In my last post, I told you 6 reasons why I love using fertility awareness based methods for birth control. I think FABMs are a wonderful, viable option for many people. But, just like any other method of family planning, FABMs are not right for everyone. That’s what I’m here to talk about today. I hope that this post and my previous one can help you to come to an informed decision about whether charting might be right (or not) for you.
1.) FABMs require daily observation and recording of your physical biomarkers in order to be effective.
Now, I don’t really consider this a drawback for myself, because the habit is so ingrained after years of charting. But when you first get started, it can be difficult to establish your observational routine. In one of my previous posts, I discuss how much time it takes me to chart my cycle (hint: it’s not very much time). It’s really a matter of setting yourself up for success, and implementing some strategies to help you get in the habit (more on this in a future post). The important thing is that, especially when avoiding pregnancy, you have to be very attentive to your biomarkers until you confirm ovulation has passed. If you forget to chart one day, you’d need to consider that day as potentially fertile and count 3 days of possible fertility after it.
2.) FABMs require you to either abstain from genital contact or use a barrier method on potentially fertile days.
One thing that makes FAM very different from hormonal contraception is that your fertility is not impeded or shut down. This means that you CAN get pregnant if sperm, cervical mucus, and egg are all present around the same time. To achieve highest effectiveness, every FABM is going to recommend abstinence on possibly fertile days. This makes sense, because if your condom or diaphragm is going to fail, it can only do so on a fertile day. So, if you choose to use a barrier method on a fertile day, you’re doing so at your own risk. You also are then relying on the efficacy of the barrier. It’s difficult to determine the true efficacy of barrier methods, because the effectiveness studies weren’t done on groups of people who were all charting their cycles. For example, condoms are considered 98% effective with perfect use, but we don’t know how often a condom was used during a woman’s fertile window. A condom breakage can’t result in unplanned pregnancy if it occurred on an infertile day. So, proceed with caution and make sure you understand that there are going to be some times in your cycle where you can’t have unprotected sex.
3.) FABMs require clear and consistent communication with your partner and respect for boundaries.
This is one of the things about fertility awareness that is, in my opinion, a great strength. However, not everyone is in a relationship with good communication and mutual respect. If you’re not in a relationship where your partner will use a barrier method or avoid sex during the fertile window, this method is not for you if you’re avoiding pregnancy.
Even if you’re in a totally healthy relationship, you’ll still need to communicate with your partner on a regular basis about what your fertility intentions are. Do you intend to avoid pregnancy? If so, how seriously are you avoiding? Are you open to a surprise pregnancy? Are you actively trying to conceive? These conversations are important to have so that your behaviors as a couple are in line with your intentions. If you’re seriously avoiding, for example, you’ll want to make sure you’re not breaking any of the rules of your method.
4.) Weird cycles can result in a longer fertile window.
The beauty of the menstrual cycle is that, even when it’s regular and pretty consistent, there is always some degree of variability. I love being able to see how stress and other factors can impact my cycle. THAT SAID- if ovulation is delayed because of a medication change or other stressor, this can result in a long cycle with many consecutive fertile days. We know in retrospect that only a few of those days were truly fertile. However, when you’re living through it, you have to consider each day potentially fertile unless your method says otherwise, because we can’t predict in advance when ovulation will occur and sperm live up to 5 days in estrogenic cervical mucus.
5.) Chances are, you probably won’t have the support of your doctor.
While fertility awareness based methods are growing in popularity, a lot of OB/GYNs are still skeptical. They either aren’t educated on the effectiveness of modern methods of FAM, or they don’t think women are capable of managing their fertility without drugs or devices. Of course, not all medical professionals think this way. My midwife actually teaches natural family planning herself. But I have heard countless stories from women who were mocked and discouraged by their doctors, and I personally experienced it with a former OB/GYN (I never went back to his office). If this is something that would be really difficult for you to handle, FABMs might not be the right choice for you right now. But it’s important to remember that you get to choose what you do with your own body. You don’t need the approval of a doctor to track your cycle.
These are the main considerations I can think of when it comes to determining whether a fertility awareness based method is a good choice for you and your situation. I hope this has been helpful. Tell me in the comments–what are some of the downsides to the method of birth control you’re currently using? Have you ever thought about switching to something else? I’d love to hear from you.