There is more to contraception than the pill - interview for Women's Health Advice
Women in the UK may not always get the complete picture about fertility control choices.
"The UK has a culture that largely equates contraception with the pill and other artificial methods of contraception," says Luke Manczak, managing director of. "It seems that few women in the UK know about natural contraception options."
Natural family planning (NFP) involves using your body's signs and symptoms to assess if you're currently fertile and likely to get pregnant if you have sex. There are no physical side effects, and as well as being used to avoid conception this method can be used to plan pregnancy.
In practice NFP has traditionally involved identifying the days within your cycle on which you are fertile by taking daily readings of your body temperature, and/or monitoring the secretions of mucus from your cervix and combining this information with past information about the length of your menstrual cycle. Natural family planning must also take into account the fact that sperm can survive up to five days in fertile vaginal mucus.
In the UK the NHS recommends that women are taught NFP by specialist teachers. The method can take three to six months to learn and requires steady discipline.
However, collecting and compiling ongoing data like this is easy for a computer. Computers that calculate women's fertile days, such as the Lady-Comp fertility monitor, have been around for about 20 years, but not all women know about them.
The Lady-Comp is a small device with a supersensitive thermometer attached, which a woman places under her tongue each morning immediately after waking (the device can also be used as an alarm clock and is small enough for travel use).
It compiles records of the temperature, identifies the slight rise at ovulation, and compares the resulting natural temperature cycle with 700,000 records of women's cycles stored in its memory. The woman can also input details of her body-mass index and present and past menstrual cycles in order to give the device more information with which to work. Given this data the fertility computer uses an algorithm to calculate the cycle that is specific to the user. No forms and charts need to be filled in.
When intercourse could result in pregnancy the device displays a red light. A green light indicates that the woman is in an infertile period and intercourse will almost certainly not result in pregnancy. When the situation is uncertain (if, for instance, the temperature cycle is disturbed because of illness or alcohol) a yellow light appears and the woman is left to decide. When there is any doubt the device never displays green.
"There will be more red and yellow lights until the Lady-Comp has learned the woman's cycle, but it is reliable from the first day of use, and she can feed in details of previous cycles to help it build up experience faster," says Manczak.
"conducted on women in Germany and Switzerland showed that the Lady-Comp has a Pearl Index of 0.7, which equates to it being 99.36 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy when used correctly," says Manczak. The Pearl Index is an international measure that compares contraceptive methods.
"It is used as a fertility monitor by thousands of women in the USA and Europe where we estimate there are 100,000 users in continental Europe alone. It is well known in Germany, Sweden, Italy, Spain and Poland where there are 60,000 users," says Manczak.
Women can also use it in combination with cervical mucus monitoring, but Manczak says early tests in using the combination did not prove any more effective than using temperature readings alone, so the designers decided to focus solely on temperature for simplicity and ease of use.
Lady-Comp users in the UK tend to fall into three groups, he says:
- Women who suffer side-effects from hormonal contraception, or who cannot tolerate the coil.
- Women who are keen to take charge of their own fertility using natural fertility awareness methods (FAM).
- Many Christians and Catholics. "Many couples believe that fertility is a blessing rather than a curse to be fought against with unnatural means and natural family planning methods, like Lady-Comp comply with that philosophy of natural fertility management. Additionally the pill and coil often do not prevent ovulation (only ) so a woman can still conceive," says Manczak.
He adds: "Every woman can be empowered by fertility awareness knowledge and natural and healthy methods of birth control - which are already a scientifically proven standard. It is a woman's right to know about all methods available so she can make educated, health-conscious choices."