By Hannah Ransom, Buzzworthy Blogs
[Editor’s Note: Natural birth control methods are personal, controversial and produce varying results. The methods presented here are for your discretion.]
Yesterday, I met a chiropractor. I told her I taught an effective natural birth control method, and she was immediately intrigued. She told me about trying to get all kinds of things out of both her clients’ and her own life, and yet hormonal birth control (or condom use) seemed to be inevitable.
Do you feel the same?
You probably have an idea about what “fertility awareness” means. Something like counting days on the calendar—complicated—maybe a little “pull and pray” thrown in there, and all topped off with a good dose of not very effective.
Misconceptions and confusions abound. It’s not your fault. Doctors shame anything natural as ineffective; the media doesn’t yet know how to clearly differentiate between birth control methods, or how to pull anecdotal from real evidence; and sex ed sure didn’t give you any inkling of being capable of understanding and controlling your own fertility without harmful drugs or devices.
But here’s the deal: That’s all these are. Misconceptions and confusions.
The Sympto-Thermal Method Of Fertility Awareness
Simply put, the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness is a method in which you check 2-3 signs your body gives you on a daily basis, and with that information answer the question: Am I fertile? Yes or no? With this information you can accurately figure out your window of fertility. During your infertile days you can have unprotected intercourse. During your fertile days you can either abstain, use a barrier, or use alternate sex.
The reason that you are able to reliably do this is because your hormones have to act in a certain way in order for ovulation to happen. Then, after ovulation happens, it sets off different hormonal processes. These hormones surrounding ovulation (extremely conveniently for us) produce signs that you can check and, with that information, determine whether you are capable of getting pregnant that day or not.
The Signs You Must Check
What are these signs, you may ask? They are your basal body temperature (meaning your temperature first thing in the morning), your cervical fluid, and—optionally—your cervical position.
Your temperature increases under the influence of progesterone, which is abundant after ovulation, your cervical fluid increases and cervix softens and heightens under the influence of estrogen, in abundance just before ovulation.
Because you are going off of these signs and not just counting days on a calendar, this works for those with irregular cycles, short cycles, long cycles, and all of those in-betweens.
The Scientific Basis For The Method
You may be curious, though, how the signs are really telling you when you are fertile. Here are the scientific principles that the method is based on:
- Sperm need cervical fluid to survive, swim, and be effectively “washed” and capable of fertilizing an egg. Sperm can live in fertile cervical fluid for up to 5 days, but die quickly in the naturally acidic vaginal environment.
- Cervical fluid builds up in response to estrogen, which is released by the developing sacs that hold the egg. This is happening in the days leading up to ovulation.
- The egg can only live for 12-24 hours, and ovulation can only happen once in a cycle. If two eggs are released, the second comes within 24 hours of the first, after which ovulation is inhibited by high levels of progesterone.
- Progesterone is released from the corpus luteum, which is what the sac that held the egg turns into after ovulation has taken place. This raises the body temperture, dries cervical fluid, and inhibits a second ovulation.
And how effective does it end up being? When practiced correctly and consistently, over 99 percent. That’s right up there with perfect use of hormonal contraceptives.
The Bad Rap
I bet you’re wondering why there are so many misconceptions and confusions if this is as simple and effective as I am saying?
One reason for that is semantics. Commonly, the term “fertility awareness method” is used to describe the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness. (And who can blame people? The name is kind of cumbersome.) Unfortunately, it’s not a super specific term and is often confused with “fertility awareness based method,” which is an umbrella term for anything from the ineffective rhythm method to LadyComp.
Many of these methods are based on counting and do not account for variations in a woman’s cycle, either over time or from cycle to cycle. With the sympto-thermal method you are actually able to notice if your body is doing something out of the ordinary and adjust accordingly.
Next, you have the imperfect users. This can be for a variety of reasons. For the most part this is due to either improper instruction (Do not, I repeat do not, just try to glean enough information offline and try to use this method!), or risk taking.
Why is risk taking so, well, risky? With the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness, the only time that you are not having unprotected intercourse is during your fertile window. Meaning, you are capable of getting pregnant on that day from unprotected intercourse. If you decide to go for it anyway, you are putting yourself at high risk of a pregnancy. With other methods, you are protecting yourself even at times that you are not fertile, so forgoing a condom now and again could be a big risk, or it could be that you were infertile at that time, anyway.
Learning The Method
In order to accurately identify your fertile period, you will want to learn the method well. I recommend working with a qualified fertility awareness educator so that you can get any questions you have answered and have the support you need.
There are benefits to learning from an instructor versus a book, but if you are interested in learning the method and don’t want to invest in a class, you can often find Taking Charge of Your Fertility at your local library.
What about you? What have you heard about the method? Would you be willing to try it?
Hannah Ransom is a fertility awareness educator and the founder of Holistic Hormonal Health. Her mission is educating women about their bodies and empowering them to take their health and fertility into their own hands. She writes about and teaches classes on fertility awareness. Submit your story or essay to Buzzworthy Blogs.