Introduction and FAQ
Go to Intro and FAQ
Go to Learning Fertility Awareness
Go to Professional Community
Go to Goodies
Go to About Us / Contact Us
Go to Links & Resources
Go to Blog & News
Go to Home Page

Introduction to Fertility Awareness

Fertility Awareness means knowing how to "read" your body to know when you are fertile, and when you are not. It can be used as natural birth control, or to help you achieve pregnancy. It also gives a woman insight into her health, and can be very empowering, especially with respect to reproductive health and sexuality. You will often see the terms "Fertility Awareness" (FA) and "Fertility Awareness Method" (FAM) used interchangeably. On this website, I generally use "Fertility Awareness" to mean a general understanding of the signs of fertility, and "Fertility Awareness Method" to mean the systematic use of this knowledge to prevent or achieve pregnancy.

To use FAM, a woman carefully observes 2 or 3 Primary Fertility Signs. By noting these Signs daily on a chart, she can then interpret her chart to know when she is fertile. The 3 Primary Fertility Signs are basal body temperature (taken first thing in the morning), cervical fluid (sometimes called mucus, observed throughout the day) and the cervix (optional) Most women having healthy cycles will find that they are fertile for about 1/3 of their cycle (about 8-10 days on average). If a couple wishes to avoid pregnancy, they may choose to use a barrier method during those days, or, for maximum effectiveness, they may choose not to have any genital-to-genital contact during the fertile window and instead use that period of time for creative explorations of sexuality and intimacy. Of course, if they wish to achieve pregnancy, they can simply do the opposite, i.e. have intercourse (or otherwise inseminate) during the fertile window.

Some of my colleagues have begun to use the term "body literacy. " I think this is a great concept. When we don't know how to understand our fertility, we are essentially illiterate in the language of our own bodies. And just as knowing how to read makes the difference between empowerment and disempowerment in a social and professional context, understanding our fertility empowers us to make better choices around our sexual and reproductive health.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is Fertility Awareness?
Is this the Rhythm Method?
Is Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) the same as Natural Family Planning (NFP)?
How effective is FAM for preventing pregnancy?
How can FAM help me get pregnant?
Is FAM difficult to practice?
Why haven’t I heard about FAM before? Why didn’t my gynecologist offer it to me?
Can I learn FAM from a book, from websites, or from my friend?
What if I have just come off the Pill or other hormone-based methods of birth control?
Can I use FAM if I am breastfeeding or perimenopausal?
Is FAM an environmentally-friendly form of birth control?
Is FAM a vegan form of birth control?
Will FAM protect me from sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s)?
What about (ovulation predictor kits, ovulation monitors, Lady Comp, etc etc)? Can't I just use one of those instead?
I love Fertility Awareness! How do I become an instructor?

 

 

What is Fertility Awareness?

Fertility Awareness is a system of body observation that enables a woman to know on which days of her cycle she is fertile. With this knowledge, she can avoid pregnancy absolutely naturally, simply by not having unprotected intercourse when she fertile. She can also use this information to help her achieve pregnancy, to gain insight into her health, and to be more empowered around her sexuality.

 

Is this the Rhythm Method?

NOOOOOOOO!!!! The Rhythm Method," also known as the Calendar Method, was developed in the 1930’s and is still used by many people today. There are several variations of the Rhythm Method, ranging from a fixed window of fertility (assuming that days x through y are fertile), to more sophisticated versions that take into account the user's past cycles. All versions are highly unreliable and often lead to unintended pregnancies. This is because (a) women's cycles are not all the same, i.e. your cycles may be very different from your friend's cycles, and moreover (b) women's cycles can vary from month to month. You probably usually get hungry at around 5PM every day. That doesn't mean that you're always going to be hungry at 5PM. If you're not feeling well, or if you had a late lunch, you might not be hungry at that time. Even for women who have very regular cycles, every cycle is different, and fertility must be assessed on a daily basis.

 

Is Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) the same as Natural Family Planning (NFP)?

There are many similarities between FAM & NFP. Both are based on the premise that a woman can know where she is in her cycle by observing the signs that her body gives her. Fertility Awareness in fact was derived from NFP. However, FAM is a secular practice, whereas NFP is generally taught and practiced within a religious (typically Catholic) context. Thus, an NFP class may be offered only to married or engaged couples, whereas a FAM class will likely be open to anyone, regardless of relationship status or sexuality. Moreover, NFP generally insists on "abstinence" during the fertile time, whereas FAM users may choose to incorporate one or more barriers during the fertile time or to enjoy forms of sexual expression other than intercourse. FAM also supports the use of condoms for disease prevention.

