Many contraceptive methods around are misused by couples as a result of a simple misunderstanding. What many couples fail to realize is that the window of time where the woman is at risk of becoming pregnant is relatively small and therefore, using contraception day in and day out is not entirely necessary. For example, if a woman is not using a pill, patch, coil or any other type of hormonal contraception, she will actually only be fertile for 18-24 hours per cycle when she ovulates. Since sperm can survive up to 5 days, intercourse 5 days prior to ovulation could fertilise an egg so we have a fertility window of 6 days per cycle. In order to avoid pregnancy during those 6 days, the woman should either abstain from sex or use a barrier contraceptive. Most people who use barrier contraceptives tend to use them all the way through their cycle, even on the 20-22 days when there's no risk of becoming pregnant, when they actually only need to be used during their Fertility Window.
Here we give a quick overview of how our six contraceptive monitors, Cyclotest, Bioself, pearly, Lady-Comp, Persona and the new Clearblue Contraceptive Monitor, match up to each other and what makes each one that bit special.
Bioself,, pearly and Lady-Comp all recognise your personal cycle by registering your Basal Body Temperature (BBT) every morning. A subtle change in this BBT is synonymous with ovulation so by charting the day of ovulation and the length of your cycle the devices can begin to form a model of when you would be fertile in coming cycles. The graphic below summarises a typical BBT profile over a cycle.
Aswell as the BBT, hormonal changes can be observed too. The hormone, LH, increases when ovulation is imminent. If you can detect it you know you're about to ovulate. Simple. Urine tests are the most common way to detect it in a domestic environment, these are cheap and easily bought in any pharmacy. Persona and the new Clearblue Contraceptive Monitor depends soley on this method of ovulation detection with urine test strips fed into the device to check for the elevated LH presence. The Persona is now being wound down and phased out of production but is being replaced by the new Clearblue Contraceptive Monitor. Basically it's just a Presona with a flashy looking touch screen but despite the interface being a bit of a wow, the user still has to depend upon constant purchases of the test sticks and it still only has the 94% efficiency.
The secretion and discharge of sticky cervical mucus is also related to ovulation. Of the contraceptive monitors currently availible in Europe,is the only one which allows users inputting observational data such as LH increases or cervical mucus as a secondary indicator, beyond just the BBT. This data confirms more precicley the moment of ovulation, enhancing the already accurate results. It's completely optional as the software and thermometer leave the device fully equipped to be a 'normal' BBT based contraceptive computer, independantly of the extra data. Using these observations and the BBT system combined means cyclotest is refered to as a Sympto-Thermal contraceptive device.
The graphic below shows the relationship between LH detection and the BBT profile in a typical cycle. LH hormone levels spike about 48 hours prior to ovulation which coincides with the first observation of the 'highly fertile' sticky cervical mucus.
, Bioself, pearly and Lady-Comp all operate in much the same way. They have alarms which can be used to wake you up in the morning or you can just wake up on your own. All of these devices have pretty clever software which rejects any erronous readings but they still need a minimum number of good stable reading to be able to model your cycle.
People often ask what happens if they have a fever. Well eratic BBT readings might disrupt a device which just used BBT as it would be 'blind' during those days. However Cyclotest has the optional ability to accept user input when they positivley test for the surge of the LH hormone (using an ovulation test) or being told when the highly fertile cervical mucus is first seen, which if used can help smooth over cycle data when BBT readings might be unreliable.
Upon waking they all require some kind of button to be pressed which activates their built in thermometer which is then placed under the tongue to record your BBT. The devices all have a slightly different time window when the temperature can be taken and different sets of flashing lights and symbols let you know what to do and when.
Lady-Comp and pearly require BBT readings every day of the cycle. Cyclotest and Bioself on the other hand only require BBT readings until just after ovulation has passed. The logic is that there is no useful temperature data to be gained between ovulation and menstruation. You can't ovulate again and any change in temperature pattern would be unrelated to ovulation anyway. The cyclotest hotline actually recommends the continued recording of BBT even after ovulation as it keeps the user in the habit of doing so and these devices rely on users habits and discipline.
