You have probably heard of the rhythm method.
What you might be shaky on is what exactly it is and how effective it is.
Perhaps you have a few friends that have told you they count days on a calendar to figure out when they are ovulating (and likely they also use withdrawal) and they haven’t gotten pregnant yet. Or maybe you heard someone in your parents or grandparents generation mention that people used to use the rhythm method to help time their pregnancies.
With the talk, you started looking into it and getting curious… Is there really a way to not take hormones or use condoms and not get pregnant?
Let’s talk about exactly what the rhythm method is
The rhythm method certainly is a birth control method. It’s based on the fact that a woman ovulates once per cycle and that you can figure out the timing of ovulation and avoid unprotected intercourse during those days that you could get pregnant.
In theory, it’s an awesome idea. Unfortunately, the rhythm method doesn’t always do a good job finding when you are actually fertile from when you are not.
The reason this is is because the rhythm method bases every calculation on past cycles and ovulation does not necessarily happen at the same time every cycle. Even if you do have regular cycles, sometimes you can randomly have a cycle that is longer or shorter than your other cycles and there is no way of knowing when that might be by looking at your past cycles.
To use the rhythm method, you are looking back on your last 6-12 cycles and picking out your shortest cycle and your longest cycle. Then you subtract 18 days from your shortest cycle, which would give you the first fertile day in your current cycle. Then, you take your longest cycle and subtract 11, that gives you the last fertile day of your cycle.
So let’s imagine you had a shortest cycle of 27 and a longest of 33. Your fertile days would be from 9 (27-18) to 22 (33-11) in your current cycle.
How the rhythm method can fail you (bad)
There are a couple of difference scenarios the rhythm method can be dangerous, which is why the method can have a typical use failure rate around 25%.
The first one is a shorter luteal phase (that’s the piece of your cycle from ovulation to you next period). Since you are doing nothing but counting days on the calendar, you aren’t actually figuring out when ovulation happens.
For some people, the calculations can lead them to having unprotected intercourse ON ovulation day. If you luteal phase is 10 days (or shorter), that could be the case for you. How do you know how long you luteal phase is? You can read more about that in the section about the good alternative to the rhythm method.
The next way that the rhythm method can screw you is with those darned past cycle calculations. You could keep having the same regular cycles OR you could have a randomly shorter or longer cycle, which is quite common. The only way to be sure you aren’t having a shorter or longer cycle is to track your current cycle instead of basing your fertile phase calculations on past cycles.
That brings us to….
What you should use instead of the rhythm method
Like I mentioned, the rhythm method is a nice idea. Finding your fertile phase and not having unprotected intercourse during that time is a smart idea. Problem is, the rhythm method doesn’t do such a hot job of finding your actual fertile phase ::shakes fist at the rhythm method::.
So the challenge is to actually find that fertile phase. You need to know when you ovulate, when sperm can survive until ovulation, and when your egg has already died. And you need to figure that all out for the current cycle you are in.
Luckily, there is a method that does exactly that and it’s called the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness. With this method, you are checking 2-3 fertility signs (cervical fluid and basal body temperature being the main two) that are directly related to what is going on with your hormones that very day. Since your hormones need to act in a certain way for ovulation to happen, you are able to tell exactly when your fertile period begins and ends. This method works so well that it’s perfect use effectiveness is right up there with the perfect use effectiveness of the pill.
To know so much about what’s happening with your hormones it seems like you’d have to be crazy smart, but, really, you don’t. Checking your cervical fluid is as simple as checking what’s on the toilet paper after going to the bathroom (you may have felt this before even if you weren’t aware. You know how sometimes you will have super slippery wet fluid and other times it’s very dry? That’s cervical fluid working for you right there) and checking your temperature when you wake up is as simple as… well… checking your temperature!
Cervical fluid signals that your egg is maturing and is actually the substance that your body makes to help keep sperm alive until ovulation happens, and your temperature jumps up after ovulation.
All you need to do to use the method is learn the proper technique and rules and you will be ready to go.