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Fertility apps: would you use them?

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A new player on the app market promises to monitor a woman's menstrual cycle more accurately than ever before. But can fertility-tracking technology ever be a replacement for the Pill or other contraceptive methods? And would you be tempted to use such a device to track your own fertility?

Clue, a free iPhone app, is the brainchild of Berlin-based entrepreneur and self-professed "hardware girl" Ida Tin who's in search of "breakthrough technology, a truly high-tech accurate method for family planning, so we can get way past the Pill" - as she recently told VentureVillage.

This mission brought her to Clue, a customised period and ovulation tracker that was unveiled at a tech fair in June and is now available at the Apple App Store. The idea of it is that women enter a few simple details each day, such as when they start and stop their periods, mood, pain levels and body temperature.

The app then analyses the data using a series of algorithms - developed in consultation with a group of scientists and fertility experts - to predict where a woman is in her cycle, when she is most or least likely to get pregnant, when her period is approaching and when she may experience PMS.

There are already plenty of fertility apps available out there, but the Clue team believe their stands out as a front-runner: not only because of its design, which actively veers away from twee pink flower and butterfly logos of other devices - but also because of the research invested in its technology.

In its current form, Clue is being touted as an accurate way for a woman to learn more about her menstrual cycle and understand what's coming next. However, its development team is quick to point out that the app should not be used as a replacement for the Pill or other contraception, as it exists.

"Clue should under no circumstances be used for something as critical as avoiding pregnancy," reads a statement on the company's Facebook page. ""Ida Tin said nowhere that the Clue app can, in its current state, replace the pill. She is talking about technology being a potential future alternative to the pill."

Watch the demo above for an idea of how the Clue app works

It's clear Tin sees digital technology as a means of revolutionising the family planning industry going forward and her team is already working on a hardware version of Clue that would improve the app's accuracy.

"I think that we are moving towards technologies that work with the body, not against it," she said in press release. "Quantified data about our fertility is a first step towards innovations that don't require you to take hormones. I think this is an incredibly exciting development."

While Clue is something of a holistic tool when it comes to fertility tracking, Glow, another new app from PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, is specifically aimed at women who want to get pregnant.

Like Clue, Glow uses data analytics to create ovulation cycle forecasts from personal details entered by its users. And like Clue, it has created a certain amount of buzz among industry experts.

It studies factors as specific as menstruation timing, core body temperature and cervical mucus levels to advise a woman on the best time for her to conceive. Women can also invite their partners to join them on the app, and keep them involved in the process.

In an approach that chimes with Tin's philosophy, Levchin is keen to bring changes to the fertility industry, branding it "ridiculously 15th Century" at a conference earlier this year.

Levchin's app is still in development but he's created an optional insurance scheme to run alongside it, whereby couples trying to get pregnant pay $50 a month into a mutual assistance fund. They will receive a share of this if they don't get pregnant within ten months of using the app, to go towards fertility treatment; and give up the payment if they do become pregnant in that time.

Whether fertility apps such as these could ever be developed to a level where they become a viable alternative to other fertility treatments - or contraceptive methods - remains to be seen.

Peter Bowen-Simpkins, consultant gynaecologist and medical director of the London Women's Clinic, remains unconvinced.

"Because of the unreliability of the actual day of ovulation, particularly for women in their late thirties and forties, I cannot see such a device replacing standard contraceptives," he tells Stylist. "Furthermore it will mean abstinence for at least a week during the fertile period because of sperm survival."

He also advises caution towards Glow and other apps that offer to help women get pregnant.

"My worry here is that people become a slave to the device, whether it is a thermometer or an app," he says.

"Devices that highlight ovulation often mean that people concentrate their sexual activities at this time. But too frequent intercourse just reduces the sperm count and it is much better to have intercourse two to three times a week regardless of body temperature changes.

"All in all I am against anything that makes women feel that it is imperative to concentrate all their activities at a particular time of the month. It increases stress enormously if they fail to conceive, say, after six months and it takes all the fun out of sex."

What do you think? Would you ever consider using a fertility app to monitor your cycle or help you get pregnant? Let us know @stylistmagazine or in the comments below.

Photo credit: Rex Features, Words: Anna Brech

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