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Natural Birth Control? Your Questions Answered

This post was originally published at Pen and Paper Fertility and was republished with permission from the author, Jessie Brebner.

Q&A about the symptothermal method of fertility awareness

When I mention to friends, family and colleagues that I use the Symptothermal Method of Fertility Awareness as contraception (and have done so successfully for almost two years now), I typically get a blank stare, followed by a *lot* of questions!

These questions normally follow a pretty predictable pattern. However, I realised that for every woman asking me these questions out loud, there were probably 5 other women out there wondering them internally, with no one to ask.

I decided to gather some of the most common questions I get when I share my experiences with the Symptothermal Method, and address them all in one place – here, on my blog.

Join the conversation!

Firstly – What IS The Symptothermal Method?

The Symptothermal Method is a form of Fertility Awareness. You observe and chart your cervical fluid and basal body temperature every day to accurately pinpoint the opening and closing of your “fertile window”. The presence of cervical fluid opens the fertile window, and a sustained rise in basal body temperature (combined with the drying-up of cervical fluid) closes the fertile window. This information can be used to avoid or gain pregnancy, and also offers valuable insight into your hormonal health. You can read more about how to get started with the Symptothermal Method of Fertility Awareness in this blog post.

How Effective Is It?

The Symptothermal Method is evidence-based and research shows it to be 99.6% effective with perfect use, and 98.2% effective with typical use. For reference, the combined oral contraceptive Pill is quoted as having a perfect use effectiveness rating of 99.7% and a typical use effectiveness rating of 92%. It’s important to remember that the effectiveness rating of the Symptothermal Method relies on you, the user, having a very comprehensive grasp of the rules of the method and how to apply them. There’s no room for risk-taking or sloppy adherence to the rules.

How Much Is It Going to Restrict Me Having Unprotected Sex?

The short answer to this is that if you have a normal and healthy menstrual cycle around 30 days long, you would be looking at approximately half of that time (say, around 15 days) that could be safely used to have unprotected sex. Some of those days would fall on your period, meaning period sex. The rest of the time, you would need to use some form of barrier method (or abstain). Please note that this is a massive generalisation, designed simply to give you a rough idea of what to expect. The long answer is that it depends on how strictly you are trying not to fall pregnant, and what risks you are comfortable with taking. It’s also worth noting that it can be really hard to avoid having sex during your fertile window, as this is when you are biologically programmed to want sex the most.

It can be really hard to avoid having sex during your fertile window

Can I Still Use The Symptothermal Method If I Have Irregular Cycles?

Yes, you can absolutely use the Symptothermal Method if you have irregular cycles. The Symptothermal Method relies on daily cervical fluid and basal body temperature readings to pinpoint the opening and closing of your fertile window. Essentially, every day you ask yourself “Am I Fertile – TODAY?”, and your answer is based on your physical observations, which occur regardless of whether you have short, long or irregular cycles. The Symptothermal Method makes no assumptions about how your current cycle will unfold based on previous cycles*.

What If I Have Really Long Cycles?

As above, the Symptothermal Method effectiveness rates will still apply, regardless of whether you have irregular or long cycles. However, if you have very long cycles, this means that your “fertile window” could be weeks or months long, as opposed to approximately 6 days. This can be very frustrating for people who don’t enjoy using a barrier method of contraception! In saying this, charting your cycle using the Symptothermal Method will give you extremely valuable insight into your hormonal health. Many women find that charting allows them to identify and address the root causes behind their long cycles to start the journey towards better health. (And it’s amazing the progress you can make when the incentive of more unprotected sex is on the table!)

Cervical Mucus: we all make different amounts

Is It Easy To Maintain In Everyday Life?

