There are all kinds of natural methods of contraception, but it is crucial to differentiate between those natural ways that are ineffective and natural ways that have been scientifically validated.
The reasons that women cannot rely on the simplistic natural methods (which include the Rhythm Method and Withdrawal) is that most women do not have a clock-like cycle; menstrual cycles are disrupted by stress, travel, illness, medication etc, and so we need to use more foolproof methods for contraception and planned conception, especially if it is meant to allow us the confidence to enjoy sex at the same time.
Fertility awareness is a tool for gauging a women’s fertility, based on daily signs that the body naturally produces. Done properly, it allows a woman to accurately determine her fertile and infertile days.
According to FAM (Fertility Awareness Method), natural fertility awareness can reach heights of safety that compete with the best pharmaceutical contraceptive methods on the market. FAM, though, is not just about contraception. Once the principles are understood and properly practiced, they can just as easily be used to plan conception.
Of course, FAM demands active participation in one’s own (and one’s partner’s) fertility, something that is more difficult than passing the buck to a medical specialist or undertaking rounds of hormonal treatment. But in the long run, few will argue that it is healthier and certainly more empowering than transferring the control of this most intimate area over to someone or something that is external to the individual or couple trying to manage or control their fertility.
FAM involves daily observation and charting of three fertility signs during a woman’s menstrual cycle: Basal temperature (temperature of body at rest); cervical fluid or secretions; cervical position. By monitoring these signs, a woman can accurately identify the fertile and infertile days of her cycle (see the sample chart). The method takes into account important factors such as stress, illness, travel and medications, all of which often affect a woman’s cycle. During the infertile days, which is most of the days of the cycle, couples can enjoy sex without contraception.
During the fertile days, a couple can choose to use barrier methods like a condom, diaphragm, cap, or spermicide, or to engage in other non-penetrative forms of sex. On the other hand, during the fertile days, a couple can know exactly when to time sex in order to maximize the chances of achieving a pregnancy.
FAM offers another great benefit: it indicates to a woman when she will be getting her period. For many women and girls with irregular periods, not knowing when to expect their cycle ruins their quality of life and sometimes leads them to take hormones, such as the pill, even if they are not in need of contraception.
During breastfeeding, FAM is very simple to use for contraception, so that a woman can feel confident that she is well protected, and avoid having to take supplemental hormonal contraception.
Fertility Awareness is a life skill that can be learned and mastered by most women. When used consistently and correctly, it is at least 90% effective, because it is based on sound scientific principles: understanding how the female hormonal cycle works as well as understanding the life cycle of a women’s egg and a man’s sperm. Read more on the Principles of Fertility Awareness.
Read more on the Effectiveness of the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM)
Materials adapted from FAM expert, Michal Schonbrun, MPH, CHES