The term “fertility awareness method” is often used to refer to any method that involves determining your fertile window and avoiding unprotected intercourse at that time. These methods are properly referred to as fertility awareness based methods, and involve anything from the outdated and ineffective rhythm method to high tech and ultra expensive fertility monitors.
Some of the most common fertility awareness based methods include the standard days method (which is also referred to as cycle beads), the rhythm method, the two day method, the ovulation method, and the sympto-thermal method. Lemme give you a quick rundown of what each entails.
The Standard Days Method is only for those who have regular cycles. It is based on ovulation happening 14 days before the first day of your period, and uses calculations for sperm and egg life for both the earliest possible ovulation and latest possible ovulation in the small cycle window. This can work well for many women, but has two drawbacks. One is that your fertile window is more days than it has to be, and the other is that if your cycle is longer or shorter than normal there is a good chance your fertile period will fall outside of those pre-set days and you will think you are safe when you are not.
The Rhythm method is also based on past cycle calculations, but for its use you use calculations based on your own personal shortest and longest cycle. This is also ineffective because it is calculations based on the previous cycle, and often comes with even more days of abstinence if you have less regular cycles.
Next we have The Two Day Method, which is a simplified version of the ovulation method. You learn how to recognize cervical fluid (great!) and you apply one rule to it. You ask yourself “did I have cervical fluid today?” and “did I have cervical fluid yesterday?” If you can answer no to both questions you can consider yourself infertile. This is a huge jump in accuracy above the former two methods because you are using cervical fluid to determine your fertile window, which is actually biologically associated with ovulation and not based on past cycles. Unfortunately, this method is made for those who can not actually chart and sometimes up to two days after we have cervical fluid we can ovulate.
Next, we have The Ovulation Method. Just like the two day method in which we look at cervical fluid, but we end the fertile period by counting 3 days, rather than just the two. This method has wonderful effectiveness, and in some studies it’s about the same as the sympto-thermal method. The only reason the sympto-thermal method is really better is the backup of an extra fertility sign, see below. The ovulation method also tends to be harder for those without really excellent hormonal health. While I think it’s wonderful to use charting to see where your hormonal health is not doing well, sometimes fixing it can take time. When you can’t use the method for all of that time it can be discouraging.
The Lady-Comp is a device that takes your temperature only and uses calculations for the first half of your cycle. This is bad for some of the reasons mentioned, namely less-safe days to get a good effectiveness and the propensity to be very wrong if your cycle goes haywire. You can check out what I think about the Lady-Comp here.
The Sympto-Thermal Method is great because it focuses on cervical fluid but adds in one more sign, temperature. The temperature helps if there is any inability to get cervical fluid data and it also helps some people in the beginning understand better how to use the method. Because of this, the sympto-thermal method gets the best effectiveness ratings and is the method that I choose to teach and use myself. Some sympto-thermal methods will even add in OPKs in their various forms. This isn’t a bad thing, but isn’t necessary for effectiveness. I also believe that the more “external” devices you have the more you tend to disassociate from your body and the less it is an awesomely empowering practice. The sympto-thermal method is often referred to as just the fertility awareness method or natural family planning, but it is, more precisely, the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness. This is why you tend to see me refer to it as such, even though it’s a quite long and cumbersome.
I hope that this helps to clarify some of the confusion, and that it helps you clarify what you are looking for in a method. Personally, I can’t pass up the one with the best effectiveness and most safe days :) If you are ready to learn, check out my next class here.
If you would like to see a paper comparing the effectiveness of each method, you can check out the study Fertility awareness-based methods of family planning: A review of effectiveness for avoiding pregnancy using SORT.