Natural Family Planning?
October 21, 2005 2:34 PM   Subscribe

How have your experiences been with Natural Family Planning?

This thread touched on it, but I am looking for some personal accounts that might give perspective into the ups and downs of the process. Has it worked for you? Which method did you use? Has anyone used a fertility computer such as this? Is it useful/easy/worth the money? Did you attend a training class and was helpful? Any advice or tips for a new couple?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I just read "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" over and over until the covers fell off, and so far, so good. I chart on an ordinary calendar.
posted by padraigin at 2:56 PM on October 21, 2005

I kept track of my cycles, daily discharge, and other hints (I often feel pain when I ovulate, my moods shift dramatically certain days of the month, things like that) for five years and never once got pregnant. I think the key is to understand that although there are patterns, each month can be different, so listen to your body and do not use last month as an example. Also you must not allow yourself to cheat, no matter how tempting it is. If for some reason you are unsure about what to do on a certain day, then don't do it. It's really just about being careful, and always being careful.

I charted using an Excel spreadsheet, but I am geeky like that.
posted by veronitron at 3:07 PM on October 21, 2005

I think the classic bit

Daughter: How well does Natural Family Planning work?
Mom: Go ask your little sister.

sums it up.
posted by alan at 3:08 PM on October 21, 2005

Going through Catholic High School they swore up and down that natural family planning worked. Go to a Catholic bookstore for loads on the topic.

We had numerous speakers and anecdotal stories testify that they use it and never had any kids. They stressed testing every day at the same time.

I have to say that a lot of those who practiced it now have kids (as good Catholics do). I don't know if this was a choice or breakdown in the system. I got the feeling that it'll work for the short-term but there comes a time when things just don't go as you expect and suddenly your womb is as fertile as the Nile. Pulling out (real pulling out like 15 seconds before the man ejaculates) is much more effective, and is in a gray-area of kosher in the Catholic Church (if that's why you're doing this, I don't know of any other organization that advocates this).
posted by geoff. at 3:22 PM on October 21, 2005

The numbers suggest that if 100 couples practice natural family planning and do it exactly right, by the book, 15 of them will be pregnant by year's end.

That's not "contraception," to me; it's more of a way to schedule your sex life. In other words, if you're using natural family planning, plan to start a family.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:26 PM on October 21, 2005

Shortly after college, we used to joke about all of the friends that were recently married and had little NFP success stories running around.
posted by jmgorman at 3:33 PM on October 21, 2005

ikkyu2: That's consistent with my prejudices, but where do your numbers come from?
posted by beniamino at 3:34 PM on October 21, 2005

What do you call people who use the rythm method?

posted by caddis at 3:39 PM on October 21, 2005

Ben, it was a chart I saw on the internet last week.

Here's a more specific one from Planned Parenthood. Periodic abstinence gets a 25% annual failure rate in "typical use" but some periodic abstinence methods when used perfectly are actually quite good.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:54 PM on October 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

The rhythm method is not Natural Family Planning, just FYI. It doesn't allow for irregular cycles or natural changes in your cycle length over time, which is where the jokes come in.

However, I believe that NFP, also known as the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), is now approved by the Vatican.
posted by padraigin at 3:55 PM on October 21, 2005

You may find this site useful: . Although it is designed for people who are trying to conceive, you just need to reverse the logic (ie abstain during your fertile time rather than going for it during this time) and it should work. The charting software is really nifty too. The basic features are free but for a small price you can add other indicators like mood swings, ovulation pain etc to improve your understanding over time about how your body tells you whether it's fertile or not.

The charting process worked for me in becoming pregnant and taught me about many things fertility that I did not know beforehand. As I said before - I think it would work well for those trying to avoid conception, as much as for those trying to achieve it. It may also help you get pregnant if/when you want to or alert you early on to any fertility problems while there's still time to do something about them.
posted by KateM at 4:13 PM on October 21, 2005

Sorry - the link I tried to post above didn't appear. It's
posted by KateM at 4:14 PM on October 21, 2005

FWIW, some adults I know have used a variant of NFP (before it had a cool acronym) since they were married, and they only have 3 kids, all planned for almost down to the day. I believe the method she uses involves measuring her body temperature twice a day (she's a general practitioner, if that matters).
posted by muddgirl at 4:16 PM on October 21, 2005

Thanks ikkyu2! So the stats are:

For typical use:
Pill/patch/depo: 2.0 - 8.0
Male condom: 15.0
Periodic abstinence: 25.0

For perfect use:
Pill (etc): 0.3
Male condom: 2.0
Post ovulation method: 1.0
Symptothermal method: 2.0
Cervical mucus (ovulation) method: 3.0
Calendar method: 9.0

So, if you're reliable, the so-called 'natural' methods are 1-2x less reliable than condomnation. And both of these are almost 10x worse than the female-hormone-alteration methods. Hmm, risky.

