What's it really like to use "fertility awareness" as birth control? If you listen to popular opinion, you're probably thinking the following: It's really difficult, extremely risky, and anyone who uses it is probably either a total hippie or a religious zealot.
But, in fact, none of that applies to me.
Fertility awareness, also called natural family planning, is the name for a group of hormone-free birth control methods that help determine when a woman is potentially fertile — which is usually only about eight days of your cycle.
By knowing when you're fertile, you can take measures to prevent pregnancy during that time, whether that's abstaining from any type of sex, using a barrier method like a condom, or having sex that doesn't involve a chance of pregnancy (use your imagination on that one!).
I use a method of fertility awareness because I want to avoid hormonal birth control for health and environmental reasons. I also appreciate that it's one of the most effective non-hormonal methods out there, as long as it's used correctly.
In general, fertility awareness gets a bad rap. That's because some methods that fall into this category, like the rhythm method, aren't actually very effective. The rhythm method typically only bases your fertile days on what happened in your body during previous cycles. For example, many women track the length of their cycle to pinpoint their fertile days, and then record that on a calendar, so they know for the next month. I don't know about you, but my cycles don't always behave in exactly the same way. So the rhythm method tends to do a bad job of telling you what's really happening in your body.
But what most people don't understand is that there are other, more reliable methods. Like the one I use, and love: the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness.
How I Use the Sympto-Thermal Method
I like this method because I evaluate actual signs in my body that indicate my current fertility. This means checking two things: my basal body temperature (your temperature when you're at rest) and my cervical fluid.
This doesn't require too much time: When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is simply check my temperature. Then throughout the day, I observe my cervical fluid when I go to the bathroom — it's as easy as seeing what comes off on the toilet paper.
So what does all this tell me? By taking a close look at these two indicators, I can see exactly what's going on with my hormones that day, and whether my body has any chance of getting pregnant. That's because your temperature jumps up slightly with ovulation (a good indicator to use a barrier method or abstain from sex that day). Further, cervical fluid starts getting wetter — and often stretchy, like egg whites — before ovulation. After ovulation, cervical fluid dries up.