During our recent time at home I’ve made a lot of changes. I stopped putting on a bra every day. I only put on deodorant if I have to leave the house for groceries. I haven’t put product in my hair. Like most people (I think) I’m cooking most of my own meals and not going out for coffee. Overall I feel better somehow. I’m scared and sad and lonely, but I’m also just kind of freer and more comfortable with myself.

This has made me wonder more about birth control. Most birth control seems to interrupt the natural process. I don’t want to do that anymore if I can help it. Is fertility awareness really a terrible form of birth control? I’ve been doing some reading and it seems better for me than hormones (ugh! So many side effects!). But all my friends are making fun of me and saying I’ll get pregnant for sure.

What do you think?
Back to My Roots

Dear Roots,

The fertility awareness method can be a great birth control choice for people who would prefer not to get pregnant. For people who absolutely can not or do not want to get pregnant right now, a birth control option with fewer variables is probably a better choice. Most experts say that FAM is 76-88 percent effective. However, there have been large studies done that find with strict adherence to charting and avoiding vaginal intercourse during the fertile period, FAM can be up to 99 percent effective.

FAM is pretty labor intensive. If you’re currently laid off due to COVID-19, it may feel like you have a lot of time to invest in this. But you’ll need to continue making daily observations (and documenting them) the whole time you’re using FAM. Its effectiveness depends on three things: how predictable your cycle is, how consistent you are with charting it, and whether you avoid vaginal intercourse when you’re fertile. (Using a condom for intercourse on your fertile days is also a great option.) I recommend reading Taking Charge Of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler to get a lot of information about which things you should keep track of, and what they mean in terms of your fertility.

It’s a good idea to chart for four to six cycles before relying on FAM for birth control. In order to get accurate information while you’re figuring this out, you’ll need to stay off of hormonal birth control of any kind. Rely on internal or external condoms every time you have penis-in-vagina sex. Contrary to popular belief, charting your cycles is a lot more than just keeping track of what day your period starts and how long it flows. It involves checking your temperature every day, or checking your cervical mucus every day, or (in the best cases) doing both.

Back in the day (like 20+ years ago and longer) we charted our cycles by hand on graph paper. Now there are great Excel spreadsheet templates freely available on the internet that behave in much the same way. Of course, there’s an app for that too! Actually, there are several. However, unless you’re still inputting information about your temperature and cervical mucus, I would not depend on them exclusively. Your app only knows what you tell it, and can only make a statistical prediction based on the data you’ve shared. Keeping in touch with your body’s signals every day is a very important component to FAM.

While you’re learning your cycles, you may want to consider using an ovulation predictor kit to see if it matches what your chart or app is telling you. There are also these cool little pocket microscopes like Fertile-Focus that can help predict ovulation as well. You put a little saliva on the screen, let it dry, and look through the microscope. If you see a ferning pattern, you’re likely fertile. If you don’t, you’re probably not! Using that in combination with your other signs of fertility can be a good way to avoid pregnancy.

Even once you’ve got a good handle on when you’re fertile (and when you’re not!), using a second form of non-hormonal birth control can really improve your chances of avoiding pregnancy. This site has a great “Buddy System” article that shows how combining specific methods of birth control can decrease the risk of pregnancy.

If you chart your cycles for four to six months and they seem irregular or unpredictable, FAM is probably not the right birth control for you. There’s good news, though! Even though we tend to think of hormone-based options when we’re talking about birth birth control, there are actually lots of ways to prevent pregnancy without hormones.

It may be obvious, but just in case it’s not—FAM does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. If your sex life increases your risk for STIs, you’ll want to use a barrier like a condom, gloves or dental dam for all sexual contact.

Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at [email protected] and she’ll get back to you with an answer.

About The Author

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Lucky Tomaszek, LM, CPM, is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee's only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Most mornings you can find her balancing her cat and her keyboard in her lap, working to make the world a smarter, safer place for people of all genders and orientations.