Lady-Comp: How I Quit Hormones
by Justine Garrett
I let a German computer tell me when to have sex.
Before I do anything in the morning — drink water, get out of bed — I take my temperature with Lady-Comp, a discus-shaped, German-made, mini-computer that tells me when I’m fertile. I put its temperature-taking wand under my tongue, push a button, and wait for about 30 seconds. When Lady-Comp is finished, it beeps, tells me my basal body temperature (BBT), and gives me a green, yellow, or red light to indicate whether or not I’m fertile. Green means: “Go on! Have sex! You won’t get pregnant. I promise.” Yellow means Lady-Comp is learning my cycle and is unsure if it’s safe to proceed. (I get more yellow lights when I’ve forgotten to take my temperature sometime within the preceding days. Lady-Comp is cautious — demure even.) Red light days mean that I’m fertile. (Yes, I often sing to myself, “Laaady-Comp. You don’t have to put on the red light.”)
I switched to using Lady-Comp for birth control or “natural family planning” almost two years ago. Before that, finding the right hormonal method of birth control had not been easy for me. I’ve tried at least four different brands that I can remember. Regular Ortho Tri-Cyclen gave me anxiety attacks, and another brand killed my sex drive but gave me huge boobs (a cruel injustice for my then-boyfriend). Each brand switch involved an appointment with my gynecologist. (I’m not a medical professional, and everyone should consult one to pick out the right birth control method for her.)
In the beginning of my relationship with my now-husband, we were super hot for each other — while I was taking Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. About a year and a half into our relationship, I switched to the NuvaRing, which was actually pretty easy to use compared to the once-a-day-at-the-same-time pill. But the more I thought about hormones being released from a little plastic ring into the walls of my vagina, the more frequently I wondered if there was a better way for me to not get pregnant.
My friend Lauren had been a long-time Lady-Comp user. “I use this big thermometer,” she told me. Not asking the important question I should have, I imagined having to stick a big thermometer up my vagina every day. (For some reason, I was OK with a plastic ring but not a thermometer? Anyway, I know better now.)
I researched iPhone apps that help keep track of fertility. (Not advisable: A friend recently got pregnant using only an iPhone to chart her cycle. iPhones can do lots of things, but it turns out dispensing personal medical advice isn’t one of them.) I downloaded a fill-it-in-yourself chart for my temperature and cervical mucus in an attempt at DIY BBT. While still using the NuvaRing (so it wasn’t really useful), I took my temperature with a regular thermometer each morning, and I charted whether or not it felt wet or “tacky” in my vagina. This experiment lasted about a week.
I asked my very old gynecologist about getting an IUD, and he said that I couldn’t because I had never been pregnant before (Ed. — Which isn’t the case; anyone can get an IUD!). This was also around the same time that the NuvaRing went from $10 per month to $40 per month when my health insurance changed. Lamenting the cost of my hormones to Lauren, she asked me if I wanted see how hers worked. I must have bleated something like, “Yeee-aah? Unhh…” before she explained the actual mechanism for using it.
I researched getting a Lady-Comp of my own, and quickly decided to buy one. Lady-Comp costs $485. I was prepared to pay $480 for the NuvaRing for a year, and the Lady-Comp is supposed to work for about 10 years. In addition to its price over time, Lady-Comp has these advantages for me:
- No unexpected complications from taking hormones, such as smelling wrong or a greater risk of blood clots. (I have pondered the fact that I was taking Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo when Ian and I got together…)
- 99.3% accurate (according to Lady-Comp’s manufacturer). There is also this study.
- Simpler than taking the pill (to me) because it has a built-in alarm clock in. Also, if you miss taking your temperature for a day or two, Lady-Comp just gives you a few more red or yellow days.
I also have learned more about my sensitive self. I’ve found that I have rather long cycles that average 34 days. (Lady-Comp told me.) My cycle before last was 40 days long. The previous one was 29 days. Because of my irregular cycle length, I get fewer green-light days than I think other people with more-regular cycles would.
And this is where Lady-Comp has a downside for me: I’m red-light on a lot more days than I thought I’d be. Part of this is my fault. I haven’t been as vigilant as I could be about tracking my cycle. I forget to take my temperature a few days out of the month, like when I turn off the alarm on the weekend.
My husband would probably tell you that Lady-Comp has not been his favorite method of birth control. His days of unfettered access are gone. When he’s feeling amorous, he has to ask about the color of the light. Then he saddles up a condom on red and yellow days. Or the light is green, and he gets clearance. We still have sex often (although he lives in another city for work, which is its own deal), and he’s used to me seductively whispering “green light” in his ear. (My preference over Lady-Comp and condoms would be to send him to India for this treatment, but, alas, that’s yet to be.)
Lady-Comp has other fun features that I haven’t used yet, like being able to send it in for a free print-out of my cycle. If I do get pregnant while using Lady-Comp, I would get what I like to think of as a Lady-Comp “bingo”: Instead of just one light indicating that I’m fertile, all THREE lights flash when Lady-Comp thinks you’re pregnant. I could also upgrade from Lady-Comp to Baby-Comp, which has many of the features of Lady-Comp as well as indicating the best days to have sex for if I wanted a boy or a girl? Kind of crazy.
I’m in it for the long haul with Lady-Comp: We only have to use condoms a few days out of the month, and the rest of the time, we’re freestyling. And I don’t have to stick anything up my vagina that I don’t want to.
Justine Garrett isn’t a doctor (although she claimed that was her goal in a college scholarship essay) nor is she getting paid to endorse Lady-Comp.