What Is Fertility Awareness?
awareness method (FAM), previously called the rhythm method, is a way to
prevent pregnancy by taking advantage of the natural cycle of fertility. It
requires an understanding of the body’s natural ovulation
cycle. The effectiveness of the various forms of fertility awareness methods
Various forms of
the fertility awareness based methods are more commonly known as:
- natural family planning
- fertility awareness
- periodic abstinence
Women abstain from
sex during their most fertile days. Instead of abstaining, some women use
backup contraception on their fertile days.
How Does Fertility Awareness Work?
A woman is most
likely to get pregnant or be fertile during and right before ovulation.
Fertility, or being fertile, is the ability to conceive a child. Ovulation is
when an egg is released from the ovaries. It occurs approximately once per
month, about 12 to 16 days after menstruation. Once an egg is released from the
ovary, its lifespan is actually very brief, with conception possible for only
24-48 hours after the time of actual ovulation. However, the male sperm can
remain alive and viable in the woman’s
body for up to five days after ejaculation. These biologic realities make the
actual period of viable fertility anywhere from five to eight days in most
cases, with substantial variations based upon particular characteristics of the
partners, the frequency of ejaculatory intercourse during the fertile periods,
and numerous other factors. The specific day on which ovulation occurs depends
on your cycle length, which is largely controlled by regular, oftentimes fairly
consistent (in a particular individual) fluctuations in the woman’s hormone levels.
Ideally, to use the
fertility awareness method, you need to become clearly aware of your menstrual
cycle and the biology occurring throughout it. You will want to keep records of
at least six to 12 months of menstrual cycles and should use the full range of
estimated fertility periods derived from both short and long cycles. According
to UC Davis, when cycles range from 26 to 32 days, the
fertile period is generally days 8 through 19.
mentioned, sperm can live for up to five days in a woman’s body. Therefore, a woman is most
- five days before
- the day of
- within 12 to 24
hours after ovulation
Pregnancy is less likely if the fertile
period has been accurately identified and unprotected sex is avoided on those particular
days. Viable sperm should not be present at the same time as the viable,
released egg. However, that being said, fertility awareness is amongst the
least reliable modalities of contraception, with 20 or more pregnancies
occurring annually per 100 women utilizing this method.
How Do I Track My Menstrual Cycle?
Every woman’s menstrual cycle
is different. It’s important to pinpoint exactly when you are ovulating in
order for this method to be effective. There are several ways to keep track of
The three most
common methods are:
calendar method, which uses past menstrual cycles to estimate the time of
ovulation. It is the least reliable fertility awareness method. Women whose
cycles are shorter than 26 days or longer than 32 days should not use the
temperature method: Due to hormonal surges, a woman’s basal body
temperature (BBT) goes up right after ovulation. By tracking your temperature
first thing in the morning for several cycles, you can determine when in your
cycle you ovulate. This requires using a very sensitive thermometer and taking
your temperature before getting out of bed.
cervical mucus method: Cervical mucus becomes thinner when a woman ovulates, in
order to facilitate sperm access to the released egg. Tracking cervical mucus
color, thickness, and texture can allow women to monitor their fertility. If
you notice changes in mucus today or if you noticed them the previous day, you
should refrain from unprotected intercourse.
method is when all three methods are used together. Combining methods for
fertility tracking makes them more effective. However, the fertility awareness
method of contraception remains the least effective way to prevent pregnancy in
persons who are sexually active. Women should track at least six to 12 cycles
before they begin to rely on fertility awareness for contraception.
best to talk to your doctor or take a course on fertility awareness before
deciding if it’s right for you. Fertility awareness requires a
significant and consistent investment of time and effort.
How Effective Is Fertility Awareness?
of an FAM depends on:
fertility tracking method is used
regular your cycles are
reliably you track your cycles
long you abstain from sex around your ovulation date
These methods can be successful for couples that always use
them reliably and consistently. Nevertheless, the average
failure rate for women using FAM is 18 or more percent annually, which
leaves fertility awareness techniques among the least reliable methods of non-abstinence-based
What Are the Benefits of Fertility Awareness?
has several advantages, including:
need for medical devices or medications
of side effects
In addition, using fertility awareness can educate a woman
and her partner about fertility. This can help them to get pregnant later, if
they so choose.
What Are the Disadvantages of Fertility Awareness?
This form of birth
control does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. It also has a
number of other disadvantages including:
fact that both members of the couple must be involved in the process
need to abstain from sex during your fertile days, or to use backup
need to consistently track your cycles for at least six months before the
method can be considered reliable
high failure rate compared with almost all other non-abstinence-based birth
control methods (i.e. condoms, the pill, diaphragms, etc).
Fertility awareness is a poor choice for women with
irregular menstrual cycles.