With Persona, now repackaged as the Clearblue Contraceptive Monitor, on the first cycle a urine test is taken for 16 days, meaning a box of 16 test sticks is used straight away. On following cycles the urine tests are only required after about a week and usually only 8 per cycle are then needed. The tests are required in a window of four hours, early in the day to ensure the higher, detectable levels of LH can be detected.
Menstruation is a bodily function which indicates a certain point of the menstrual cycle. It happens 13-17 days after ovulation and it's observation is obviously a very key piece of data. Where as some people could argue that ovulation could be the start point of the cycle (day 1) it's commonly accepted that the arrival of the first bleeding of menstruation is day 1 of the cycle. The fact it's a cycle means it's rather academic as there is no absolute start or finish, just a continuos cycle.
, Bioself, pearly, Lady-Comp, Persona and the Clearblue Contraceptive Monitor all need to be told when you're menstruation arrives. The pearly and Lady-Comp both insist on being told every day that bleeding occures. Whether the progressive discharge of the menstrual fluids is quick or prolonged, whether it's over 2 days or 5, there should be no impact to the arrival date of your ovulation.
All of the devices have their own special way of showing you your fertile status, whether it is a 'risk day' or not or whether your menstruation is imminent. None of them display the news, an RSS feed of the weather or your Facebook status
Lady-Comp has red, yellow and green LED lights which show whether it's 'safe' or not as well as a 4 digit display which can scroll through time, backwards and forwards (with the plus and minus buttons) to show the last 180 days fertility status and temperature aswell as the following 6 days anticipated fertility status (confirmed upon the day's BBT reading). Although the LED lights make it look a bit 1980's and it eats a bit more batter than an grey LCD screen would, the result is that it can be read in the dark.
The pearly has a small LCD screen which has an arrow pointing to a red, yellow or green spot painted on its casing to display 'safe day' status in the same way that the Lady-Comp does. The last 90 days and the next 5 (anticipated) days data can be scrolled through with a plus and minus button, again in the same way as the Lady-Comp.
The Persona has a small green LED which lights up for safe days, a red light that lights for fertilile days and a yellow light for the days when urine tests are needed.
The new Clearblue Contraceptive Monitor has a large touch screen, which when you turn it on immediatley lights up totally green or totally red to say at a glance whether it's a green or red day. The touch screen can also show the current cycle laid out in a calender format to get an idea of when your fertility window might start and end.
has a relativley wide LCD screen which can show at a glance the whole cycle and it's fertility window. Individual day BBT can be viewed. For the last 12 cycles you can see the peak temperature day, the day cervical mucus or LH hormone data was entered and the number of days in the cycle. These are the key details for a gynecologyst.
Having a constant record of BBT data, menstruation dates, ovulation and LH surges provides an invaluable resource for any gynecologyst who can use it to diagnose many many conditions. Persona and the new Clearblue Contraceptive Monitor have no way to download historical cycle data.
pearly and Lady-Comp both need to be sent to the manufacturer, Valley Electronics GmbH in Germany for the data to be downloaded and printed, the device and it's printouts are then mailed back to you. The cost for this is about 30 or 40 Euros each time.
Bioself uses a modem to pass it's cycle data down a phone line to the service center in Switzerland who then print the data and mail it to you. It's comes complete with the sound effects for the old 64k home computers that had cassette tapes for loading programmes. Quaint and nicely retro! It costs15euros for this service, as an alternative they offer the option for you to record as an MP3 your readout (the squeky sounds) and email the sound file for analysis, following the instructions here.
funnily enough has the telephone modem device like Bioself but more conveniently it also has a USB port which takes a standard USB cabel and conects to a PC. Sadly it doesnt work with a Mac at the moment. The software costs about 25pounds but comes included with the Cyclotest Baby version free of charge. Presumably those wanting a baby are more likely to consult regarding potential fertility problems.
