One of the biggest differences about using a Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) compared to other types of family planning like birth control is that rather than impeding your fertility, you are simply working around it. That means if you are trying to avoid a pregnancy, about 10 days every month (more or less depending on your cycle) you have a fertile window during which most fertility awareness methods instruct avoiding sexual intercourse. Since chance of pregnancy is high during the fertile window, having sex with barrier methods such as condoms can decrease the effectiveness rate at pregnancy prevention.
So if sex is off the table…what’s a couple to do during the fertile window?
As a fertility awareness educator, I talk with couples about this often. I have a joke that if you want to make a baby, plan a vacation when you expect to be infertile. The thing about FAM is your fertile window can land during times that range from coincidentally delightful to downright unfortunate. It’s not uncommon for couples to experience the fertile window on their wedding night (a blessing in disguise frankly, as many are too exhausted from the day’s activities!) or a long awaited honeymoon. Sometimes the infertile part of your cycle falls when your in-laws are supposed to stay with you for two weeks. And sometimes your period comes when you’ve got that camping trip planned.
In short, using a Fertility Awareness Method means living with your cycle in all its beauty and occasional inconvenience. It’s one of the reasons I don’t even put FAMs in the same camp as other methods of birth control. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Natural family planning is an entire lifestyle shift.
Many FAM-using couples tout that built into this lifestyle is a monthly honeymoon period after the monthly abstinence duringthe fertile window. There is truth to this, but it doesn’t always feel that way, especially when you are in the thick of a fertile window when women’s libidos are naturally highest. The good news is that there are other ways of connecting with your partner during the fertile window that don’t necessarily include physical intimacy—but that can still be a part of it!
Try dating again…
Remember your first date … before you knew each other that well? Remember when you still thought about what you were going to wear on the chance you’d run into him? I still remember planning my outfits around my class schedule in case my boyfriend (now husband) might see me. (No? Just me?) It’s likely that before you jumped into life together, you went on dates that included actual entertainment. A movie, a concert, a cheese and wine tasting, a clay potting class … you get the idea. Often as life gets busier with demands around the home, work, and kids (if they are in the picture), these dates become a bit more sparse.
The fertile window is a great time to dust off the good ol’ date night. With sex not expected, you may find the pressure is off a bit and you can simply enjoy each others’ company.
Also knowing intercourse is off the table can create some fun sexual tension that hasn’t been there in a while. Therapist Esther Perel and Mary Alice Miller explain in “More Than Just A Warm Up: Rethinking Foreplay” that “foreplay is so much more than just the physical suggestion that kickstarts a sexual encounter. Foreplay is the energy that runs through an entire relationship…. [It] is the art of anticipation.” When you think about the fertile window as really long and extended non-physical foreplay, it doesn’t have to feel so restricted. Flirting is a powerful way to nurture an intimate connection. Fertility Awareness Methods can be the perfect blend of planning and spontaneity.
…or, tackle all of the non-dating activities
If extended foreplay doesn’t sound like something for you, you can go left instead of right. Rather than using the fertile window as a time to amass sexual energy, you can address all of the unsexy stuff. Evaluating the budget, finally getting around to organizing the tupperware drawer, decluttering that one closet that random stuff gets shoved in. Sometimes using this time as a check-in with your partner can be helpful. How are we? Are your needs being met? What do you need more of? What could you do with less of?
In my opinion, Netflix (and by Netflix I mean any streaming platform) gets a bad reputation. Bingeing on a show together can be a great way to connect, especially when sex is off the table. Make popcorn and some fizzy drinks. The most important part about any couple’s activity is intentionality and being present.
Take an “intermission” during the fertile window
The fertile window could also be a good time to spend a little time away from each other. As the old adage goes, distance makes the heart grow fonder. Get your ladies night in. He can play poker with the boys. Book yourself an evening massage. Catch up on that audio book while you soak in the tub. Every good partnership includes some time away from each other, and the fertile window can be a great time for this!
On average, the fertile window is around 10 days. So, you can clean out your closet on Wednesday, plan a ladies’ night on Thursday, and see a jazz concert on a Friday with your partner. None of these are mutually exclusive!
As time goes on, I have found that life and my relationship flows with my Fertility Awareness Method in a way I can’t quite comprehend without it. It’s nice to have boundaries around when and how connection can occur. As I have navigated different seasons of family planning needs, from TTA (trying to avoid), TTC (trying to conceive) and TTW (trying to…whatever) during cycling years and postpartum cycles, I love that there is an ebb-and-flow throughout the seasons. I have had seasons where avoiding pregnancy was very critical. I’ve had seasons where I can take more risks than others. We’re always revisiting the question, “Is avoiding a pregnancy this month important to us?” For me, hormonal contraception, in contrast, puts family planning and intimacy into a one-note experience, when sex is always available and pregnancy is not really a consideration. In that world, TTW doesn’t exist. What a shame!
And when the infertile window falls during an inconvenient time….
Necessity is the mother of invention….so when the fertile window finally ends and the infertile window seems to fall at the most inopportune time, this is a time for creativity, my friend! Talk about spontaneity and planning coming together at the same time. Look at this as an opportunity rather than a troublesome dead end. Sex doesn’t have to be some uniform experience that only occurs in a vacuum of perfect timing.
I’ll never forget when I was leading a breastfeeding support group and a mom lamented that there was no time for intimacy when their baby ended up sleeping in the same room with them. Another mom quickly added that “the bedroom isn’t the only place for sex.” The room quickly filled with quiet and some uncomfortable giggles. But that mom was right. The bed isn’t the only place. So it’s a time to get creative when the long awaited infertile window falls when, say, your in-laws are crashing your place for two weeks.
Marrying spontaneity to planning
Honestly, after spending ten years using FAM, I can’t imagine it any other way. I think back to the brief years I spent on the Pill and think, “how boring!”
I think what’s great about using FAM is that it is the perfect blend of planning and spontaneity. You have the frame of your cycle times to guide you, but how you use those times can be in-the-moment. If avoiding pregnancy, fertile windows can be an opportunity to reconnect in non-physical ways, get things done, or take care of your mental and spiritual needs. When the infertile time comes, you get to use your sexual creativity in a different way. And how this plays out in your relationship is as unique as every couple.