Following on from our first article in the period series, our next big question is – when is the best time to have sex to avoid or enable a bun in the oven, and are period tracking apps an effective form of contraception?
To kick things off, let’s firstly look at when we’re fertile throughout our monthly cycle.
In order to get pregnant, you need to boink on the days leading up to and around when you ovulate. Your ‘fertile window’ can last up to six days, but your two most fertile days are the day prior to ovulation and the day of ovulation itself. And did you know those slippery little spermies can live for up to 5 days out of the ball sack? So, if you’re having sex a few days before your ‘fertile window’, you can still get pregnant. The big problem you may have identified here – we can’t actually feel the egg sliding down our fallopian tube, so it’s very difficult to know exactly when we’re ovulating.
There are a few methods to approximate when our ovaries might be dropping the egg:
- Time of the month. We know that ovulation occurs around 10-16 days before your period starts. However, it’s important to keep in mind that our cycle can vary in length from month to month, so this isn’t an overly reliable method.
- Body temperature. We have a small rise in body temperature when we ovulate, so using a thermometer could help to predict your day of ovulation. But our body temperature can be affected by sleep, sickness, smoking or being hungover, so again, not always an accurate measure.
- Urine tests. Peeing on a stick can be used to detect certain hormones in your urine (in particular oestrogen and luteinising hormone) which are present around ovulation.
- Cervical mucus. Our juices change throughout the menstrual cycle in response to hormones and generally we’re juiciest as we approach ovulation.
Basically, each of these measures on their own aren’t very reliable at predicting when we’re ovulating, but combined together we can get a fairly good idea.
Why should I track my period?
If you want to use natural contraception methods (aka no contraception), or if you’re actively trying to get pregnant, knowing your day of ovulation is a good idea.
The good news: technology can help us with this! There are literally hundreds of period tracking apps out there, all of which vary in complexity and accuracy.
There are apps that you simply enter your period dates into and it helps you to predict when your next cycle will be. Our favourite one is Clue which is free (yay!). The apps predict when you’re ovulating, but this is based on a standardised estimate that you ovulate around day 14 of your cycle, so it’s definitely not reliable as a form of contraceptive. Clue themselves do not recommend using their app for contraception. But tracking your period through apps like this is a great way learn about what’s going on each month (with cute animations to boot!).
If you really want a laugh, another period tracking app with an exceptional ‘Sexplanations‘ forum is Glow – honestly it will provide you with entertainment for hours and really makes you wonder whether sex education is compulsory at all schools? Go on, have a scroll.
The next step up are apps which combine your body temperature and period tracking, making the prediction of when you’re ovulating more reliable. The most popular one is called Natural Cycles, which costs £7 a month. This app requires you to enter your temperature from a thermometer each morning into the app, alongside your period data. It will then pop up with a red or green signal each day to say whether you can have unprotected sex or not.
Do apps work as a contraceptive?
This is the big question. We’ve doubtless all been spammed with Instagram ads for apps claiming to be effective forms of contraception.
Some countries have actually banned these ads for being misleading and exaggerating the effectiveness of the app (the ads claimed that “Natural Cycles is a highly accurate, certified, contraceptive app”). Furthermore, in January of last year, Natural Cycles also got referred to authorities in Sweden after 37 out of 668 abortions in a hospital in Stockholm were for women who were using the app as a form of contraception (eep).
The problems in inaccuracies are due to a number of reasons. The first one is down to human error. The app requires you to take your temperature at the same time every morning, and also to consistently track your temperature and periods from month to month. It sounds cumbersome to say the least. On top of this, body temperature in itself isn’t an particularly reliable measure of ovulation anyway, and is susceptible to other influences like a hangover following too many glasses of Rosé.
This app is also based on the assumption that every single cycle we have will be similar to the previous one. This might be true on average, but all of us experience variability in our cycles from time to time. Things like stress, jet lag and night shifts can cause irregular cycles.
Be wary of using apps like this as your only form of contraception. If you’re really keen to avoid artificial contraception and don’t like wrapping up the eggplant, then this could be an option, but just be prepared to accept there is a higher chance of getting pregnant. Obviously, this natural contraception also won’t protect against STI’s.
When it comes down to it, always remember that staying in tune with your body and how you’re feeling has to trump anything a piece of technology is telling you. If I learnt anything from Harry Potter, it’s that you “never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain”. You know your body best girlfriend.
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