All contraceptive monitors require low voltage direct current electricity for them to work so batteries are used in all five of these contraceptive monitors. Digital thermometers use up relativley large amounts of battery power as do different types of screen so batteries won't last forever.
Lady-Comp has an internal battery, soldered to the circuit board meaning it needs to be sent to the manufacturer to change it. It comes complete with a charging device, basically a wall plug with a transformer incorperated and a cabel about 2 meters long. An overnight charge about once a month is needed to keep it charged up. Experience on battery life shows that they last about 2-5 years before dying. A battery change can be done without loosing your data by sending it back to Valley Electronics in Germany. The cost would be about 60euros but it would be best to check in advance.
The pearly and the Cyclotest both use longlife batteries, similar to watch or camara batteries. Experience shows that both batteries last for over 2 years before being switched out with theoften lasting for up to 5 years if the user opts out of taking their temperature after ovulation (not taking these optional readings saves the battery). The pearly would go to it's manufacturer in Germany and the cyclotest to your local distributor. When cyclotest is sent in for a battery change the device is fully serviced, software is updated and the thermometer is recalibrated, leaving it refreshed for many years more.
Bioself uses 3 regular AAA batteries, has 3 included already and you can simply switch them when they drain.
Persona uses 4 regular AAA batteries and Persona Starter Kits have them included. However due to the sensors that are used to electronically read the urine test results the batteries only last 6-9 cycles. The new Clearblue Contraceptive Monitor needs two AA batteries and they are not included when the device is bought. We anticipate 6-9 cycles of use on this monitor for one set of batteries too, since the sensor to read the urine samples uses power and the colour touch screen would also have a big drain too.
All of the 6 devices here are quality products with many many years of proven history, about 25 years each in fact, although the pearly is newer on the market it uses the same software and technology as the Lady-Comp. Price-wise there is quite a variance and they all have their unique plus points.
Lady-Comp is the most expensive but it's rugged design means that if you break the thermometer, the charging device or the battery dies you can replace the parts and it's big enough so that you won't loose it so easily. Definatley designed as a long term investment.
The pearly is probably the cutest design of the devices which we are comparing here and sits just behind Lady-Comp in the pricing table. It matches the Lady-Comp's perceived reliability but without the cables, size, weight or astronomical cost.
Bioself has a download option for 15euros which is good and it's thermometer is suitable for oral, anal and vaginal use. Self changing battery process is handy. It's reliability is heralded and it's FDA approved. It comes in about 30% cheaper than the pearly although it's 1970's brown plastic design and larger size could be cause for concern if it got spotted in your Gucci handbag. Bioself is also now out of production but is still being supported.
Persona, now relaunched as the Clearblue Contraceptive Monitor, is the cheapest of these contraceptive monitors when you first buy it. However just like ink jet prnters these things could be given away for free as the companies make their money from the repeat purchase of consumibles. At about 15 pounds per cycle for the urine test sticks, Persona (Clearblue Contraceptive Monitor) would still cost more than a Cyclotest per year to use before you even concider the 6-9 monthly battery changes. But the low entry cost keeps people signing up and keeps a lot of pharmacies in business with the monthly foot traffic for urine sticks. The new Clearblue with it's touch screen is a big wow, but at only 94% reliability the flashing lights might not be enough to swing it with some users.
Of all of the BBT deviceshas the lowest price. If you look at the cost of the first 6 months of use it's also cheaper than the Persona and Clearblue too. It has the option (not the obligation) to record other fertility indicators beyond just the BBT with it's LH tests or cervical mucus input. It's functionality also includes the USB conectivity which if you paid for the required software would still be cheaper than Bioself. It's 99% reliability and huge functionality makes it seem like the logical choice for most people.
So there we have our round up, lots to think about, lots of pros and cons for each device. We believe in all six devices and we are always pleased to hear when a woman decides to go down the Natural Birth Control path with any of these devices.
Good luck on your journey to natural contraception!
David is a father of two and practices Natural Family Planning within his marriage. He writes on sexual health issues including non-hormonal contraception, fertility awareness and natural conception for the Ethical Family Planning Association
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