 

How effective is FAM for preventing pregnancy?

Very! Studies of the effectiveness of birth control generally present 2 statistics. One is the "perfect use" rate, meaning the effectiveness of the method when it is used all the time, without error. The other is the "typical use" rate, referring to the effectiveness in a general population that is not always using the method perfectly, or consistently. FAM has a "perfect use" rate of about 97-99%, meaning that of 100 couples using the method perfectly for 1 year, 1-3 will experience an unplanned pregnancy. This is nearly as effective as the Pill. It has a "typical use" rate of about 85%, meaning that approximately 15 couples will experience an unplanned pregnancy. This may seem high, but it compares favorably to other methods where the user controls the effectiveness (condoms, diaphragms, etc). This is because people don’t always use their method correctly. The condom isn't put on early enough, or they don’t use the diaphragm because she left it at her house, or, in the case of FAM, they take a chance when they know they’re fertile. The effectiveness of FAM is up to you. If you take the time to learn it correctly, and agree with your partner that you will use it conscientiously, you are highly unlikely to get pregnant unless you choose to.

 

How can FAM help me get pregnant?

FAM can identify your fertile window so that you can time intercourse optimally. It can also identify some common impediments to achieving pregnancy, such as a short luteal phase, insufficient fertile cervical fluid, anovulatory cycles, and early miscarriages. One of the nice things about FAM is that it is totally reversible at any time. You can use it to prevent pregnancy for as long as you like. If you decide you would like to conceive, just start having intercourse when you know you are fertile. If you want to start using contraception again, simply stop having intercourse during your fertile window. There is nothing to remove from your body, no wait for your hormones to resume normal functioning. Moreover, FAM will tell you when you are pregnant. Normally, your temperature will drop and your period will come 12-16 days after ovulation. If your temperature stays up for 18 day or more, which you’ll be able to see on your chart, you are almost certainly pregnant. And FAM can be safely practiced while breastfeeding. Note: The "rules" for avoiding pregnancy while breastfeeding are somewhat different than the standard FAM rules, and breastfeeding can be a challenging time to practice FAM, so we recommend that you avail yourself of some personal instruction, preferably around the beginning of your third trimester, but better late than never. I offer a breastfeeding consultation that lasts about an hour. For more information, please see the instruction page, or contact me.

 

Is FAM difficult to practice?

No, though you do have to invest some time in learning it. Once learned, the method becomes a natural part of your day that takes only a few minutes. Which is not to say that FAM is for everyone. It requires a daily commitment, and a stable lifestyle - consistent wakeup times, limited amounts of travel & partying - will make the practice much easier. Also, there are times in a woman's life (most notably when she is breastfeeding and when she is approaching menopause) when FAM can be challenging. A FAM or NFP educator can help you through those rough spots. In general, most women find that FAM is easy to practice, and rewards them richly for their efforts.

 

Why haven’t I heard about FAM before? Why didn’t my gynecologist offer it to me?

There are several reasons. We (at least we here in the U.S.) live in a capitalist system with a profit-driven health care system. There is very little money to be made from FAM. Once you have obtained the knowledge, there are really no further costs, unless you choose to use barrier methods during your fertile times or for std protection. No pills to buy, no condoms, no spermicide, no nothing. The thermometer will last you for many years unless you lose it. Blank charts can be run off on a copy machine or printed from your computer.

Compare this to the astronomical profits made from the sale of artificial birth control, and you can see why no one is pushing this method on you at your doctor’s office. There is no sales rep taking your doctor out to lunch or leaving samples at the office. There are no ads in women’s magazines or on television. There is no profit in it.

Another reason your doctor isn’t offering you this method has to do with the way medical care is dispensed in our culture, which, again, has to do with money. It can take 6-12 hours to learn FAM. How much time does your doctor spend with you? How could s/he teach you this method? If you’re lucky, your doctor will know enough to tell you about the method and refer you to someone who can teach you. This rarely happens. Most often, doctors are unfamiliar with the method. Incredibly, they still incorrectly associate FAM with the Rhythm Method. They still tell women things like "you’re safe up till day 10 and after day 17" when the fact is that you may enter your fertile period in the first few days of your cycle, or you may not enter it until the 4th week of your cycle. No one can tell you when you are fertile, but you can easily figure it out by observing and charting your Fertility Signs.