This is probably the most surprising answer – YES! After the initial investment of time and energy spent learning the Sympothermal Method (often around 3 months), it genuinely becomes second nature. You can’t un-learn this knowledge! It takes all of about 5 seconds to check your basal body temperature before you get out of bed in the morning. And checking your cervical fluid every time you use the bathroom becomes a very easy habit to maintain – I mean, you’re already sitting there so why not! If you want something bad enough and are willing to put in the initial investment of time and energy then the reward is well worth the effort.

Will it be a good fit with my lifestyle?

This really depends on the individual who is asking the question. If you have a disruptive or chaotic lifestyle you may struggle as it does require habit and dedication. If you have a partner who places their sexual satisfaction above your right to choose a contraceptive method that works for you, then you may struggle also. If you don’t get 3 consecutive hours of sleep around the same time every night (shift workers and nursing mamas, I’m looking at you!), you will also struggle. This is because basal body temperature is core resting temperature and requires at least 3 hours of consecutive sleep at the same time, every day. Luckily, there are ways around this, one of which is a device called a Tempdrop.

Tempdrop, A wearable BBT thermometer

Tempdrop is a wearable thermometer worn on your arm as you sleep during the day or night. It has an algorithm that accounts for sleep disruptions and irregularities to provide you with an accurate basal temp (so it’s great for shift workers and nursing mamas).

Heavy or frequent drinkers will also struggle as alcohol causes an artificial rise in basal body temperature. For those people that feel their basal body temperature will be too much of an issue, there are plenty of other Fertility Awareness protocols other than the Symptothermal Method. Some of them are Cervical Fluid-Only Methods, some are Hormonal-Only Methods, and some are a combination of the two (Sympto-hormonal Methods).

Can I use a period tracker app to tell me when I’m fertile?

No. Nononononono *recoils in horror*. Please promise me you will never rely on a period tracker app to tell you when you are fertile. If you take anything away from this blog post, let it be this: an app cannot accurately tell you when you are fertile based on simply the start and end date of your period. You can safely use an app like Kindara to record your cervical fluid and basal body temp observations, but you need to be interpreting those observations yourself, not relying on app predictions.

This is because most period tracker apps are not designed to prevent pregnancy, and any predictions they offer are just that: loose predictions. If you would like a detailed explanation of why not to trust app predictions, click here. However, the short version is this: there are many, many variables that can cause you to ovulate earlier or later than your average, and earlier or later than the general average.

On top of this variation in when you ovulate, many women can have a shorter or longer luteal phase than average. The luteal phase is the approx. 14 days between ovulation and your next period. If you’re inputting the start and end dates of your period into an app, there’s a high chance that the app is simply subtracting approx. 14 days off the start date of your period, to tell you when you’re likely to ovulate. Ladies, this is really risky if you’re seriously trying to avoid becoming pregnant!

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2 comments

Jul 08, 2019 • Posted by Amandine

Thank you for this article.

I am looking for informations about the best natural contraception for me. I have sleeping issues and I cannot take my temperature at the same hour everyday, considering that I may not sleep enough before taking my temperature and it can make it false (sorry if my way to write is not perfect, I am not english/american)

I saw in several websites that taking the temperature externaly (for example under the arm) is not accurate, and that the symptothermal method works only when the temperature is taken internaly (in the anus, in the mouth or in the vagina).

I would like to test the tempdrop thermometer because of my sleep issues but I am afraid it is not enough accurate regarding this requirement to take the temperature internaly.

Can you please explain me why taking the temperature under the bra is not accurate and how the tempdrop do to make this accurate enough to insure the contraception?

Thank you

Apr 17, 2019 • Posted by kayla

THANK YOU!!! I am a young woman still pursuing my career and am getting married in July. Natural family planning is very important to my fiance and especially myself! My schedule is very dynamic and ive found so much difficulty taking my waking bbt. Therefore i was desperately searching for other options, and found temp drop. Of course i was skeptical and fearful of its accuracy for avoiding pregnancy. After reading your article I am most excited and reassured to invest in a temp drop. Thank you for your openness and educating other women on natural fertility awareness.
Cheers!
Kayla H.

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