I think everyone knows at least one couple who has tried the Rhythm Method, and we all know the jokes (what do you call someone who uses it? a parent!). But did you know that there is an all-natural form of birth control out there that can be as effective as traditional, hormonal birth control? It's called fertility awareness. Fertility awareness is like Rhythm in that you track your cycle, but it's WAYYYY more effective because it is individualized to you! Rhythm fails because it assumes that all women have a 28-day cycle, with ovulation occurring on day 14. But did you know that very few people actually have a 28-day cycle? Even fewer actually ovulate on day 14! Too many women are taking the pill for what they believe are irregular cycles. A "normal" cycle can be significantly longer or shorter than 28 days, as long as it occurs for roughly the same amount of time every month. That is, you could have a 35 day cycle or a 20 day cycle and be perfectly normal, as long as those dates are relatively consistent.
So how does you do know when you are fertile (i.e. when to either abstain ((if you're a hard-core Catholic or just want to go that route)) or to use a back-up method ((condoms, withdrawal, etc)) )? Your body will actually tell you! You can gauge your cycle in a few ways. Some women chart cervical mucus (CM). Others chart basal body temperature (BBT- or the temperature when you first wake up). Did you know that nearly all women will notice a significant change in their BBT, based on what part of their cycle they're in? I sure didn't. Still others check for the position of the cervix. Probably the most effective of all is a combination of all three. There are plenty of websites out there, too, that can help you. I personally recommend Fertility Friend. It lets you chart your info digitally, has features that alert you to fertility signs, and lets you compare your chart to those of other women.
The way I see it, here are the advantages/disadvantages to Fertility Awareness:
- inexpensive (free, actually, after the first month)
- doesn't interrupt "the moment"
- no hormone-induced side effects
- you learn to know your body!
- when you do decide to conceive, it will be much easier because you'll already know your cycle
- no withdrawal period from hormones
- no worry about antibiotics messing up your birth control
- can be used for contraception or conception
- you have to wake up at the same time every morning (if you do BBT)
- you have to be willing to get down to the nitty-gritty (if you check CM)
- the "human error" factor is there
- no STD protection (of course, I'm assuming you'd ONLY do this if you were in a monogamous relationship)
- you do have to learn the techniques/method, which takes some reading
Bottom line: Does fertility awareness take more work than popping a pill or putting on a patch/Nuva Ring? Yes. Is it worth the 5 minutes spent charting? Definitely.
If anyone has questions/comments, I'd love to hear from you.
Oh, and Taking Charge of Your Fertility is a must-read for ALL women, not just those interested in fertility awareness. You'll be amazed at what you didn't know before.