[Without meaning to derail, the Planned Parenthood link is bizarre in (a) using the hilarious term 'outercourse', and (b) implying that outercourse, including anal sex, is 'good against HIV']
posted by beniamino at 4:26 PM on October 21, 2005

Like others have said, if you plan on using NFP, plan on having a family.

I don't trust any of these statistics because even Durex say that condoms are only 95-98% effective at stopping pregnancy. I don't get this because my own experience suggests that they are 100% effective. Admittedly I have a sample size of only a few hundred. Unless my girlfriend has been having abortions on a semi-regular basis without telling me. Which I doubt. There doesn't appear to be any information on the *long term* effectiveness of various contraceptives. 95-98% over what period of time?

Anyway, decide how much you would mind having a kid (or having to have an abortion) and choose that way. If you don't want kids and choose NFP, you may of made the wrong choice.
posted by alexst at 4:31 PM on October 21, 2005

We used 'Persona' for a couple of years. It shows a green light when it's supposedly safe. We began to feel like we'd get the same effect rigging up a shoe box with a red light inside and opening the lid every morning. I'm not a big fan of paying NZ$20 or so a month to be told 'NO' so we gave up on the thing.
posted by slightlybewildered at 4:40 PM on October 21, 2005

Well my whole life is an experience in natural family planning, since my parents were using it when I came along. Apparently Dad got into a big argument with someone at work, and Mom got worked up about it, and because of the stress and anger her period came two days early, and I came nine months later.

If you're not prepared for that sort of thing, unless there is some weird medical reason you can't I strongly advise you to just use the Pill.
posted by localroger at 5:13 PM on October 21, 2005

localroger, was your mom approximately two weeks prescient about the work stress and thus ovulated two days early? 'Cause that's what would have to have happened. The luteal phase (ovulation-to-period) is consistent for each woman; it's the pre-ovulation phase that varies. Which is why you have to track ovulation (NFP) rather than periods (rhythm method).

I've been using NFP for 3 years using the above mentioned fertilityfriend for tracking and condoms during times of risk, and haven't had any children.
posted by xo at 5:21 PM on October 21, 2005

(If her period started two days early, her *next* ovulation could have been thrown off.)
posted by occhiblu at 5:27 PM on October 21, 2005

My GYN suggested fertility awareness to me. I'm reliably 100% baby-free.
posted by Marnie at 5:30 PM on October 21, 2005

Sorry -- my prejudices were getting in the way. The stats (whether you believe them or not) say the post-ovulation method is twice as reliable as condoms. Beaten by abstinence**, sterilisation, hormone methods and IUDs only.

** Though I would dispute the 'typical use' stats for abstinence.

Anyway, this is not what the questioner is interested in. I'll shut up now.
posted by beniamino at 5:42 PM on October 21, 2005

I don't trust any of these statistics because even Durex say that condoms are only 95-98% effective at stopping pregnancy. I don't get this because my own experience suggests that they are 100% effective. Admittedly I have a sample size of only a few hundred.

They're not effective only 98% of the time that one couple uses them. It's of all couples per year. Old AskMe.
posted by Airhen at 5:59 PM on October 21, 2005

I don't get this because my own experience suggests that they are 100% effective. Admittedly I have a sample size of only a few hundred.

Been having sex for a few hundred years?
posted by duck at 6:38 PM on October 21, 2005

duck: lol, the info I found on Condom's rather vague about what 98% actually meant. Airhen clarified :P
posted by alexst at 6:58 PM on October 21, 2005

However, I believe that NFP, also known as the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), is now approved by the Vatican.

Tis' true, and has been for a number of years now.
posted by jmd82 at 7:06 PM on October 21, 2005

Should have been in the previous comment, but in those who have used it, they usually claim two things: 1) It causes the woman to become much more aware of her own body and functions. This can be helpful in sickness prevention and cancer (the idea of know your body to realize when lumps grow). 2) The NFP which I know of also gets the husband involved. The males usually find a deeper sense of intimacy with their spouses as also keeping track of their wives' cycles causes them to know more about their wife helps to bring them closer.
posted by jmd82 at 7:09 PM on October 21, 2005

occhiblu, tracking ovulation means that it doesn't matter a whit whether your period starts "early" or not. You aren't tracking your period -- it's just a re-set button to start watching for ovulation again. What localroger's mom should have done, if she was really using NFP, is started her new chart on day 1 of her period and started watching for signs of the next impending ovulation while practicing safe sex. The day she got her period, she was not pregnant. She became pregnant during the ovulation following that early period, an ovulation she should have been watching for using NFP criteria (waking temperature, fluids, cervical condition), not estimating based on past dates.
posted by xo at 7:53 PM on October 21, 2005

I have been using the Fertility Awareness Method as described in Taking Charge of Your Fertility successfully for over six years now, and am absolutely in love with it. I chart my waking body temperature, cervical fluid, cervical position and other signs such as ovulatory pain and breast tenderness. When I first began I worried that it would be a big hassle, but now it's all just second nature and -- not to get all hippy-dippy on you or anything -- I love having a thorough understanding of what is going on with my body. In fact, I highly recommend Taking Charge of Your Fertility to all women, including those who have no interest in using FAM as a birth control method.

