I just want to start this post off by saying I normally don’t bother with response articles as most of the time they’re pretty pointless. Almost always these people don’t actually care about the subject they’re writing about, they just want those sweet likes. So, why am I writing a response article? Because I’m a hypocrite I guess. There’s things that bother me more than response articles such as: a lack of sex education, people jumping on bandwagons, and the mob mentality the blogosphere seems to adopt sometimes. So, let’s get started shall we?
Earlier this week, an influencer with a significantly large following teamed up with contraceptive app Natural Cycles for a sponsored post. The post is titled ‘Contraception with no side effects’ and she talks about her experience using the app. She clearly states that the post is an ad from the beginning, she states she uses condoms and that they should be used as well, and also acknowledges that everyone is different. So, what’s the problem? People don’t know enough about this alternative birth control method.
From what I saw, a lot of people had a problem with her referring to this method as contraception. But here’s the thing, it is a method of contraception. Whether you call it ‘natural family planning’ or ‘fertility awareness’, the NHS and lots of health care professionals refer to it as contraception. Whether it’s something you would do or not doesn’t matter, it’s a perfectly valid method. Tracking my cycle and using condoms is how I have stayed baby-free for over two years now.
I think the backlash focused too much on what to call it and not the method itself. This post isn’t going to focus on defending the blog post in question or talk about the current state of the blogosphere because there is no point. For what it’s worth, I think the blogger missed an opportunity to educate people and share a method that could be life-changing for some. The brand itself trended the day of publishing, so I can’t help but wonder if their mission was accomplished. I’d like to share my thoughts and own experiences with this method with you instead. The people who have objected to this post haven’t helped in my opinion; they’re still sharing ignorant and uneducated opinions that only scare people.
What is fertility awareness and how does it work?
The fertility awareness method (FAM) or natural family planning is a method that helps you understand at what time during the month you’re likely to fall pregnant. In a nutshell, the idea is that you learn when you are ovulating (and are fertile) and when you are not. If you’re trying to have a baby, you would track and have unprotected sex when you’re fertile.
I know some people who use this method without condoms and just avoid sex on fertile days, but this isn’t something I would personally do. I use condoms every time I have sex and track my cycle for different reasons. Does this mean I’ll completely write it off and advise people against it? No, because you wouldn’t do this when discussing more conventional types of contraception like the pill for example.
Fertility awareness isn’t as simple as using an app, and that’s the information that’s missing
The most important thing I should mention is that I don’t think this is something you can learn via a blog post (even this one!), an app, an influencer or whatever. I’d recommend seeking a qualified teacher (I believe there are nurses etc. who specialise in this) if you want to use this method without condoms. If you want to use condoms and track anyway, I will try explain as much as I can. But I’d like to remind you, I’m not an expert either. The aim of the post is to provide you with more info and prompt you to research properly for yourself.
The fertility indicator in question is basal body temperature
There are three different fertility indicators you can use and I believe it’s recommended you use these in combination to increase effectiveness of FAM. The one that everyone is discussing after that blog post is daily readings of your body temperature. Basal body temperature (BBT) is the lowest body temperature attained during rest (normally during sleep). This is why these devices or health care professionals recommend measuring your temperature immediately after waking up or before any physical activity has happened. They believe this is a more accurate way of identifying a true BBT. Ovulation may cause a slight increase in basal body temperature.
So by tracking your basal body temperature each day, the idea is that you’ll be able to predict when you ovulate. This can help you avoid sex or give you a better idea of when you’re more likely to conceive. I have never used a device for this nor do I measure my temperature, but from what I’ve read you’re likely to be most fertile two to three days before your temperature rises.
It’s useful to make note of your discharge too
Other things you can track are changes to your cervix (specifically the change in discharge) as well as the length of your menstrual cycle. A change in discharge and months of making a note about how I feel during different times of my cycle is how I know when I’m ovulating or not. I don’t use hormonal birth control and have regular periods, and in my experience there is a change in the amount and consistency of discharge during different times in your menstrual cycle. I’m not sure what it’s like for people who use hormonal birth control or have irregular periods, so I apologise if this isn’t helpful.
For the first few days after my period, my vagina tends to be dryer. There is a lot less discharge if any. As my hormone levels rise and my body prepares for ovulation, my cervix produces a different kind of discharge. When I’m ovulating, my discharge appears thicker. Throughout the rest of my cycle, it’s quite thin and not much of a bother. I also experience ovulation cramps some cycles too, this is something that not enough people talk about. Mine are more painful than period cramps and make me feel really ill sometimes.
