There are three camps of people when they come into wanting to chart their cycle, two of them being the most common.
Camp one: Think there is one way to do things. Usually this is learning from a book that is popular like Taking Charge of Your Fertility, but sometimes it’s learning from one teacher who they happened to come across as their first initiation into hearing about FAM.
Camp two: They believe that there is one best way to do things based on what someone told them. One “best” method of fertility awareness even though there are a few other ways. The other ways are clearly inferior and “le suck”.
Camp Three: These people realize there are multiple scientifically-backed (with good effectiveness) fertility awareness methods and that some work best for some people, others work best for other people. This could be due to motivation, learning style, or even your specific body.
You probably started in camp one or two, but I want you to jump on in to camp three. Have an open mind if the first thing you learn still isn’t quite gelling with you and check something else out. Whether it’s a book or a teacher.
This is one place where the Catholic NFP community has it right. They are very much about all of the different NFP methods and saying: “Hey! This didn’t work for you? Give this one a try!”
Now that you know that it’s a good idea to know you have different options open to you, you may wonder what the differences between different methods is. I happen to know a lot about a lot of the methods because I have taken classes in different methods and read a lot of scientific papers (especially efficacy studies) describing them.
So that you can have a better understanding of the methods and pick one that sounds the best to you (or move to a new one because yours is NOT working for you), I’ll let you know about some of the methods that are very different and what their key differences are.
Quick note before I do that: Don’t go combining different methods unless 1.) You know FAM and both of the methods very well, including the science behind them and 2.) You don’t mind taking the small risk that may incur.
The reason you don’t want to combine methods is because mixing rules can be risky and because the way things are checked and interpreted should be consistent. For example, a method that teaches you internal checks vs. toilet paper checks is going to have a different way to describing your cervical fluid, so if you do it one way and describe it another you can be off.
Without further ado, let’s talk about the different FAM methods:
Taking Charge of Your Fertility
I am including this as a method because it’s such a popular book for people to start with when they are learning FAM, but, to my knowledge, I have not seen a scientific efficacy study with the specific TCOYF rules (or with the people being studied learning from a book instead of a teacher and having a lower understanding), so I can’t comment on that.
Taking charge of your fertility tends to be pretty conservative in rules and the way it describes cervical fluid. I think this is a really good thing because it’s a book and doesn’t have the added benefit of a teacher working with you to figure everything out, but I’ve found that most people who read this book don’t understand their cervical fluid.
Taking charge of your fertility only includes a calculation (or counting days) for your period (when you can’t check your cervical fluid).
Sensiplan is biggest in Germany, but many fertility awareness educators teach Sensiplan rules (sometimes only those rules or sometimes as a more conservative option, as I do) because the biggest most effective peer-reviewed efficacy study we have goes by sensiplan rules.
Sensiplan is primarily unique in it’s rules. Sensiplan uses the Doering rule, which I think is a great option and teach for my clients that want to be a bit more conservative. It also has a couple differences to Taking Charge of Your Fertility in it’s peak day and temperature rules.
Personally, I like the sensiplan rules. They are a but conservative, but only in a smart way and you can easily modify their conservative rules to suit you better.
I don’t love the way they describe cervical fluid, which I think can be a little rigid in “what you should/will experience” that generally doesn’t work for all women.
Justisse is originally based on the Creighton method, but developed into a secular method by Geraldine Matus to teach it outside of a religious context. Creighton was originally a cervical fluid only method, developed as what was supposed to be a standardization of the Billings method (more on that below), but Justisse added on temperatures for the extra check. Even though temperatures are added on, there are some pieces of Justisse that are reminiscent of cervical fluid only methods, one of which is a focus on cervical fluid (YAY!), one of which is that they consider more of your period fertile than other methods.
Justisse has similar rules to TCOYF, but where they are really different is in the strict confines in which you check and chart your cervical fluid.
You can ONLY check externally with toilet paper using Justisse, and you categorize your cervical fluid using numbers and letters to denote specific characteristics. These numbers and letters than translate into the categorization of your cervical fluid.
When I first learned the Justisse method, I appreciated learning that not all stretchy fluid is the most fertile type (as I had believed from originally learning via TCOYF), but found as I got to know my own fluid better that it did not at all fit into their very rigid categories and the method just does not work for me at all.
Some people appreciate the structure, I found when trying to use the structure I was ignoring what I really felt and knew about my cervical fluid just to fit it into a box (that ultimately wasn’t appropriate).
The Billings Ovulation Method is a long-standing, extremely well studied cervical fluid only method.
I actually really appreciate this method for it’s simplicity for users and rigor in the science, but I am not personally drawn to using a cervical fluid only method because of the small drawbacks like having less time you can consider yourself infertile (like during you period). That being said, I’ve not taken my temperature for a cycle or two for various reasons. It just happens when you have charted for a long time – give me a break!
Billings is also critical of the Creighton method, issuing a paper about why Creighton should not call itself a standardization of the Billings method. Ah, FAM wars. Existing since the dawn of time.
Billings has had studies showing it as extremely effective (there was even one that was 100% effective), but most of them are not peer-reviewed. I wish that they would get some great peer-reviewed studies, but since I’m not a researcher I’m not sure of why exactly they haven’t.
These 4 are the main ones, but if you wanted to get really specific you could probably find about 100 variations, especially if you dive into the Catholic specific methods.
But the reason I am telling you about them is because the variations are generally really slight, but talk to anyone who has learned more than one method and they will tell you they have a preference for one. It might just be the way it was taught and who it was taught by. It might be the way they talk about cervical fluid. It might be the rules and being a bit more or less conservative.
But the ultimate difference? Maybe a day or two more or less in your fertile phase — Really! It’s all about understanding and fining something that seems to line up with your own body experience. There is no one right or wrong way.