Natural family planning methods, which are also called rhythm methods, involve determining the days during your monthly cycle that you're fertile
(ovulating) and avoiding intercourse during those days. No devices or medications are required.
How they're used
The following ways can be used to assess when you're most fertile:
• Calendar method. Using certain calculations, you determine the first and last days during which you can become pregnant in your cycle.
• Cervical position and dilation. Your cervix opens and changes position at the time of ovulation. When using the cervical position and dilation method, you check your cervical position using your finger. During ovulation, your cervix is slightly higher, softer and more open than it is normally. You may be able to determine your fertile time by recording and tracking your positions.
• Mucus inspection method. This involves tracking changes in your cervical mucus to determine when ovulation occurs.
• Temperature method. Most women have a slight change in body temperature related to ovulation. Their temperature drops during ovulation, then rises slightly after ovulation.
• Mucothermal method. This is a combination of the temperature and mucus inspection methods.
• Symptothermal method. This is a combination of four methods — calendar, cervical position and dilation, mucus inspection and temperature. Using all methods provides a more accurate picture of your fertile phase because signs noted with one method can confirm those noted with another method.
If you plan on using a rhythm method, it's best to take a class or receive training from a qualified teacher.
The effectiveness of natural family planning methods depends on your diligence. Used perfectly, effectiveness ratings could reach 90 percent, which means that 10 out of 100 women who use natural family planning as birth control for a year will become pregnant. Few couples use natural family planning perfectly, so they experience slightly lower effectiveness rates.
These methods are approved by most religious practices, but they require motivation and extended periods of abstinence. Usually, your periods must be very regular in order for this approach to be effective. Plus, you must carefully chart your cycles and observe physical signs of ovulation. Some research has shown that the timing of a woman's fertility window can be highly unpredictable, even if her cycles are regular. That means you may have the potential for becoming pregnant even when calculations suggest you're not ovulating.
Withdrawal, which involves a man pulling out his penis before orgasm, isn't considered a reliable method of birth control because a man may leak some sperm even before ejaculation. Rhythm methods of birth control don't protect against STDs, including HIV/AIDS.
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