When your body produces a different kind of discharge, this indicates the start of your fertile period of your menstrual cycle. Another thing you can look out for is the change of cervix position and texture. Typically around ovulation it can be described as open, soft and very high. Discharge around ovulation tends to be referred to as egg white cervical mucus (EWCM). It’s stretchy, slippery and clear to sometimes slightly cloudy. It’s also completely normal! Before ovulation, the discharge can get wetter, clearer, thicker and sometimes even slippery. This is when you are at your most fertile.
Here’s why it’s important to try it yourself and not go by somebody else’s experience
Your menstrual cycle lasts from the first day of your period until the day before your next period starts. Everyone’s menstrual cycle is different. They say anything from 24 to 35 days is ‘common’, but I know so many people whose last longer. They can also be shorter than this too. There was a time where my cycle would frequently last anywhere between 35 – 50 days. There are also a ton of factors that cause your cycle to change. For example, when I was going through a particularly stressful time in my life, my periods were all over the place. The shortest one I had was an 18 day cycle and then just a month later my cycle lasted 40 something days. It really does come down to your individual cycle and I cannot stress this enough.
I think it’s also worth noting that this method wouldn’t work for people who experience things like PCOS, Endometriosis, irregular periods or fertility issues in general. It doesn’t work for everyone and that’s okay! Things like stress, illness, other medication you’re on and travel can also have an affect on your cycle as well. As a result, this can affect your fertility signals. So tracking all these things together kind of makes more sense, right?
I spoke to somebody who has used this method for eight years
“I wish people understood that nothing is 100% effective. It isn’t dangerous, if you do it accurately.” She also recommended book ‘Taking Charge Of Your Fertility’ by Toni Weschler M.P.H. The book is described as a definitive guide to natural birth control, pregnancy achievement, and reproductive health.
In addition to that, she also recommend checking out this website: https://fertilityfriend.com/. “It’s an amazing resource that allows you to track your cycle, you can track things like: temperature, cervix position, cervix texture and opening, cervical mucous, days you have sex and so on. It also has an amazing free course that teaches you how to chart, how your cycle works and what fertile signs to look out for.”
FAM is a method that is recommended more for people in long term relationships
As you may have already guessed, this isn’t a method that is normally recommended to those who are not in a long term relationship. Some people even refer to this method as ‘natural family planning’, so it makes sense that people who are single/have casual sex would object to this.
I would just like to reiterate that this method is not as simple as using an app and checking your temperature. It’s something that requires a lot of effort. You need to follow instructions carefully and do it every day. It can take anywhere from three to six months to get to know your cycle. I personally think it’s something worth doing (that’s another post for another day) and after 2+ years, it’s pretty much effortless for me now. I know when I’m ovulating and I can identify different points in my cycle where I know I’ll handle certain tasks or situations better.
As there are many different factors to think about, I would always recommend speaking to your doctor before you do anything.
It’s important to remember that no contraception is 100% effective
I think the point everyone was missing when this story broke is that no contraception is 100% effective. There is no ‘right’ or ‘best’ form of contraception, it’s really about finding what works for you. It’s important to note that FAM will not help prevent sexually transmitted diseases in any way, which is why it’s not normally recommended to those who have casual sex.
A lot of people in long term relationships will have been tested and trust their partners, so I guess this isn’t something they ever think about. It doesn’t mean it’s this super dangerous form of contraception, it just works better in different circumstances.
If you want to protect yourself from STDs, I would recommend getting tested and using condoms. However, even condoms are not 100% effective. Condoms for penises can protect you from STDs that are transmitted by genital fluids such as: chlamydia and gonorrhea. Whereas female condoms can protect you from these and STDs that are transmitted via skin to skin contact (like genital herpes) as it also covers the vulva (external) too. The only 100% guaranteed way to avoid the risk of getting pregnant is to avoid sperm altogether I guess.
Contraception is a hugely personal thing and everyone’s experience is different. Ultimately, it’s about finding what is right for you and always consulting with a doctor first. I think it’s really important for people to do their own research and experiment with different forms of contraception themselves.
This is definitely not a definitive guide to the fertility awareness method and I am obviously not a doctor. I just wanted to try explain the science behind this method away from apps and devices. For what it’s worth, I think this is a great route to go if you struggle with hormonal contraception. But please make informed decisions and be safe! I hope this has been helpful to some of you and please do contact your doctors if you’d like more information on this.