4 Facts Every Woman Should Know about Fertility Awareness


March is National Women's History month, so this month Old Fashioned Girl is taking a close look at a hot-button topic when it comes to women's health - our fertility. 

Learning more about your fertility and charting your cycle is a big decision - but what you learned in health class back in high school probably didn't give you enough information. And to make it tougher on us, all of the options we have as women to be more aware of our fertility aren't even mentioned in our yearly visit to the OBGYN. 

When women were asked about whether they'd want to know more about their fertility, 60% of women said they'd like to learn more, or expressed a desire to learn. If tracking your fertility is brand new to you, here are four facts about Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABMs) that you need to know before making a decision about birth control that will affect your health in a big way. 


1. It isn't the rhythm method

If you mention fertility awareness based methods when people ask you about birth control, you may get a few funny looks. Some may comment that FABMs are only for women with picture perfect cycles. Others will think back to grandma's "calendar method" - a method that believed that women ovulate on the 14th day after their period starts. 

The "14th day" mentality comes from the myth that all women have 28 day cycles and will ovulate at the half-way mark. But the truth is that very few women will ovulate on the 14th day. Ovulation days will vary largely from woman to woman - and, as a woman who charts, I'll be the first to say that this day varies month to month in my cycles. FABMs look at a window of possible fertility that could occur in a range of days in your cycle. 

There's much more involved then circling a day on the calendar when it comes to becoming more aware of your fertility. 


2. FABM methods are effective (and a lot of resources lie about the numbers)

FABMs get a bad rap when it comes to numbers and statistics. For instance, theSkimm is talking a lot about fertility and pregnancy this month. Here's what they had to say about FAMBs

"Fertility awareness methods...going au naturel. Women use different methods to track their cycle to figure out when they’re ovulating. They’ll either use another form of birth control or avoid having sex when they ovulate. Women track it by taking their temperature or following a calendar, but it works best if women use more than one method. It can be anywhere between 76-88% effective. But not many women use this option – about 1% who use birth control."

Don't get me wrong - I love theSkimm and getting informed about the news for the day while I sip my morning cup of coffee. But the numbers they're stating aren't quite right when it comes to the effectiveness of FABMs. But if you look at the Center for Disease Control's statistics, they'll tell you that women using FABMs have a 24% failure rate when it comes to avoiding pregnancy. 

So just what are we to believe when it comes to numbers and fertility awareness methods? 

When the CDC looks at the effectiveness of FABMs, they count in the calendar rhythm method as a FABM - and that method isn't a modern FABM.  When you look at methods for charting your fertility like the Billings Ovulation Method, Creighton (which I use), and Sympto-Thermal methods, you'll find a plethora of research and evidence to prove that modern FABM effectiveness ranges from 95.2% - 99.6% effective. 

Three different types of FABMs were examined by the Osteopathic Family Physician Journal in 2013. Here's what they found: 

  • Sympto-thermal Method: pregnancy rate with perfect use 0.4%, with typical use 1.6%
  • Marquette Method: pregnancy rate with perfect use 0%, with typical use 6.8%
  • Billings Ovulation Method®: pregnancy rate with perfect use 1.1%, with typical use 10.5%

“Even with typical use," Dr. Marguerite Duane told Verily Magazine, "the effectiveness rates of FABMs are comparable to most commonly used forms of birth control, with unintended pregnancy ranging from 2-14%.”

Want to see some change in the way the CDC reports those numbers? Find out more about a petition asking the CDC to report accurate numbers when it comes to FABMs. 

3. Fertility awareness isn't just for married women (or couples wanting to conceive) 

You don't have to have a ring on your finger to benefit from charting your cycle and being aware of your fertility. Too often we put our fertility into a box and say we'll worry about it when we are ready to walk up the aisle. But, as women, our fertility is an important part of our health regardless of our vocational state. It doesn't matter if you're a single lady (cue Beyonce), dating, engaged or married - each stage of life deserves a holistic approach to self-care and fertility health.

In fact, I'd argue that charting your cycle as a single woman is one of the best self-care practices you can treat yourself to

You may feel awkward at a NFP method introduction class as a single woman, so check to see if there are instruction events for just singles, or if a fertility instructor would be available to meet one-on-one with you to discuss your fertility and different methods you can use to start charting. In the Kansas City area, I've seen some great events specifically for single women and charting their cycles!


4. Being aware about your fertility is empowering at any stage of your life

While some birth control options include foreign objects and chemicals, FABMs provide a way for women to be aware of their body in a holistic, natural way. Our bodies give us specific signals to let us know that we're fertile, and an awareness of those signals helps you learn more about the woman God created you to be - He designed your fertility, after all! 

Not only do FABMs help you recognize when you're fertile, they can also help you accurately know when your period is due. If you, like me, carry the cross of incredibly painful periods and all the cramps that come with them, knowing your body and when to expect your period to start can be incredibly empowering. Because I use the Creighton model to chart, I know exactly when I need to start up an aspirin cocktail for tackling the uncomfortable cramps that start with a period. This kind of medication is much more effective than taking the Pill everyday and risking all the side effects that come with that.