CycleBeads study contested

October 27, 2011

Recent studies published in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care claim that CycleBeads, a contraceptive tool developed by Victoria Jennings, the director of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown, are more effective than male condoms.

A color-coded string of beads used to monitor the days of a woman’s menstrual cycle, CycleBeads employ the Standard Days Method, which helps prevent pregnancy by marking the days a woman is most likely to get pregnant.

The study concluded that with typical use (in contrast to perfect use) Cyclebeads’ effectiveness is 88 percent, while national studies indicate that typical use effectiveness of male condoms is 85 percent.

“Essentially both condoms and the SDM are controlled by the user, so it’s really important to use them correctly otherwise there is a high risk of pregnancy,” Jennings said. “Whether it is perfect use or typical use, both are similar.”

Amy Tsui, the director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute of Population & Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins, agreed that CycleBeads had the potential to address those women who had an unmet need for contraception, saying that CycleBeads were cost effective. One group of intended users for CycleBeads are women who live in developing countries.

However, skeptics remain weary of research methods as well as potential bias. Slate magazine called the study “more propagandistic than scientific.”

“We need validation by doing a few more studies,” Tsui said.

She also stressed the importance of cross-validation obtained through third party studies. Tsui said that the risk for potential selection bias exists, considering the diverse range of sites and the potential distinctions in the manner in which subjects were counseled. She also said that the type of funding needed for the method is beyond what was available, but remains supportive of the method itself.

“We at the institute think it is a very helpful tool for women who have no good training on their fertility cycles,” Tsui said. “There are a lot of us who tend to discount the effect of the rhythm [method] and the SDM but it’s due its own opportunity to prove itself and I think part of it is they don’t get awarded enough for these studies to go in full.”


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I’m surprised that The Voice would give so much credibility to The Slate article when it seemed clear from reading it that the author had not read the actual research studies. The article appeared to have it’s own agenda and be written from the point of view that natural family planning is a tool of the Catholic Church. To question the integrity of a research organization is a serious charge, and I would urge anyone who has questions about IRH’s research to read the actual research articles to form their own opinions. From my analysis, IRH’s work appears to be conducted quite rigorously and using best practices.


I am a U.S. citizen living in the U.S. I’ve been an enthusiastic user of CycleBeads and a fan of natural methods for several years now. I feel a little insulted by the comments of Amy Tsui from Johns Hopkins suggesting it’s a method for poor women and women in developing countries. There’s no reason wouldn’t be an effective method for ANY woman of childbearing age who cares about her health and doesn’t want to use hormones. By the way, if Amy Tsui were to take a look at research done on natural methods, I’m pretty sure she’d find there’s been extensive research on the standard days method [by your own Georgetown! and others, did you know?). There’s still research being done on the pill, but that doesn’t mean that earlier research was flawed.