Lastly, we live in a very repressed culture that does not encourage us to know much about our bodies or to share that knowledge with others. Most of us do not get to have open dialogues with our parents about our bodies and we do not receive accurate, unbiased information in our schools. We trust doctors to take care of our bodies and disbelieve that we can take care of natural functions like birth, and birth control, without them. FAM requires you to deal openly and honestly with the functioning of your body and in return puts you solidly in control of your fertility. Most students find that FAM is a revelation, and they are amazed (and often angry) that no one gave them this basic information before. It is your right to know how your body works.

 

Can I learn FAM from a book, from websites, or from my friend?

There are basically 3 options for learning how to practice Fertility Awareness: from a secular teacher, from a teacher working within a religious context, or on your own. I strongly recommend that you get some personal instruction, be it secular or religious. While the method is not terribly difficult to learn, it must be learned accurately and thoroughly. It is said that the Fertility Awareness Method is unforgiving. When used correctly, it is extremely effective. But if you make a mistake, you may end up having unprotected intercourse on a day when you are fertile, thus risking pregnancy. With an instructor, you can ask questions, you can practice charting, and you get individual follow-up which a book or website cannot provide. Personal instruction can help you (and your partner) feel more confident about abandoning artificial birth control. For some of us, it’s a big leap. If you have the option, study FAM with an experienced teacher.

Unfortunately, secular teachers of FAM are few and far between. In most parts of the country, your only option for face to face instruction will be with a Natural Family Planning (NFP) organization. NFP and Fertility Awareness are similar, but also distinctly different. NFP was developed by Catholics and is informed by Catholic values and beliefs. NFP is not thought of as contraception but as a way to space children. Two major differences between FAM and NFP are that NFP insists on "abstinence" during the fertile period and instruction is sometimes only offered to married or engaged couples. Moreover, whereas a secular teacher may speak in terms of self-reliance, health, and sexuality, a Catholic teacher may emphasize religious or moral principles. For some of you, learning NFP, as opposed to FAM, may be an acceptable or even preferable option.

The good news, for those of you who have no access to a teacher with whom you are comfortable, or to any teacher at all, is that you can work with an instructor by phone (or by Skype). And here's where the books and websites come in. You can teach yourself the basics of the method using those materials, and then do phone consultations with an instructor to make sure that you are doing things correctly. (You will need to submit your charts for review by phone, fax, or email.) This can work as well as taking a workshop. If you are interested in consulting with me, either by phone or in person, please visit the instruction page. For information on other secular teachers and NFP organizations, please visit the Fertility Awareness Network page. Although there are some terrific books on Fertility Awareness (see links page for recommendations), I strongly suggest that you do not practice the method for contraceptive purposes based solely on the reading of a book.

 

While some women will have normal cycles after coming off hormonal methods of birth control, others may take up to 6 or even 12 months to resume normal cycles. (This will be particularly noticable in the case of DepoProvera and other injectables). It may take you a while to start ovulating. You may have a short luteal phase (the phase between ovulation and menstrual bleeding). Eventually your body will recover. Because your cervical fluid may be difficult to interpret for a while after coming off hormone-based contraception, you should use a back-up method until you can confidently understand what your body is telling you. Charting will show you how your body is returning to its natural functioning. Of course, not everyone who stops using hormonal birth control will subsequently experience normal cycles, but this is due to an underlying disorder, and does not stem from the use of artificial birth control. Because it can take many months for the body to bounce back from hormonal birth control, it's best to wait a while before jumping to any conclusions about what may or may not be wrong.

 

Yes, although breastfeeding, perimenopause (the time leading up to menopause) and the first few years following menarche (when a girl first gets her period) are considered the most challenging times to practice FAM. However, Fertility Awareness can be used to safely and effectively prevent pregnancy during these times. The "rules" for preventing pregnancy during these times are somewhat different than the standard rules, and there are other things that need to be addressed, such as how various breastfeeding & parenting behaviors can impact when a woman's body becomes fertile again after birth. We strongly recommend that even seasoned charters get some professional support during these times.

Is FAM an environmentally-friendly form of birth control?

