Sometimes I notice trends in the fertility awareness world. Whether it’s because I see them in clients doing one on one work or whether it’s in a facebook group or two, there is one that is currently bothering me. I know about half of what I talk about here ends up being cautions about fertility awareness, but it’s so important to practice the method correctly I hate just sitting by while the world thinks it’s ok to do these things.
Fertility awareness is generally simple (especially when you are talking about the sympto-thermal method or a cervical fluid only method that requires no extra devices) and if you are feeling like it is difficult there are a few reasons that might be.
- You JUST started using the method. Yes, there is a learning curve and it can feel difficult when getting through it.
- You have a hormonal imbalance or are in a time of hormonal upheaval/re-balancing (like coming off the pill or breastfeeding).
- You are looking at things day by day and not allowing yourself the benefit of looking at a full chart or more before trying to figure out what’s going on (you can certainly decide when you are and are not fertile at any time within a cycle, but you are not going to know what’s going on with your hormones, whether you will later ovulate in that cycle, or anything like that when you are only part-way into your cycle).
- You are listening to too many people and most of your info is incorrect and/or does not meld well together.
In this post, I want to focus on the last part.
Before you even think about using fertility awareness you should know this: There are different methods of fertility awareness, all classed under fertility awareness based methods. Then, there are even methods within the methods, such as different rules between different sympto-thermal methods or cervical fluid only methods.
Most rules are pretty similar and all are based on the same basic science of HOW our bodies can actually get us pregnant including sperm life, what’s needed for sperm life, egg life, and how to tell when the egg is dead.
But here is where it gets nuanced. Every method has been studied a specific way. It is studied as it’s full compliment, meaning it is taught (generally by an instructor, but a few method have been studied with people learning other ways or simply using a tech device) from beginning to end including anatomy and physiology, how the hormones of the cycle work, what your fertility signs are, how to check, decipher, and chart fertility signs, and finally how to apply rules to that chart.
But instead of using the way these methods have been studied, users of fertility awareness often want to take a rule from here, a rule from there, ask someone who has no idea what they are talking about what’s going on with their cervical fluid, and often don’t even fully understand why each rule exists.
Not only can this be dangerous in terms of pregnancy risk, but it leads to confusion, frustration, and often giving up.
Fertility awareness should feel simple after getting over the learning curve. If it feels complex or impossible, chances are that you have too much information (because that info is often conflicting and/or incorrect).
Let me give you one specific example of a way that the science of the method can be butchered and leave people with worse efficacy. This isn’t even going to be an example based on rules being mish-mashed, which is common and also not good, but this is an example of a way that a lot of people think they are making the sympto-thermal method more effective when in reality, it’s probably creating less efficacy for most people who do it.
It’s often popular, especially with people who have NOT ever worked with an instructor, to forgo using any pre-ovulation rules and just assume that part of the cycle is fertile. If you haven’t started using fertility awareness yet, know that from period to period you have an infertile time, your fertile time, and then another infertile time.
This can be because they don’t trust their cervical fluid observations or simply don’t trust the rules.
However, rather than using fertility awareness exclusively, they will use a less effective method like withdrawal or a diaphragm not only in those early infertile days, but straight through their fertile phase, as well (because who wants to abstain for about 17 days (more if you have a long cycle)? Almost nobody!
If you are going to use a less effective method during your fertile phase no matter what, there is certainly less risk to this practice, however I would argue two things.
- If you are hell bent on using a birth control method during your early infertile days, you probably should be abstaining or using at least two methods during your fertile time, because you probably care a LOT about not getting pregnant.
- We have seen in one study for the sympto-thermal method a slightly better efficacy for condoms when used only during the fertile phase, suggesting perhaps using something like a barrier method only when you know you are fertile causes you to be more careful in your use of it and not ever get used to sloppy use.
Adding on another rule, which seems safer in this instance, is causing people to act in a way that is actually taking a great birth control risk.
Not only that, but not caring about the early days and determination of fertility often leads to less importance placed on cervical fluid (only the most important part of this method), charters not really caring about their peak day and focusing only on their temperature rise, and getting burned by something being off with their temps causing a false shift. I wish I could say that I never saw charts like that, but I do.
I can hear you now: AHHH, Hannah, wait! I’ve been doing this/want to do this and you are telling me that I can’t? No, I’m not telling you that you can’t, what I’m telling you is that assuming you are going to increase your efficacy (or keep the efficacy the same) of the method by adding on something or mixing and matching methods that seem to suit you is not correct. Can some things increase the efficacy? Potentially, yes! Could they also decrease the efficacy unbeknownst to you? Also, yes.
There is a reason the methods are structured in a way that they are, and you can’t underestimate how much little changes can make a difference in the science of a method.
If you’ve ever been asked by an instructor “How did you learn the method?” This is why. We need to know that you are using one method, what your background information is, how to help you with the rules you are going by, and that you are adhering to those rules.