or individual users?