Give charting a try while on non-hormonal birth control

At Quantified Self (QS), people share data about themselves that they’ve measured to improve their lives. My favorite posts are about coffee and productivitya change in body image, and tracking symptoms of myasthenia gravis and heart disease. The mission of QS is “to support new discoveries about ourselves and our communities that are grounded in accurate observation and enlivened by a spirit of friendship.” The QS community is full of citizen-scientists, who have power over their bodies and minds because they’re attuned to them.

Everyone wants data, and people are measuring it to gain insight and live better. QS is just one example of folks taking charge of their own health by being informed and self-observant. Healthy living websites, food diary apps, and exercise trackers are all the rage. Quickie example: the most popular alarm clock is a smartphone with one of the sleep cycle apps.

If you use non-hormonal birth control (condom, diaphragm, sponge, cap, withdrawal, certain IUDs), I challenge you to do the same with your fertility. Try out all this “fertility awareness” stuff risk-free, without putting aside your current method. You can only gain from the self-knowledge you’ll acquire, and it’s not hard.

Let’s not add anything to your busy day and let’s keep the observation simple. (All the “rules” and “signs” and lingo and charts are actually a pet peeve of mine.) Pick one of the following data sets to collect.

Easy Data Set One: Sensations

Ladies: have you ever noticed a particularly slippery feeling as you walk around or as you wipe when using the toilet? That’s mucus produced by the cervix and that has descended to the vulva (the skin around the opening of the vagina), and it’s a great indicator of fertility. Ask yourself: did I feel or see slippery or clear mucus today? Did I note any of those secretions yesterday? If you answer “no” to both, you are probably infertile. If you answer “yes” to one or both questions, you are probably fertile. Asking yourself these two questions at the end of every day about this mucus, you’re using (immediately, for free, and with no extra or gross work) the TwoDay method, which is as effective as condoms in ideal and typical use for avoiding pregnancy (not for preventing STIs).

Cervical mucus normally appears five to seven days before ovulation and increases in slipperiness, stretchiness, and wetness to a high point very close to ovulation. After ovulation, cervical mucus usually decreases in quantity and becomes less like egg white and more like glue (thicker and more opaque).

Easy Data Set Two: Temperature

Do you have a thermometer at home? If you take your temperature every morning at the same time, before you get out of bed, you can watch your body ovulate. You don’t have to write things down, but if you chart it on graph paper, your body’s hormonal clock will jump out at you. Before ovulation, your waking temperatures are lower than they will be after ovulation.

A basal body thermometer is best, since it is accurate within 0.1 of a degree; but if all you have is a regular thermometer, don’t let that stop you! Typical thermometers are accurate to within 0.2 of a degree, so you’ll probably still observe your shifts.

What have you got to lose?

Self observation can only add to your freedom to act and your quality of life (like those QS contributors who have quit coffee, worked on their body image, and kept track of their health). The time for New Year’s resolutions is approaching, and this would be an awesome one. Keeping track of sensations during the day or your temperature every morning is an easy way to go about it. You only live once!

Accepting the challenge? Questions about collecting your data? General opinions? Let us know!

  1. Comment by Jean Tevald on November 8, 2015 at 9:15 am

    I agree that these simple observations can help women tune into the fact that their body has two fairly easily observable signs to inform her of her fertility state- the sign of fertile cervical mucus in the days before ovulation and the rise in basal body temperature indicating that ovulation has occurred. However, it would not be fair to imply that only loosely watching these signs while continuing to have intercourse with other birth control methods would give the same level of effectiveness to avoid pregnancy as following a method (which includes recording those observations) and avoiding intercourse during potentially fertile times. In our enthusiasm for fertility appreciation and awareness, it is important not to downplay the element of personal responsibility

  2. Comment by Janet Galbo on November 8, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    I was never so aware and appreciative of my fertility until I learned the “signs, lingo”and “rules” of charting my cycle. Yes, it takes time to learn those things, but its so worth it because for the first time, I felt like I knew how my body worked. In addition, had I not thrown away the birth control, I could not fully devote myself to gaining this knowledge. For true fertility awareness and appreciation don’t keep the crutch, i.e. birth control and learn everything you can- it’s too important not to jump in with both feet!

  3. Comment by Ginnie on November 9, 2015 at 11:01 am

    I do think it is a good thing to encourage people using barrier methods to start observing their fertility. Some people just need that little push or trial run to see what observing their fertility is like, and for plenty this could be it. So, I wouldn’t poo-poo over the idea right away just because it isn’t straight up charting.

    Of course, if those using the barriers later want to use fertility awareness as a way to avoid a pregnancy, they need to 1) learn how to chart, if they feel the TwoDay Method is not enough for them, and 2) get a BASAL body thermometer, not just any old one. For simple curiosity a normal thermometer is okay I guess, but for family planning you NEED an accurate, precise tool to fulfill the thermal shift rules. The more accurate your method is, the more likely you are to use it successfully.

    Still, I like the simple challenge this provides without asking the couple to change anything. It’s non-threatening to those who are serious about avoiding pregnancy and are unsure of NFP/FAM, but encouraging enough for them to be positively challenged by it.

The comments are closed.

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Guide to Understanding Your Cycle

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