Jenny (a pseudonym), 37, took the pill for about 10 years, but a few months ago, she hit her wall. She had struggled with morning-sickness like-nausea at the start of every month and no idea how her cycle worked. She needed an alternative—and after attending a workshop in Brooklyn, she found her answer in the fertility awareness method.
In an era of IUDs, “FAM” (as it’s sometimes called) is ultra old-school—a way of charting your cycle so you know when you’re most fertile and when you should avoid having sex, depending on whether you want to get pregnant.
And in the much the same way people decide to go organic or ditch toxic skin-care products, a growing number of New York City women are turning to FAM, looking for a “natural” way to avoid getting pregnant. Here’s the 411.
How does it work?
“The fertility awareness method involves a combination of charting your menstrual cycle and basal body temperature (BBT) in addition to noting cervical mucus changes,” says Sheeva Talebian, MD, a fertility specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital. She makes a point of differentiating it from the rhythm method, which is a way of using your past cycles to predict when you’ll ovulate, and isn’t as accurate.
Tracking daily temps, cervical fluid changes, and when you get your period helps you determine when you’re ovulating, which flags when you’re most fertile, Dr. Talebian explains (namely, the days just before ovulation). Not having sex during in that window—or using a barrier method like a condom—helps prevent pregnancy.
Is it really becoming popular again?
Makeup artist and natural beauty expert Jessa Blades (who’s been personally practicing the method for about three years) and Katinka Locascio (a licensed massage therapist who specializes in FAM instruction), lead the class that Jenny attended and have seen a surge in students in the past few years, but especially in the last few months. (Their next event is January 26.) Another sign that it’s heating up? There’s a documentary about the fertility awareness method in the works.
Its popularity, they believe, is due in part to the sense of empowerment it gives women, like Veronica del Rosario, 23. She’d been on the pill since she was 15, and recently started charting her cycle after attending a workshop. “For me, it was an interesting way to take hold of my body by letting it go on its own,” she says. “I’ve never had such an understanding of it before.”
Is there an app for that?
Or there’s Daysy, a new fertility monitor that debuted in October and that takes your temperature, then uses an algorithm to calculate how fertile you are, says COO Jessica Griger. Studies suggest that taking your temp with Daysy, or a similar device, can be a precise enough indicator of fertility in its own right, without having to check cervical mucus changes throughout the month (which can be intimidating and confusing no matter how “in touch” you are with your body).
Dr. Talebian agrees—up to a point. “The fertility awareness method is most accurate when combining all three variables,” she says. “[But] if your cycles are very consistent and have been tracked for six to 12 months with minimal variability, then using only basal body temperature, in addition to a barrier method during your identified fertile window, can be highly effective.”
Where does your gynecologist stand?
If your goal is to avoid pregnancy, “you have to be motivated and understand how your body works—and your body has to be predictable,” Dr. Talebian warns.
“This is a backup method,” she continues. “It’s not your primary source. Success rates vary from 75 to 99 percent depending on how well you understand how to use it.” Dr. Talebian recommends coupling FAM with barrier methods, like condoms, which have the added benefit (and necessity) of protecting against sexually transmitted infections.
What are the cultural implications of all this?
For some women, it might well feel like the resurgence of the fertility awareness method means we’re taking a step backwards on the feminist path. Women fought so hard to get effective, hormonal birth control options so we could have the freedom of having sex whenever we wanted.
But proponents argue that it’s healthy and powerful for women to reconnect with their bodies. “If we consider ourselves the feminists we are, how do we not know the cycle of the body?” asks Blades.
“The second you become more aware of how naturally you can help yourself, it’s very hard to stop,” echoes Jenny. “You can’t un-know that stuff.”
And really, given that contraception is so personal, and there’s definitely no one answer for everyone, isn’t having a non-hormonal option available to those who want it a good thing? —Molly Gallagher
Do you use the fertility awareness method? Or would you try it? Tell us in the Comments, below!
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