Is fertility awareness an effective method of birth control?
Fertility awareness is also known as Natural Family Planning and the Rhythm Method. (The later usually refers to only the calendar method.) The efficacy of fertility awareness really depends on what you mean by the term, how regular your cycles are, and how carefully you follow the process.
The simplest (and least effective) method of fertility awareness is counting from your period to when you are most likely to ovulate and not having sex within the window of days where you could get pregnant if you ovulated then. Why isn’t this effective? Well, many, many women aren’t that regular. (You may note I’m being very unspecific about dates here, this is for a reason, I’m not teaching people how to do stupid fertility awareness. I say stupid because this method alone is very ineffective, if you want to do fertility awareness, combine methods and read a book, take a class or otherwise do more than read a single web post.)
Better fertility awareness involves paying attention to basal body temperature (usually first thing in the morning daily), vaginal mucosal changes daily, menstrual cycle and a number of other factors to determine when you will ovulate and when it is safe to have sex and only having sex on the safe days. There are also home tests that you can use to determine when you ovulate, but these are better for use in trying to get pregnant, since sperm have been know to hang out in the uterus or fallopian tubes for up to 5 days before ovulation and cause a pregnancy. Generally, if you wish to use fertility awareness for birth control, it is best to take a class and ideally both partners will take the class together and work together.
I am a huge fan of using multiple methods of birth control and fertility awareness is certainly one method you can use. It is also one that some religions that don’t otherwise approve of birth control accept. (For instance, the Catholic Church.) I also found that learning about fertility awareness was really good for me because I became more aware of my body and more comfortable with it. I only have a few friends who have studied it, but they all have positive reactions as well.
Fertility awareness training is available through many Catholic healthcare institutions as well as through many Planned Parenthood clinics. Either of those groups should be able to point you toward a resource for classes if they don’t offer them.
This has barely skimmed the possibilities of fertility awareness and I plan to write more about it in the future because it is fascinating.
Image Attribution: Betsy Finn