A Swedish nuclear physicist has brought algorithms to an old-fashioned contraceptive method to make it high tech; Higgs Boson Scientist creates the Natural Cycles app, considered more effective than condoms
Swedish nuclear physicist, Elina Berglund Schwerwitzl was keen to know how she could get away with having sex with her husband and still avoid pregnancy. Specifically, she was interested in a method that meant she wouldn’t need to use invasive contraceptive methods such as the pill or an IUD.
Consequently, the newly married Berglund Scherwitzl spent time researching different contraceptive methods. She discovered that the least invasive method, the Fertility Awareness Method, was fraught with pitfalls. Nevertheless, she set about bringing the involved techniques into the modern day for her own personal use.
The Fertility Awareness Method
Indeed, many people do utilize the Fertility Awareness Method with great success. But it entails a woman being aware, on a daily basis, of what state her body is in. She needs to take her temperature, check her cervical mucus and chart all the information on a calendar. Obviously, this takes a lot of commitment.
However, in the days leading up to ovulation, it is also possible to conceive. Furthermore, it ‘s hard to measure this window of time accurately. As a result, research revealed that Fertility Awareness Methods are only around 76% effective. Clearly, these methods were not very accurate for determining how many days in advance of ovulation that a couple should abstain or perform outercourse.
Berglund Scherwitzl sought to overcome this problem by developing a high-tech algorithm. Her expertise at dealing with data as a physicist enabled her to pinpoint with more accuracy than ever before in history when the pre-ovulation fertile period was occurring. She started using this algorithm in her own sex life and encouraged colleagues to try it too. Everyone who tried her high-tech rhythm method tool raved about its success.
Career change: physicist to fertility entrepreneur
Previously working in the CERN team that found the Higgs Boson, Berglund felt she needed a drastic career change from physics when that project reached its culmination. Her husband, physicist Raoul Scherwitzl had entrepreneurial ambitions, so the pair decided to create and market a smartphone app based on her algorithm. The couple called the app Natural Cycles.
There are many ovulation tracking apps on the market, and the competition is fierce. Therefore, Berglund Scherwitzl needed to make Natural Cycles stand out. While the app, and associated basal temperature digital thermometer, were released in 2014, Berglund Scherwitzl wished to give an assurance to customers that other apps didn’t provide.
Natural Cycles “as effective as the pill”
In order to set Natural Cycles apart from the competition, Berglund Scherwitzl decided to submit the app to clinical trials. As a result, Natural cycles became the first high-tech device in the world to be officially certified as contraception. From February this year, the app received approval from Tuv Sud, as well as the German inspection.
Indeed, study results, such as those published in the European Journal of Contraception & Reproductive Health Care in May 2016 appeared to prove the effectiveness of Berglund Scherwitzl’s algorithm. Over an almost two year period, 4054 women tested the smartphone application for its efficiency. According to the Pearl Index, the app achieved a rating of 7.0 for “typical use“. For “perfect use“, the Pearl Index rating was 0.5.
Comparatively, condoms have a Pearl Index rating of 18 for typical use, and 2 for perfect use. With the contraceptive pill, the typical use on the Pearl Index is 9, and for perfect use, it is 0.3. Berglund Scherwitzl finally had her scientific backing. However, she was still about to hit some unexpected obstacles.
The Swedish Medicinal Products Agency revoked an initial approval they had given Natural Cycles in 2015. Media backlash claimed that Berglund Scherwitzl’s app encouraged promiscuous behavior in young women. Consequently, the Agency slapped a ban on the company, and for 18 months they could not promote or market the app.
After overcoming these hurdles, Natural Cycles is now going from strength to strength. Since 2014, 300,000 women have been utilizing the contraceptive technology, paying either a monthly fee, without a thermometer of around $10.00, or a yearly fee of around $80.00
Berglund Scherwitzl’s vision
Optimistically, Berglund Scherwitzl wishes to take Natural Cycles to even greater heights of success. However, just how far could it go? The physicist turned fertility entrepreneur does admit the app has its limitations, despite her dream to offer it to women in cultures that frown on other styles of contraception. She also believes people in developing companies could benefit from the technology.
Some might say that Berglund Scherwitzl should not bite off more than she can chew. Nevertheless, she and her husband have expanded the company to 30 employees. The Natural Cycles website admits that the system is really only practical for middle-class, affluent women in stable relationships aged between 20 and 40, with regular menstrual cycles. It is a mystery how such a system could help impoverished women in the 3rd world who do not own smartphones.