Officially Declaring the Death of the Rhythm Method

rhythm method charting calendar method famiy pl

It’s important to know who the deceased actually is when someone dies. If a guy named Bob Smith of Podunkville dies and the newspaper announces that Robert Smith of Podunkville has died, friends of Bob’s 22-year-old grandson, also named Robert, might believe he’s the one who died.  Old Bob, like the old Rhythm Method, is dead, but young Robert, his grandson, is very much alive, as are natural methods of family planning.

Most discussion of natural methods of birth control reminds me of what the French call a “dialogue de sourds”: a conversation between two deaf people, or two people not understanding each other, missing each other’s point, talking about something and thinking they know what they’re talking about, but not knowing.

It’s what happened to me. Back in the 90s a lady mentioned that I should consider Natural Family Planning (NFP). I was buying natural supplements from this woman. She thought that since I was into natural health stuff, I would be interested in NFP. But no, I was fine. I brushed her off; I didn’t let her tell me anything about it. But the funny thing is that I had no earthly idea what NFP was, and zero curiosity about what in the world it could be.

Why wasn’t I even remotely curious about what NFP was? I think it was because I had already done my research. I had seen those lists comparing birth control methods. Anything that was worth knowing about, I figured I knew about. I’d already made my decision. I wasn’t open.

What is the Rhythm Method?

I’ve noticed that most people are like me, and I can see why. Most people have no earthly idea what either NFP or Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM) or the old Rhythm Method is, even if they think they do. Many, like I was, are not open to hear about them.

When my husband and I were teaching a group of 50 couples about NFP recently, I asked who knew what the Rhythm Method was. Only one person in the room hesitantly raised her hand to claim to have any idea what it was. But why would they know?

Like me, they probably knew that on published lists of birth control options were weird methods like NFP way down on the list, with low success rates. That’s all I needed to know. I had wondered for a split second what that those methods could possibly be, with evocative names like the “Rhythm Method,” but I really couldn’t imagine. But since they were reported to have a 25% failure rate, why waste my time finding out how they worked? Or didn’t work, rather. Why would anyone even think about using something that doesn’t work, even if it is better for your health? And, why do we keep hearing about ineffective methods that should be relegated to the garbage can of history?

So a definition of terms and some basic information is needed here. These things called NFP or FAM, methods that are based on fertility charting, keep raising their heads. Why? Because they’re not dead. They’re very much alive. But the confusion and lack of accurate information about them continues. Meanwhile we keep hearing about the Rhythm Method, even though that one actually is dead.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

People who do have some idea of what either NFP or FAM or the Rhythm Method is are generally under the illusion that they are all the same thing, that it’s all just the Rhythm Method under new names.

My devout Catholic friend told me the other day that she had always used contraceptives. I asked her why, as a Catholic, she hadn’t used NFP, which is what the Catholic Church advocates instead.  “My doctor told me it doesn’t work if you’re irregular,” she told me, “So I couldn’t.” But it’s not NFP that doesn’t work if you’re irregular, it’s the old Rhythm Method, or calendar method.

My friend and her doctor were both talking about the Rhythm Method and calling it NFP, without realizing it, because neither one knew any better. Only 6% of physicians know the actual effectiveness rate of NFP/FAM, so they make the same mistake as my friend’s doctor. Neither she nor her doctor had ever been informed that these all-natural, cost-free methods allow each woman to know exactly when she ovulates, regular or irregular. They are based on the woman’s own body, not averages, and work as well as contraceptives to avoid pregnancy.

It’s the same in the media and online. Most websites and articles that mention NFP/FAM also equate them with the old Rhythm Method, saying NFP/FAM has a 25% failure rate. No, it’s not NFP/FAM that has a 25% failure rate; it’s the old Rhythm Method! Like my Catholic friend and her doctor, they are using the name NFP, but what they are actually talking about is the old Rhythm Method.

Some people are even more confused. I asked an evangelical Christian friend this time, “What do you think NFP is? She answered with a smirk: “Just letting God decide how many kids you have and when.”  No, that’s not NFP, either. That’s NFPA (No Family Planning at All).

What’s Wrong with the Rhythm Method? Nothing, Except It’s Obsolete

So what is the Rhythm Method (or calendar method) anyway? It’s a way of lowering your chances of getting pregnant by avoiding the middle of the cycle, when ovulation generally occurs, on the average for the average woman. It’s based on the calendar. The scientific great-grandma of NFP, the old Rhythm Method didn’t work with irregular cycles.

The Rhythm Method was actually a really smart, groundbreaking development, by a Japanese scientist in the 1920s. Today’s fertility charting-based methods of family planning are based on the old Rhythm Method the way the I-Phone 6 is based on the first telephone. NFP/FAM are highly refined, highly scientific and highly accurate methods of reading the individual woman’s body so she can always know when she’s fertile, regular or not, every day.

You have to really learn how to do it, though. Knowing the basic fact that ovulation is tied to conceiving a baby and that ovulation occurs mid-cycle isn’t enough. It requires some diligence and dedication to get started and there’s a learning curve. You have to be trained or read a book. But this kind of knowledge is now available to every woman. It’s used successfully around the world by even illiterate, impoverished women. It really works.

Officially Declaring Dead the Old Rhythm Method

Rumors of the death of the old Rhythm Method have been greatly understated. It is truly dead and people need to hear that message clearly. As long as people think NFP is just the same old Rhythm Method, they are going to continue to be confused.

Therefore, I hereby today and from henceforth declare the old Rhythm Method officially, dead, defunct and obsolete. The old Rhythm Method had a 25% failure rate. No one should consider using it. The old Rhythm Method hasn’t merely been rebranded as NFP or FAM. The new natural methods are greatly improved and have completely replaced the old Rhythm Method. They have an effectiveness rate as good as or better than contraceptives (nothing is 100% guaranteed). Let’s talk no more about the Rhythm Method other than as an historical and scientific artifact.

Public information hasn’t kept pace with the science that continued to develop based on that first incredibly useful discovery that led to the Rhythm Method. Why? Because there’s no money in charting based NFP/FAM methods. No pills or devices to sell, no doctor’s appointments to schedule. So no one is financially motivated to invest in spreading the word. That’s why Natural Womanhood is a nonprofit. There’s nothing to sell that brings in profits. It’s only those who believe that its message is of benefit to society who will help spread the word. Will you help us share accurate messages about natural methods of family planning?

The Rhythm Method is dead, long live NFP and FAM! Pass the word!

When this article refers to fertility awareness methods (FAM), or natural family planning (NFP), we are referring to Fertility Awareness-Based Methods, evidence-based methods of cycle charting which can be used as effective forms of natural birth control when learned by a certified instructor.


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