Trying to avoid pregnancy but not up to using artificial contraceptive methods? If this is putting a damper on your sex life, you might want to explore natural birth-control methods which can offer a high degree of protection. Just find out which ones really work and which ones aren’t as fail-safe before you give up the pill or go condom-free.
Birth-control pills are constantly in the news as various side effects from prolonged use come to light. Where does that leave you if you’re not looking to conceive? Natural birth-control methods have been used for generations, yet not all of them are equally effective. So which ones should you opt for?
Should You Even Consider Natural Birth Control Methods?
Natural birth-control methods can be as effective as some other more commonly used artificial methods like male or female condoms or birth-control pills. In fact, if any of the modern Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABM) are followed accurately, the protection can be as much as 97 to 99 percent.1
What you should know, however, is that if you make an error in your calculations or take a misstep, the protection that may have been 98–99 percent drops to just about 75 percent or lower, depending on how far off your accuracy is.2 While protection in the high 90s is good enough for most, if you need to improve the effectiveness of the method, be doubly sure to follow all the rules.
But remember, while these natural birth-control methods might protect you against conceiving, they do not deflect sexually transmitted diseases. So if you are not in an exclusive monogamous sexual relationship, or are concerned that either of you might be carrying an infection of some kind, you would do well to also use a barrier like a condom.
Natural Family Planning: Fertility Awareness
Natural family planning or FABMs rely on an intricate awareness of your body and the female’s menstrual cycle. There are various ways of doing this. You could plot the fertile days of the month or keep track of changes in cervical secretions and body temperature, which are indicators of the stage of the menstrual cycle and fertility at that time of the month.
Cervical Secretions and Body Temperature
One study found that the sympto-thermal method which relies on monitoring cervical secretions and basal body temperature is an effective option for family planning/birth control. During the fertile days, intercourse must be done with some form of birth control or protection. Alternatively, abstinence may be practiced for those days. Of the women enrolled in the study, only 1.8 in every 100 became pregnant over a 13-cycle window. Here, too, the researchers emphasized that effectiveness depends on adhering to the guidelines for observations/tracking of these parameters.3
This approach relies on easy-to-use home kits that can tell you what your most fertile days are. This is done by measuring the levels of luteinizing hormone or estrogen metabolites in your urine. In addition, you will also need to learn to monitor the mucus in the cervical region to fine-tune your observations. It may also be supplemented by basal body temperature measurement to improve accuracy.4
The use of calibrated measuring tools makes the accuracy of this method good. In general, it is said to result in a 1 to 3 percent pregnancy rate over a year-long window, when used correctly. One study noted a pregnancy rate of 2.1 percent for every 12 months of correct use of this method. That translates to effective protection 97–99 percent of the time, and 97.9 percent protection in the case of the study.5
You could also determine your most fertile days by tracking the menstrual cycle closely. The modern FABM way of doing this is called the Standard Days Method. If you’re someone with a cycle of between 26 and 32 days, this calendar-based method may work for you. What it does is to spot the fertile window, occurring between days 8 and 19 of your cycle. Once you have zeroed in on the exact dates, you need to either abstain from having sex on these days or use a suitable contraceptive.6 In one study of the method across the Philippines, Peru, and Bolivia over 13 cycles, researchers found that when used correctly, the method resulted in only a 4.75 percent cumulative probability of conception. It could thus be a sound natural alternative.7
The only caveat here for this method is that if a woman’s cycle is irregular or unpredictable, the accuracy and therefore effectiveness of natural birth-control drops, making it an unviable option for such cases. As such, the sympto-thermal or sympto-hormonal methods are generally considered more effective, as seen also in the pregnancy rates in the studies mentioned.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Pallone, Stephen R., and George R. Bergus. “Fertility awareness-based methods: another option for family planning.” The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 22, no. 2 (2009): 147-157.|
|2.||↑||Natural family planning (fertility awareness), NHS.|
|3.||↑||Frank-Herrmann, P., J. Heil, C. Gnoth, E. Toledo, S. Baur, C. Pyper, E. Jenetzky, T. Strowitzki, and G. Freundl. “The effectiveness of a fertility awareness based method to avoid pregnancy in relation to a couple’s sexual behaviour during the fertile time: a prospective longitudinal study.” Human Reproduction 22, no. 5 (2007): 1310-1319.|
|4, 6.||↑||Manhart, Michael D., Marguerite Duane, April Lind, Irit Sinai, and Jean Golden-Tevald. “Fertility awareness-based methods of family planning: a review of effectiveness for avoiding pregnancy using SORT.” Osteopathic Family Physician 5, no. 1 (2013): 2-8.|
|5.||↑||Fehring, Richard J., Mary Schneider, Kathleen Raviele, and Mary Lee Barron. “Efficacy of cervical mucus observations plus electronic hormonal fertility monitoring as a method of natural family planning.” Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing 36, no. 2 (2007): 152-160.|
|7.||↑||Arévalo, Marcos, Victoria Jennings, and Irit Sinai. “Efficacy of a new method of family planning: the Standard Days Method.” Contraception 65, no. 5 (2002): 333-338.|