WOT: Dr. Elina Berglund

You’ve probably heard “there’s an app for everything,” and now that even includes effective contraception. Dr. Elina Berglund, along with her husband Dr. Raoul Scherwitzl, have created the world’s first app to be certified as a contraceptive called Natural Cycles. Dr. Berglund, a particle physicist, was on the team that discovered the Higgs Boson back in 2012. Since then, she and her husband decided to start their own research in fertility to develop a contraceptive method that was hormone-free but still effective. “I didn’t want to use hormones anymore and I wasn’t exactly excited to use condoms every time, having been in a relationship for many years,” says Dr. Berglund. “We looked into natural family planning solutions, but there was nothing out there that made it easy and reliable to use. The few devices that were available were outdated, expensive and most of all used simplistic algorithms.”

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Natural Cycles works by reading your temperature, which varies slightly based on hormonal levels. The app lets you know whether or not you are fertile, represented by green days and red days. “Both Raoul (my husband and co-founder) and I are PhDs Physics,” explains Dr. Berglund, “so we applied our math skills onto the well-established method of natural family planning and developed an algorithm to make it safe and easy to use for women worldwide. We packaged it into a mobile app to make it user friendly and scalable at the same time.”

The fact that there are no side effects to Natural Cycles is a huge bonus, plus the app is clinically proven to be effective: Only five out of 1,000 women got pregnant in a year due to a false green day while using Natural Cycles. Not only does the app help prevent pregnancies, but it can also help plan a pregnancy if users wish. The vision for Natural Cycles is to “empower every woman worldwide with knowledge about her body, menstrual cycle and fertility. That way she can make a conscious decision on whether and when she wants to get pregnant. Choice is power.”

What are some other positive elements to using Natural Cycles over other contraceptives?

There are a lot of beneficial aspects to Natural Cycles, as there are for other forms of contraception too. We are offering women more choice, and are merely an alternative to the more traditional contraceptives. Women who use Natural Cycles say they get in touch with their body and by always knowing where you are in your cycle, you understand it better. To me personally, another positive aspect from a more feminist point of view is that we are asking the men to take more responsibility, since they need to wear condoms on red (fertile) days. The burden is not solely on the women, and we hope that by involving the men more, they will also start understanding more about the female body!

Have you had people who were skeptical to use the app as a contraceptive? If so, how did you keep pushing through with your product?

 We are breaking new ground and there will always be people who are skeptical towards new and innovative products, before they understand how they work. Some skepticism is good however. Contraception is a serious topic and new methods and options should be scrutinized, just like we have been. We do not push our product onto people, instead we are very open about the fact that Natural Cycles works for a lot of women, but not everyone. For example, you need a somewhat regular lifestyle to get into the habit of measuring your temperature around the same time in the morning. What’s great about our app though is that if you forget to measure, the app will not malfunction, it will just give you more red days on which you need to use condoms. Again though, we think it’s important that all women find a contraception that suits them. We are very proud and happy to be able to present the first certified natural alternative.

Were you and your husband apprehensive to leave your physics research to pursue Natural Cycles?

Not really, I felt I had achieved something remarkable at CERN [the European Organization for Nuclear Research], and now I was on to my next challenge. Doing something completely new is of course always scary, especially when you leave a field which you really like. I loved particle physics and I was very good at it, but I still left my job to work without colleagues or salary for Natural Cycles since I truly believed in the idea.

 What do you hope Natural Cycles ultimately does for women's lives?

Our Cyclers (that’s what we call our users) send us emails on a daily basis and tell us how we’ve changed their life for the better, since they now understand and finally know their own body. That’s pretty amazing and makes me really happy to think about. Besides providing a certified natural contraception which in turn makes women more in-tune with their bodies, we are also on a mission to educate them in order to empower them! Sex education today is often very poor, even in more equal countries like Sweden where I am from. How many of us knew growing up that we could only become pregnant 6 days per cycle? How many of us were really taught how our bodies work when it comes to sexual health? Going forward, this is something we will strive to change.

 What are your future plans for Natural Cycles?

We are growing very fast in the UK, but we see positive responses also all over Europe, which is where we are currently certified. The plan is to become certified in every country of the world. US is next! Our vision is, however, that every pregnancy worldwide should bring happiness and we hope to grow on a more global scale in the long run. We think that it is in the developing world where we can do the most good, as more and more women have smart phones, but access to contraception is still limited in many areas.

Images courtesy Dr. Berglund