In the previous month, if you had entered my room on any given morning, you may have believed that I was staging a fever using the traditional covers-to-chin and thermometer-sticking-out-of-mouth trick. It’s true that I took my temperature every morning, but not to avoid going to work. To avoid using a condom while having sex was the goal.
I chose to experiment with the non-hormonal, natural birth control techniques known as fertility awareness methods in my desire to maintain my holistic lifestyle while juggling my long-term romantic relationship and preventing pregnancy (FAM).
What exactly is FAM, and would it stop me from creating a family in the real world? According to Sarah Bly, a midwife who works in sexual and reproductive health education, “it’s an umbrella phrase that incorporates all the different forms of observation and calculation methods one might employ to prevent or achieve conception.” This method, which historically has roots in the Catholic religion, is also sometimes referred to as “natural family planning,” as you may have heard. According to the Association of Fertility Awareness Professionals, the phrases are now equivalent and frequently used by non-religious practitioners and patients to promote utilizing the body’s natural cycles to control fertility (AFAP).
Tracking basal body temperature (the body’s temperature when at rest), cervical mucus, cervical posture, and cycle lengths are a few of these non-hormonal activities. BBT charting, which measures basal body temperature, piqued my curiosity because it looked like a simple habit to form. The downside of the temperature-only approach, according to Bly, is that it only provides a very little window of “safe days” for unprotected intercourse.
How It’s Supposed To Work?
The easiest way to avoid getting pregnant during ovulation, when your ovaries produce an egg for fertilization, is to use protection or refrain from having sex. Fortunately, ovulation can be detected physically by our bodies.
According to reproductive endocrinologist Aaron Styer, M.D., founding partner and co-medical director of CCRM Boston, “A woman’s typical temperature when not ovulating is usually between 97 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit and may vary somewhat among women.”
Because of the hormone progesterone, BBT rises by 0.5 to 1.0 degrees Fahrenheit after egg release (ovulation).
So, in theory, I could figure out when I ovulate by monitoring my temperature every morning. According to Planned Parenthood, an increase in BBT that persists for three days indicates that ovulation has actually occurred and that you are no longer fertile. While the initial spike in temperature signifies ovulation, it’s crucial to wait until it’s been high for three days since that means the egg has been within your uterus for long enough that it can’t be fertilized, according to Bly. After this, you are free to engage in unprotected intercourse until your period arrives. However, once you start getting your period, you must wait (or utilize a backup method) until you’ve kept up another three-day temperature increase, indicating that fertilization is no longer possible.
The number of days you feel safe engaging in unprotected sex should theoretically increase as you get greater understanding of how your individual cycle functions and when ovulation will take place. To locate your window, it’s imperative to stay in close contact with your body. This is especially true if your periods are irregular. Bly says that even with irregular cycles, ovulation only happens once. Making assumptions about cycle lengths based on previous cycles is where the risk resides.
How To Get An Accurate Reading
Each morning, it’s crucial to take an accurate basal body temperature reading, which is another way of saying what your body temperature is when it is completely at rest. The ideal situation would be to take your temperature every morning at the same time before performing any actions, such as drinking, peeing, showering, having sex, checking your phone, eating, petting your cat, etc. You do it right away after opening your sleepy little eyes. The reading is consistent because of this.
This may be difficult. Your body temperature can be impacted by medications, alcohol consumption, slumber deprivation, and illness. Styer also cautions that not all women experience a discernible rise in body temperature following ovulation. The approach is totally impractical for these women. In any event, it’s crucial to monitor your cycle and BBTs for a few months before putting your faith in a thermometer to prevent pregnancy. It’s still crucial to use a backup birth control method after starting the natural birth control method, just in case.
How To Choose A Thermometer And Chart
There are expensive fancy thermometers and apps that chart and keep track of your temperatures available. In her successful fertility practice of 20 years, Bly charts by hand and requests that her clients do the same so she can learn the specifics of their cycles and health. According to Bly, this may consist of a calendar with notes about one’s energy levels, mood, and sexual activity in addition to BBTs.
Although experts claim that a straightforward mercury thermometer will work, I’m not very good at reading those. I chose a cheap digital thermometer that measures temperatures up to +/-0.05 degrees and boasts “medical-grade accuracy.” Avoid them because they are less accurate and advocate “quick reading.”
Charts do not need to be elaborate. If you type “Basal Body Temperature Chart” into Google, a ton of options will appear for you to pick from and print. This is a matter of personal preference, though I chose this one from Baby Center.
Learning My Cycle
I placed my thermometer within easy reach next to my bed and set up my chart on a clipboard. Every month, tracking begins on the first of the person’s period, which I missed because it occurred after I woke up. So, there you have it.
There is undoubtedly a learning curve with BBT. Because I frequently urinate an hour or more before getting up to start my day, I noticed that I woke up feeling a little anxious about taking my temperature. After a few days, I began keeping a notebook next to my bed so that I could quickly record my temperature if I didn’t have time to chart right away. A few times, I dozed off again only to be startled by the thermometer’s beeping.
Although it appears messy, I chose to cram my exact temperature into the cell because the chart I used didn’t have a designated space for adding it and I wanted to track it. My temperature is definitely not looking reliable, I’ve noticed. There are days when I am 97.06 and days when I am 97.76. Keep in mind that we’re searching for a 0.5–1.0 shift. It is obvious that before heavily relying on this method, it should be practiced for a few months.
Despite the fact that I do a good job of incorporating new habits into my life, I did forget to bring my thermometer on a weekend trip, which caused the entire thing to fall apart. Fortunately, I kept using condoms this month as the professionals advise, so nothing changed in my sex life.
I’m going to keep at it for a few more months, but I won’t give up on condoms just yet.
Is It Worth It?
“I have recommended BBT tracking for women who would like to understand the general window of fertility for the purpose of trying to conceive,” says Styer. However, I do not suggest it for contraception.
She makes a valid point: relying solely on the temperature method leaves a lot of room for human error. I’ll admit that when it came to unprotected sex, I didn’t feel confident in believing the statistics. I’m going to look into other natural birth control options in the future. Although I still primarily use condoms for birth control, I hope to eventually switch to other methods of fertility awareness.
Compared to taking one pill a day, it is undoubtedly more work, but for me, the advantages of observing and understanding my cycle make it worthwhile. I adore being true to my medication-free lifestyle, keeping up with this practice, and being aware of what’s happening with my body.