When Layna was a teenager, she went on her first birth control pill: Loestrin 24 Fe. For a few years, she was content with her hormonal contraception. Then Loestrin was discontinued. She tried taking Seasonale, another hormonal birth control pill, but she found that it made her bleed when she had sex. Other pills weren’t much better: She experienced mood swings, gained weight, and even says she felt suicidal. “I knew in my heart that I did not feel like that, that that was not me,” she says.
Eventually Layna, who requested that her last name not be included for privacy reasons, decided to move away from hormonal birth control altogether, which brought her to the fertility awareness method (FAM), a collection of behavioral birth control strategies that help people follow and predict their cycles through period tracking, daily temperature taking, cervical mucus monitoring, and a lot of math.
She first tried Natural Cycles, an algorithm-driven FAM app that recently became the first app to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to market itself as a contraceptive. She says that app didn’t feel quite right for her, but she did stick with FAM. These days, Layna uses the OvaCue Fertility Monitor to track her fertile days, relying on condoms or abstaining from sex on days when she’s more likely to get pregnant. “I felt really strongly that it was one of the best things that I’ve ever done for myself,” she says.
Layna is one of a small but growing number of women who are turning to FAM-related methods. Although data suggests only about 3% of women who use contraceptives use a form of FAM, either with or without other methods, app-based and other FAM-based systems are becoming increasingly popular. Natural Cycles currently boasts 1 million registered users worldwide, and similar newfangled FAM solutions, like OvaCue, Daysy, and Kindara are gaining broad followings, as well.
It may be difficult to understand why someone would opt to use FAM, which requires substantial daily tracking, rather than, say, the copper IUD, which is…