Natural birth control isn’t a practical choice when most of us start having sex, more like a fast-track to parenthood. At first, sex can be messy and unpredictable, your period might not be regular yet, and you may or may not be able to trust the guy(s) you’re hooking up with. It’s far easier to shove condoms in your purse than to start tracking your fertility.
But if you’re in a committed relationship, and especially if you’ve struggled with the side-effects of hormonal birth control, it might be worth considering.
What is natural birth control, exactly?
Simply put: a mix of biology and willpower. You track your cycle so you know when you’re most fertile and then avoid having sex (or be sure to use a barrier method of contraception, like a condom, diaphragm, or cervical cap) on those days.
Women typically ovulate (release an egg from an ovary) 12 days before a period. That day and the five leading up to it is the time you’re most likely to become pregnant. If you keep a record of your periods for 6-12 months you should have a good idea when you ovulate. You can also take your temperature every morning before you get out of bed (it goes up a little when we ovulate), and check your cervical mucus (it becomes wetter and more slippery around that time). The best method is to take all these factors into account.
What are the pros?
Used properly, it’s 99% accurate. There are no side-effects, nothing to remember to pack when you go on vacation, and you get to know your body on a whole new intimate level. (As does your partner, if he’s willing.) You can use it alongside other non-hormonal birth control methods, and if you decide to have a baby one day, you’ll know exactly when to try. Best of all? It’s FREE.
What are the cons?
If it’s not used to the letter, it’s a lot less effective: around 75%. If you have irregular periods, it’s next to impossible. It doesn’t protect against sexually-transmitted infections, so shouldn’t be relied on if you have multiple partners. If you’re ill, have vaginal thrush, are on medication, or have recently had a miscarriage or abortion, your body’s signs may not be as accurate. Plus, there’s an undeniable lack of spontaneity.
How to get it right:
There are digital thermometers, smartphone apps, DIY urine testing kits and even wearables designed to help track fertility, but they all include extra costs – and exercise caution with anything that’s not FDA-approved. The best way to get the hang of natural birth control is for you (and ideally your partner) to take a class. These are often offered by women’s health centers for free or low cost – your local Planned Parenthood can fill you in. If getting pregnant would be a disaster right now, you should also probably use another form of birth control as well, at least until you’re confident in your fertility-tracking ability, just to be on the safe side.