Your Basic Guide to Natural Family Planning
Birth control can be a controversial topic. Some very conservative individuals believe that contraception is “sinful” or wrong. If that’s you, then you are certainly entitled to your opinion, and you can choose to ignore my suggestions about contraception, or simply skip this post altogether. But if you are a person who just wants to find a godly way to prevent pregnancy while still enjoying intimacy in your marriage, this post is for you! Without getting too political here, I’ll just simply state that I do not support abortion. Abortion affects not only the woman, but an actual live human baby, who God created and who has a right to live. On the other hand, I do support birth control. God didn’t create sex just for making babies, and contraception is a valuable tool for married couples who want to enjoy a vibrant sex life without making tons of little new people.
Contraception comes in many forms, many of which are hormonal. Hormonal methods of birth control, such as the pill, prevent pregnancy in three ways. First, they prevent ovulation. Second, they thicken the cervical fluids so that the sperm can’t get through. Third, they thin the lining of the uterus so that any egg that did get fertilized would not be able to implant. This last property in birth control pills is called an abortient. That’s because it technically causes an abortion.
Fortunately, this last property is just that. It is the last defense against pregnancy, and in most cases it likely never happens. The first two safeguards would have to fail and the last one would have to work in order for an abortion to occur, which seems improbable at best. That’s why I am not saying that hormonal birth control is the same as an abortion. It isn’t. An abortion is a planned, deliberate termination of a pregnancy; hormonal contraception uses methods to prevent pregnancy from occurring, and could result in an abortion in unlikely cases. Because of this, I am not saying that using hormonal birth control is wrong or evil. But for me, I’m just not comfortable with it.
That’s why when I got married I began researching non-hormonal methods of birth control. After weeding through all of the effective, ineffective, plausible, and implausible options, I was left with very few choices. The most effective method of course is abstinence—its effectiveness hovers right around 100%. But that’s not an option for a healthy marriage, in my opinion. The second most effective method is sterilization. My husband and I wanted to retain our ability to have children one day, so that wasn’t not a solution for us either.
Eventually, I stumbled upon the fertility awareness method (FAM), also known as natural family planning. I was happily surprised to discover that one of the types of FAM, called the symptothermal method, is extremely effective and safe. It’s 99.6% effective when used properly, which is actually the same as or even more effective than the pill. The best part is I don’t have to take any medicine or put anything in my uterus (like an IUD)! Thank God for that, right?
Some quick information about this method of contraception:
- Though it has the reputation for being a “Catholic thing,” it’s not just for Catholics. This method is for anybody who wants to do things more naturally or safely, or who has concerns about the morality of other birth control methods.
- It does take some effort. The woman has to carefully chart observations about her body throughout the month. This can be difficult if you don’t want to have to think about your method of contraception every day, or if you have trouble remembering to do things. On the other hand, it’s really not that much work, and it takes less than two minutes per day.
- It also takes a firm commitment on the parts of both the wife and the husband. This method requires periods of abstinence from intercourse, so if you cannot fathom going without sex for a few days each month, you might want to consider a different option. That being said, some couples choose to use condoms during fertile periods, which decreases the chances of getting pregnant.
- It’s easy to stop! If you decide that you’re ready for babies, than you can try to conceive right away. No waiting for your body to resume its natural rhythm, removing anything, or surgery. How convenient!
- Hormonal methods of birth control can decrease your sex drive. Enough said.
Interesting in going au naturel? Do you homework first! You shouldn’t start any method of birth control until you understand how it works.
While I can’t give you a full course on FAM, I can give you the basics… so read on if you are interested!
The Basics of Using FAM
The symptothermal method of natural family planning involves tracking your symptoms of fertility. We use a chart for this. The two main signs of fertility are your basal body temperature and your cervical fluid, with cervical position being an optional third sign.
To track your basal body temperature, you take your temperature when you wake up each morning, before doing anything else. Then you write it down on your chart. Throughout the month, you will notice a pattern. In the beginning of your fertility cycle your temperature is in a lower range, and a couple of days after you ovulate it will spike and stay higher until finally falling again right before you get your period and start a new cycle. The spike is a sign that you have ovulated. Knowing the day of your cycle you tend to ovulate on is very helpful, because if you want to avoid having babies just yet then you want to avoid having sex close to your ovulation. When you see the spike, it’s time to abstain for a few days, or use a condom if you’re willing to risk it. (Pregnancy is still possible when using condoms).
The second fertility sign is cervical mucus, or as I prefer to call it, cervical fluid. It’s the substance that can be found on your underwear, which comes from your cervix, and it changes throughout the month. In the beginning of your cycle, it tends to be non-existent (dry) or sticky. Then it typically changes to creamy, and then slippery. When it becomes slippery, you are fertile! That is your body’s way of helping the sperm make their way through your cervix, so they can reach the egg and make a baby. If you don’t want this to happen, then consider abstaining during this time (or once again, using a condom).
To check your cervical fluid, pay attention to the toilet paper when you wipe after going to the bathroom throughout the day. Then make a note of it on your chart. It’s pretty simple! You should notice that your temperature spikes during the slippery stage of your cervical fluid. After ovulation, the cervical fluid dries up and goes back to dry or sticky.
An optional third sign you can choose to observe is your cervix’s position. The cervix moves higher and lower in the top of the vaginal canal throughout the month, and it also changes from firm to soft. A high, soft, mushy-feeling cervix is a sign of fertility, meaning you will ovulate soon or you already did. A low, firm, closed cervix is a sign that you are not near your fertile time.
To feel your cervix, wash your hands and use a personal lubricant (coconut oil is a good option). Insert a finger into your vagina until you feel your cervix at the top of your vaginal canal. Sometimes, especially when you are very fertile, it can be hard to reach because it’s so high. Notice if you can feel a slight opening, or if it feels very closed. Also noticed how firm or soft it is, and how low or high. It may take several tries throughout your cycle to get a good understanding of the changes, and be able to recognize them.
As I said, cervical position is an optional sign. If you aren’t comfortable with checking that, then by all means, skip it. But if you are comfortable, it’s a great way to get to know your body and understand the changes it goes through during the month. If you do check it, you can add that information to your chart as well.
That’s basically all there is to charting. You can then use your chart to understand what is happening and when during your cycle. The most important factor in using FAM to avoid pregnancy is that you either abstain or use a condom during your fertile time, when you notice slippery cervical fluid. Your basal body temperature will corroborate when you have ovulated, telling you when you are safe to resume unprotected intercourse. You are considered non-fertile 72 hours (3 days) after your temperature shift and your peak day of cervical fluid. See the sample chart below for an example.
I encourage you to read more on the subject and do your research before relying on this method to avoid pregnancy.