Now, before you go freaking out on me, I will tell you that I wouldn’t recommend the Fertility Awareness Method (also known as Natural Family Planning) to just anyone. You have to really, really know what the heck you’re doing, follow it super-carefully, be in a committed relationship (it doesn’t protect from STD’s), and understand the risks of the method.
BUT, if you meet those criteria and are game for it, I’m here to tell you that the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is actually a really awesome and effective form of birth control. You can use it all on its own, or in tandem with other methods—all without the hassle and sometimes awful side-effects of other birth control methods.
I’ve been using FAM for the past 20 years, ever since my husband (then boyfriend) and I started living together. FAM prevented me from getting pregnant for the first ten years of our marriage. And when it was time to conceive our children, it helped me know exactly when to have sex for effective conception.
We only had one “oops” in those twenty years, which resulted in a very early miscarriage. But I was nursing a toddler at the time, and I blame my out-of-whack hormones. I also know I was being extra “loose” with the method at the time because I was okay with the idea of possibly getting pregnant then.
Still, I think that’s a pretty damn good record. And the statistics on FAM seem to jive pretty closely with my own experience.
According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AGOG), 1-5 out of 100 women will get pregnant in their first year of “perfect use” of FAM (meaning they follow guidelines as flawlessly as possible). Average use of the method—meaning that the guidelines may not be followed quite as concisely—does cause the rate of pregnancy to go up, with 12-24 women out of 100 becoming pregnant in their first year.
But again, that all goes back to the fact that you really, truly, completely have to dedicate yourself to this method to make it work effectively, something I realize isn’t for everyone.
OK, so what exactly are these stringent guidelines that you must follow? Well, FAM involves three methods: cervical mucous observation, basal body temperature (BBT) tracking, and the “standard days” method, which basically means keeping track of your cycle on a calendar. You can do each of these separately, or all at once, but combining all three is definitely the most effective way to do it.
Cervical mucous observation might sound icky, but it just involves tracking the changes in your cervical fluids, and learning which changes signal that fertility is imminent or happening. You’ve got to get a bit intimate with your fluids, but that can actually be a good thing, because it’s always empowering to see how your body works.
Once you observe things for a few months, you’ll begin to see that your cervical fluids have a pattern, with copious amounts of slippery mucous proliferating during the time that you ovulate. You should make sure to avoid intercourse then (we often just do other stuff, *wink, wink*), or use a barrier method right before and right after those fertile mucous days.
Tracking your temperature can be really interesting and cool too—though it can also be a pain in the ass, because you have to remember to do it daily, right before you get out of bed. You need to get a special thermometer called a basal body thermometer for this, but they are cheap and not too hard to find.
In a nutshell, what you are charting is the very slight body temperature increase that happens after you ovulate. This alone doesn’t tell you that you are ovulating (that’s why it’s good to combine this with cervical mucous observation and the calendar method), but it helps you to pinpoint when you’ve completed ovulation, so you know that you’re safe for sex. And it helps you to understand the pattern of how your body works.
There is SO much more to all of this, including more minute details about things like timing sex to avoid pregnancy, what to do if you have abnormal cycles, and more. I highly recommend the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, which is basically the bible of fertility awareness. You also can download charts and apps to keep track of all of it, and help you interpret it.
And if you are feeling extra fancy, there are actually Fertility Awareness Method and Natural Family Planning coaches out there, who will personally guide you through all of this. Mind. Blown.
It all sounds a tad complicated at first, but I swear, once you get into it, it makes a whole lot of sense. And actually, the whole thing can get totally addicting. You might even become a fertility awareness geek like me, who is constantly telling her husband about the state of her cervical mucous (he’s a good sport).
But maybe what I love the most about FAM is that it keeps me very much in tune with my body, my cycles, and my sexuality. All while preventing pregnancy without hormonal birth control or barrier methods, both of which have never worked well for me. Win-win.
Again, I’ll say it for the millionth time, only use this method if you are dedicated 1,000% to it. But if you are ready, dive right in. When used correctly, it totally works, and will make you feel like one badass fertility goddess.