FAM & NFP vs. Rhythm Method


Last month, I decided that it’s time to go off of the pill. After discussing the change with my partner (a.k.a. The Man), I purchased a Lady Comp fertility computer, and two great books for women who want to take care of their bodies naturally: Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Dr. Christiane Northrup, and Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler, MPH.

Both books came in last week, and since then I’ve been reading voraciously. I love both writers’ styles, and would definitely recommend picking up copies if this is a subject that interests you.

Since I also started to share my news with friends, I’ve been getting some questions. Considering the fact that their questions were the same ones I asked at the beginning, it seemed like a good idea to start to talk about them here. Maybe these are things you’d like to know more about, too. Even more importantly, maybe they’re things you already thought you knew, but didn’t (myself and most of my friends have fallen into the latter category, unfortunately.)

The biggest question that keeps coming up is, “Isn’t this the same thing as the ‘rhythm method’?” This is pretty much immediately followed by, “You’re going to get knocked up!”

To be fair, I had heard of the rhythm method before starting all of this research, but had no clue what it was, other than that it didn’t seem to work. Both books that I’ve mentioned talk about this particularly faulty type of contraceptive planning, and why you should never use it. However, I think it’s a pretty honest mistake to get Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) and Natural Family Planning (NFP) confused with rhythm, especially if you’re not that sure of how your body really works. So here are the definitions, quoted directly from the glossary of Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

Fertility Awareness Method (FAM): A means of determining your fertility through observing the three primary fertility signs: waking temperature, cervical fluid, and cervical position. Unlike Natural Family Planning, users of FAM choose whether they would like to use a barrier method or abstain during the fertile phase.

Natural Family Planning (NFP): Method for planning or preventing pregnancy by observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of the menstrual cycle. Unlike the Fertility Awareness Method, users of NFP abstain rather than consider using contraceptive barriers during the fertile phase.

Rhythm Method: An unreliable method of family planning in which the fertile phase of the cycle is calculated according to the lengths of pervious menstrual cycles. Because of its reliance on regular menstrual cycles and long periods of abstinence, it is neither effective nor widely accepted as a modern method of natural family planning.

Basically, the rhythm method states that every woman’s cycle is 28 days long, and that ovulation happens on day 14. Since every woman’s cycle varies, and cycles can be shorter OR longer than 28 days, the chance that a woman is going to NOT ovulate on day 14 is pretty decent. That means that if you’re taking the 28 day cycle as an unbreakable rule, and skipping sex a few days before day 14 and a few days after, you could still get pregnant on, say, day 20. And so on.

On the other hand, by carefully charting basal body temp, cervical fluid consistency, and cervical position daily, with enough practice you can reliably pinpoint your ovulation down to the day (and some people can even feel it as it happens). With daily charting, you can start to see a pattern that reliably tells you when you’ll be fertile and when you’ll be infertile, and by abstaining or using a barrier method during your most fertile time, you’re in the clear.

NB: I just dumbed this down considerably. Please read more on this subject if it’s something you’re interested in pursuing. For more info and to talk with other people about this in a forum environment, check out www.tcoyf.com or visit Planned Parenthood’s page on Fertility Awareness. Here’s a great link to more books on the subject. Also, in many areas you can take classes on this subject with your partner, and studies have shown that working with a certified teacher can improve efficacy rates.

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