I Got Rhythm

We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill today (and it’s Mother’s Day – Happy Mother’s Day, Ma!), as part of which Feministing offers info about non-hormonal birth control, mentioning specifically the IUD, diaphragm, cervical cap, and sponge and spermicide.

There are three general categories of birth control: hormonal, barrier, and behavioral. Feministing tells us about several barrier methods, but not about any behavioral methods.

So I want to talk about the rhythm method – or fertility awareness, or natural family planning. It’s a non-hormonal strategy that’s compatible with nearly all religious ideologies and it’s about as effective as the barrier methods.

It requires three things: a calendar, a thermometer, and your fingers. You COULD use just one or two, but using all three of these makes this method more effective.

The calendar helps you keep track of generally where you are in your menstrual cycle. Women ovulate 14 days before they start menstruating, regardless of how long their overall cycle is. Some women are very regular in their cycle (which will make this method quite simple for them) and others are more variable.

The thermometer is to measure your basal body temperature. Take your temperature (orally) each morning before you do anything else – before you get out of bed to pee, before you roll over to kiss your nugget good morning, before you have a wake-up wank, before you do anything. Your temperature will rise about half to one degree Fahrenheit when you’re ovulating.

Your fingers are for checking the consistency of your cervical mucus. Insert your middle finger in your vagina and then look at the mucus. If you put your sticky finger and your thumb together and then separate them, the mucus might just break and split, or it might form a stringy, gummy strand between your fingers.

(Why does this happen? Cervical mucus is MAGICAL. When you’re ovulating, it forms channels about two sperm heads in width, to allow sperm to pass into the uterus; when you’re not ovulating, those channels break down, blocking off sperm and any nasties that might find their way into your pooter.)

Keep a chart – on paper or, if you’re a nerd like me, an Excel spreadsheet – of your temperature, the date, and your mucus consistency. The combination of these three things can give you excellent information about your fertility. Women have used such methods for ages and ages, both to prevent pregnancy and to get pregnant.

This kind of information can be useful for more than just fertility awareness. Make a note of your mood each day and see if it shifts with your cycle. Keep track of your alcohol consumption or other drug use, and see if that changes with your cycle. Mark down your interest in sex and/or sexual activity to see if that changes.

I love the idea of a contraceptive method that keeps women in closer contact with their bodies.

Women are less tied to their cycles than many primates, but there is SOME effect for many women. Being aware of how your cycle affects you can help you to take better care of yourself and communicate about yourself to your partner. We are AWFUL at figuring these things out in retrospect, so the only reliable way to know what’s happening with your body is to check in with it each day, and write down what you learn.