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Natural birth control methods

Did you know that you can avoid pregnancy without using pharmaceutical products? In this section you can find out the basics of the different natural methods of birth control. You can compare their effectiveness and cost to contraceptives.


Natural methods of birth control or fertility awareness are often confused with the old “rhythm method.” But we’ve come a long way since the “rhythm method” was discovered! In the last 50 years scientific research has helped doctors understand with great precision how to pinpoint the time of a woman’s ovulation even when she has irregular cycles.

Based on this research, methods of charting your cycle have been designed that help you know accurately what days you could get pregnant if you have intercourse. It takes only a few minutes daily to know. Charting tracks one or more of the following signs of fertility:

  • Mucus: monthly you can feel a wet sensation that usually lasts a few days. A yellowish or clear discharge will appear when you wipe yourself with toilet paper. This discharge is a sign that ovulation is near. The texture and appearance of the mucus will change as ovulation approaches.
  • Temperature: If you take your temperature every morning for a month, you will see an abrupt elevation of your body’s temperature after a certain point. That’s one sign that ovulation just happened.
  • Cervix position: the cervix is positioned high, open and soft around the time of ovulation and low, closed and firm otherwise. With a bit of guidance you can learn to tell the difference on your own.
  • Hormonal production: right around the time of ovulation, two key hormones are produced: luteinizing hormone and estrogen. These can be detected in your urine with a simple at-home test.

Based on these signs, several methods of charting have been developed to meet the specific needs of women:

  • Mucus-only methods or ovulation methods are probably the most widely used. They work great for women with a fairly normal production of mucus. These include the Billings Method or the Creighton Model.
  • Sympto-thermal method: this method includes three signs: the mucus, the temperature and the position of the cervix. It works well for women who like the confirmation of more than one sign. It also works best for women who have a regular lifestyle, as the temperature should be taken at the same time every day. This can be taught via SymptoPro or the Couple to Couple League.
  • Sympto-hormonal method: this method helps you detect the production of key fertility hormones with a simple at-home urine test and cross check it with mucus observation. This can be practiced with the Marquette method.

To learn more about these methods, click here.

These effective, highly affordable methods are used all over the world. Read here about the costs and research-based success rates.

If you have sex, there is no 100-percent sure method to avoid pregnancy. There is always a degree of risk. It can be because of the method itself. For instance, even with perfect use, which is rarely achieved and demanding, condoms still fail 2 percent of the time. Then there is human error, like not keeping the condoms cool enough, or forgetting to take a pill. “Use effectiveness” for a given method is its rate of pregnancy among real women, who don’t always use the birth control perfectly.

The natural methods of fertility awareness have undergone a number of independent medical studies to test their effectiveness, and they give women as much safety as the Pill. In fact, we can argue that they are more secure because you can always know when you’re at risk when you know how to interpret the information your body provides daily. You can also use the natural methods to help you get pregnant, unlike hormonal contraceptives.

The table below reports the individual effectiveness rates for the most popular of these methods. The data on these evidence-based methods is drawn from the research done by our partners at FACTS, an organization led by healthcare professionals and dedicated to promoting fertility awareness based methods to the medical sector.

We also included an approximate cost as reported by these organizations. Note that some of these costs can be reimbursed by your health insurance. Check with your provider about it.

 Method Method effectiveness Use effectiveness    Source  Cost        
 Billings (mucus only)   98.9% 83% to 89.5% FACTS Training: $60. No additional cost
Creighton (mucus only)  99.8% to 99.5% 83% to 96.8% (1) FACTS Training: $200 to $450. Support: $40 a year. (reimbursed by insurance)
Sympto-thermal / Couple to Couple League  99.4% 97.8% to 98.4% FACTS Training: $99 to $130. No additional cost
  Marquette method 97.9% 86.2% to 93% FACTS http://nfp.marquette.edu/
 The Pill 99.7% 91% CDC Varies from $15 to $50 per cycle, or $180 to $600 per year, plus doctor’s visits
Condoms 98% 82%  CDC  $0.50 to $2.50 per condom
Vaginal ring (Nuvaring) 99.7% 91% CDC $15 to $80 a month

(1) Creighton’s measure of Use effectiveness was different from other methods’ as intentionality was defined by the couple’s behavior during the fertile window, assuming that the pregnancy was a result of an intention or openness to conceive versus an error in using the method.

Important: Natural methods do NOT protect you against STDs. The ONLY completely reliable protection against STDs, for sexually active people, is if two STD-free partners maintain an exclusive sexual relationship with each other, abstaining from sex with anyone else; this is why many consider marriage the safest environment within which to have sex, both physically and emotionally. Condoms decrease your risk of STDs but don’t eliminate it completely. A group of sex educators was asked once if they recommended the use of condoms to their students for STD protection. They all raised their hands. Then they were asked who among them would use a condom and have intercourse anyway if their partner had an STD. None of them raised a hand!


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