In recent years, environmental consciousness has increased tremendously. People are becoming aware of the impact of their choices on the planet, and are beginning to adjust their behavior accordingly, by conserving energy, avoiding disposable products, trying to eat local and/or organic food, etc. Unfortunately, this new level of consciousness has not yet reached the realm of contraception (or childbearing itself, which has an enormous environmental impact). When a woman takes hormonal contraception, whether in a pill, a patch, a shot, or a ring, traces of those hormones come out in her urine, and enter our water system. Scientists are still trying to figure out what effect these chemical pollutants (which come from many drugs and sources, not just birth control) are having on aquatic and human life, but it stands to reason that *not* putting crap in our water is the greener choice. (And almost every form of hormonal contraception generates packaging waste, as well.) Sterilization is a very popular and environmentally-friendly choice, but it's generally not reversible. What about barrier methods? Well, condoms are obviously not a great option. They create garbage, every single time you use them. Diaphragms, cervical caps, and other reusable methods are better - they can be reused for long periods of time before they need to be disposed of. Of course there are containers associated with the spermicides used with these methods, and the spermicides themselves, which end up (you guessed it) in the water. The non-hormonal iud is similar to reusable barrier methods in that it will last for many years before it needs to be disposed of. Withdrawal is a very green choice, and can be an effective method of contraception if you and your partner are good at it. Fertility Awareness creates no waste (except maybe a thermometer battery every five years or so, if you use a battery-operated digital thermometer). Even if you use barrier methods when you are fertile, you're still using far less of them than you would be if you used them throughout your cycle. Moreover, FAM is extremely effective (more so than withdrawal), and, unlike withdrawal, control rests with the woman, rather than with the man.

Back to FAQ

Is FAM a vegan form of birth control?

That it is. One of the very few. For people who do not want to use contraception that involves the death or suffering of animals, the choices are basically limited to vegan condoms, withdrawal, the copper IUD, and Fertility Awareness. And of course sterilization.

No. STD’s (also known as STI's, for sexually transmitted infections) are rampant in our society. One in four Americans will get an STD in his or her lifetime. Some are incurable. Some have no symptoms. Some can cause sterility. Some are fatal. Most are just a temporary pain in the butt. If you are not in a committed, monogamous relationship in which both you and your partner have been tested for STD’s, practice safe sex, and use condoms (latex or polyurethane, not lambskin). They’re not a guarantee, but they’re much better than nothing. Protect yourself. You can still chart your cycles and you will still benefit from knowing when you’re fertile, when you’re going to bleed, and if anything funky (like an infection or a cycle without ovulation) is going on, all of which FA can tell you.

Moreover, the longer you practice charting your cycles, the easier it becomes, and the more integral a part of your life it becomes. If you are not now in that committed, monogamous relationship in which neither partner has an STD, you might be in the future, and at that point you can confidently ditch the condoms, knowing exactly when you can get pregnant and when you can’t.

 

What about (ovulation predictor kits, ovulation monitors, Lady Comp, etc etc)? Can't I just use one of those instead?

The beauty of Fertility Awareness is that you don't need anything else except your body (ok and maybe a thermometer and a blank chart). Cervical fluid (and Secondary Fertility Signals such as breast tenderness) are built in ovulation predictors. There is little, if anything, you can get from a device that you can't get from a chart. In fact, for women who are trying to conceive, FAM gives you more "heads up" about the days when intercourse is most likely to lead to pregnancy than the ovulation predictor kits do. Moreover, while these devices can tell you with a reasonable degree of accuracy if you are fertile on any given day, they do not confer any of the other benefits that Fertility Awareness does. When you use them, you are not learning anything about your health. You are unlikely to experience the tremendous joy and satisfaction that come from knowing that you are in control of your fertility and your sexuality, and that you can understand your body and make choices based on that understanding.

Having said that, another principle of Fertility Awareness is this: it's your body. You get to make the decisions. If you like seeing the ovulation predictor kit turn blue, or if it makes you feel more confident to have a computer corroborate your infertile days, by all means, use the devices that make you happy.  

 

I love Fertility Awareness! How do I become an instructor?

See our Professional Community page.

 

 

  

Find us on Facebook!
Big Old Disclaimer
Who built this site?
The "Fertility Awareness Center" logo is a Trademark ™ of Fertility Awareness Center.
All images and content Copyright © 2007-2010 Fertility Awareness Center, all rights reserved
except where trademark or copyright is held by previous owner.