Even before the reversal of Roe v. Wade this year, TikTok was awash in content promoting non-hormonal birth control for women — that is, alternatives to the pill, the patch and IUDs. Much of it feels like a 21st-century “wellness” reboot of contraceptive strategies that have been around for centuries, albeit with a greater emphasis on how you can gauge your fertility from day-to-day using advanced thermometers and apps. Thus approaches like the rhythm method, once known as “Vatican roulette” because it was the only option permitted by the Catholic church and not particularly reliable, have been combined with tracking tools more accurate than a calendar, along with increased awareness of biomarkers, allowing for a fuller picture of reproductive health.
Hormonal solutions like the pill are not without their downside, and how anyone seeks to avoid pregnancy is obviously up to them, in collaboration with their sexual partners. But the emphasis in many clips on getting women off their reliable forms of contraception with “natural” substitutes is worrying, as are the dubious claims of near-perfect results. Below is a TikTok from someone who promotes the symptothermal method — in which you chart your ovulation cycle in multiple ways, including body temperature and cervical mucus — as 99.6 percent effective. Yet studies have shown how couples using these techniques still conceive due to “errors in instruction, the method’s application, failure to abstain during the fertile period and unreliable data collection,” citing the problem of “inappropriate implementation or lack of patient education.”
In other words, the method might have merit, but there are plenty of opportunities to screw it up.
Predictably, some of the women you find hyping natural birth control (and abstinence during ovulation) are influencers commanding large audiences and business brands that align with their advice. More than a few call themselves health “coaches” of one sort or another. The platform obliterates all differences of credentials or expertise, so that it’s rarely clear if you’re listening to, say, a registered nurse or a holistic guru. The actual OBGYNs, meanwhile, tend to identify themselves as such and recommend basically everything but fertility awareness alone.
At a moment when abortion access in the U.S. isn’t guaranteed for millions, it’s not ideal that people are asking each other for contraception advice in the comments of TikToks pushing the idea that non-hormonal birth control is a simple, practical, one-size-fits-all answer to the risk of pregnancy, sometimes while advertising a product. Add to that a few inconvenient truths (your basal body temperature can fluctuate for reasons other than ovulation, and not everyone experiences a spike when ovulating; it’s possible to become pregnant outside your fertility window), and the danger is all the more obvious.
What’s frustrating is that a lot of this isn’t misinformation, per se — it just isn’t the whole truth. Which some parents already know.