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The Fertility Awareness Method: Is Natural Contraception For You?

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Have you heard abut the fertility awareness method? No, then this is the post for you.

More women than ever had had enough of contraception – from the pill, to the IUD, to the humble condom. They all have their pitfalls. Whether it’s hormone imbalance or the general inconvenience of remembering to use some methods – more and more of us are begging for mercy. Isn’t there a better way?!

But … if you are sexually active and don’t want to get pregnant – at least not right now – then you have no choice, right?

In recent years, a new form of “contraception” has swept the female population. But this one looks a little different from the others. It won’t affect your natural hormone levels or menstrual cycle, and no doctor’s appointments or pills are required.

Enter: the Fertility Awareness Method.

What is the Fertility Awareness Method?

The fertility awareness method – also called “natural family planning” or “the rhythm method” –  involves tracking your ovulation so you know whether or not you are fertile on a given day, and avoiding unprotected sex during those few days each month. In order for the fertility awareness method to work, you must learn how to identify the signs and symptoms of your fertility. I.e. develop a better awareness of your body.

How does Fertility Awareness Work as Contraception?

Basically, the fertility awareness method works by learning to notice when you ovulate. Ovulation is when an egg is released from your ovary into the uterus, where it could be fertilized and start a pregnancy.

Your temperature slightly increases on this day, and you produce more clear cervical mucus intended to help you get pregnant. This is what you need to be looking out for! Then, once you know when this day is each month (usually around day 16 of your menstrual cycle but it can vary among women – and each cycle) then you can calculate the window where you could potentially get pregnant and should avoid unprotected sex. During the rest of the month, you are good to go!

This is because once an egg is released from an ovary during ovulation, its life span is very short meaning it can only possibly be fertilized 24-48 hours after being released. That being said, remember that sperm can remain alive and viable in your body for up to 5 days… So, it’s possible to have unprotected sex up to 5 days before you ovulate and STILL get pregnant as a result.

These biological realities mean that your fertile window lasts between 5-8 days for most women. You’re less likely to get pregnant if you learn to accurately identify your ovulation day, as well as your entire potentially fertile period. You then avoid unprotected sex on those days each month.

Can You Trust Fertility Tracking?

Okay, this all sounds well and good but can you actually trust fertility awareness to avoid pregnancy? It’s kind of a big deal, after all.

Fertility awareness is most effective when multiple methods of collecting information are incorporated. This means you need to monitor your temperature, cervical fluid, and refer to your calendar or period-tracking app every single day, and note down your symptoms to make a more reliable prediction.  You can’t get lazy about this, or you will pay a huge price.

This method can apparently be up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy with “perfect use,” – but who’s perfect, right? It is important to note that it is less effective at only 76-88% according to Planned Parenthood – with “typical use.”

Obviously, the effectiveness really depends on you. How well you know – or can learn to know – your own body. How reliably you can check your temperature, and track your symptoms. Naturally, some personality types are naturally better at this sort of thing than others.

It is also much more reliable for those with predictable periods, denoting a regular menstrual cycle. If you have a condition such as PCOS – or your periods tend to be all over the place for whatever reason – then this can decrease the accuracy of your readings. It suggests that your ovulation day will also be somewhat erratic, making your fertility much harder to predict – and so this may not be a good option for you.

What are the benefits of the Fertility awareness method?

Since this method is a matter of learning about your own body – getting to know when you could get pregnant and when you wouldn’t. It is really just simply a question of observation and won’t actually alter your body’s natural hormone balance, or rely on you using a physical barrier, at all. This means that many women prefer this method, as it is the least disruptive and is a new way to get to know yourself better and feel attuned to your menstrual cycle.

No trips to the doctor, no out-of-the-ordinary hormonal symptoms, and no pills. It sounds like a dream for many – but you win some, you lose some…

What are the risks of the fertility awareness method?

Don’t expect this method to be easy. It requires a lot of commitment, constantly checking your body, and remembering to be careful on those fertile days, when you may have been lulled into a false sense of security. This is definitely more of a method for you type A ladies who love to plan – type Bs, perhaps choose an option requiring fewer organisation skills!

The main things you must measure are your temperature and your cervical mucus – both of which increase slightly during ovulation, signalling fertility. And, both of which can be easily misinterpreted thanks to human error, and can fluctuate for reasons other than fertility – such as illness, arousal, or alcohol consumption.

Who could use the Fertility Awareness Method?

As such, the fertility awareness method should only really be used as a primary method of contraception by those in long-term relationships where protection from STIs is not necessary. So that you can better plan which days are safe and for whom – even if they don’t wish to get pregnant right now – it wouldn’t be completely disastrous if they did.

Hang on a minute… isn’t this supposed to be contraception?! If you’re using it, you don’t want to get pregnant.

Well, yes. But if you are a student, or have a health or financial situation that would make accidentally getting pregnant completely out of the question. Then you may want to opt for a more reliable method not so sensitive to human error, such as the IUD or the implant.

The Fertility Awareness Method: Is it for You?

This method has been used by our foremothers for some time –  back before modern contraception was a thing. Getting to know your body is such a natural thing, after all. But back then, it was perhaps even more likely to fail, as they didn’t have access to the accurate thermometers or tracking apps that we have today.

Nowadays, mobile apps such as Natural Cycles – the only one approved as a contraceptive by both EU and US health authorities – allow you not only to track your menstrual cycle but also to log your body temperature, to determine whether or not you are fertile that day.

Whether or not you use fertility awareness as your prime contraception method, it never hurts to learn more about your body, and better monitor your menstrual cycle. As discussed in a previous article – and again here for a lockdown-special – getting to know how you feel and what you need each week of your cycle can be a great way not only to know when you are or are not fertile, but when you are most confident, daring, energetic, and even attractive!

Have you ever tried fertility awareness as a contraception method? Would you ever give it a go or does it sound too risky? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Roxanna. Xx

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