FAM can be practiced with different levels of leniency depending on how many fertility signs you observe, whether you choose a barrier method during your fertile period or abstain from sex completely, whether you use the most strict, least strict, or somewhere-in-between interpretation of the various rules, etcetera. I absolutely do NOT want to get pregnant at this point in my life and am thus hyper-vigilant about everything. I observe the rules conservatively, and when any of my fertility signs is the least bit ambiguous -- even if the chances of my actually being fertile on that particular day of the month are astronomical -- I use condoms rather than taking a risk. When I know for sure that I am fertile, I avoid vaginal intercourse completely.

One of my favorite things about FAM is that when I am charting, I worry about pregnancy far less than a lot of women I know. For example, while most people would consider a period that's over a week 'late' to be grounds for a freak-out, if it happens to me I can simply look back at my chart and see that I ovulated later than usual; nothing to worry about. It brings me such peace of mind. (And it certainly doesn't hurt that I always get 24 hours' notice before my period arrives; no more being caught unaware and tamponless!)

Of course, the minute the topic of natural family planning comes up, one can be assured that the tired old "What do you call people who use the rhythm method? PARENTS! HUR HUR" joke is soon to follow. If there's one thing I wish people would take away from this thread, it's the following: FAM is not the rhythym method. Really. It's not. The rhythm method is about hoping and counting and prayer and estimation. FAM is about individual women learning to identify their fertile periods, even when variable, from month to month. There is a vast difference, but most people -- including many health professionals I've come across -- do not understand this. So if you do choose FAM, be prepared to face some degree of ignorance, prejudice, and knee-jerk judgement of the sort unfortunately illustrated by several responses in this thread.

As for effectiveness, the numbers I've seen agree pretty closely with those ikkyu2 posted above. 25% -- the combined failure rate for 'typical use' of various fertility awareness methods -- looks like a scary number at first. But as beniamino pointed out, 'perfect use' stats for FAM equal or best those for condoms. It's important to understand that the temptation to 'cheat' when using FAM can be very great. People who'd never dream of saying "Eh, what the hell, let's just not bother with the condom/pill/diaphragm/whatever this time" will find themselves thinking, "Welllll... I haven't really been keeping track too great this month but I'm almost definitely sort of sure that everything's pretty much fine and goddamn I'm horny..." and that's just stupid. Realize that these poor souls are included in 'typical use.' And if you choose FAM, don't be one of them. You absolutely, positively, cannot cheat. You can't estimate. You can't rely on memory. You can't fudge. If you can't stick to the rules, FAM is not for you; it's that simple. But if you trust yourself (and your partner) to avoid taking stupid risks, natural family planning can be a rewarding and enlightening experience.

Plus it saves you a lot of money. Which is of course a minor issue.
posted by purplemonkie at 8:48 PM on October 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

Natural Family Planning? Hey, I wouldn't be here without it!

And hence why my mom got her tubes tied after she had me.
posted by scody at 8:54 PM on October 21, 2005

I just started using FAM mainly to track my cycles and develop a good baseline of data for when I do decide to have a child--I use a barrier method of birth control for all PIV intercourse. I've always had a good idea of when I ovulate, but taking a few minutes each morning to take my temperature and check other things has really clarified things for me. It's interesting.

I'd really suggest reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility--I was initially put off by the tone of the author at the beginning, but I stuck with it and really got into it.

There is charting software that you can get from the TCOYF website, but it's Windows only ( Fertility Friend isn't bad, but the constant pimping of the pay service is grating, as is their TOS that indicates that you should only use their product if you're TTC (I assume that's to cover their asses for the idiots out there). And if you're not TTC, the emphasis of the site on pregnancy can be a bit disconcerting.

I wouldn't use FAM as my sole form of birth control right now, because I'm not particularly confident my data right now, but I can see myself using it in a year or so after I'm more experienced.
posted by eilatan at 8:55 PM on October 21, 2005

Been using it for 2.5 years & am baby free. Specifics: started with The Billings Method (cervical fluid/mucous only) book, then paid for one session with a Billings Method counselor (sliding scale). Used just this for the first 2 years, abstaining during my fertile periods, going for gloveless loving during the infertile ones. I read the Weschler book in the spring, and decided to add tracking my temperature to my routine. I don't feel that taking my temp is necessary, but I've been doing it because I enjoy the extra dimension of knowledge.

The Billings training session was fine, but no information was in it that isn't in the book.

Going condomless was scary for the first several months but I had read and re-read the book until I had the guidelines memorized backwards and forwards, and did my secular version of praying, and as the months went by without conceiving I began to relax. However, my husband and I had discussed what we would do in the event of an unplanned pregnancy and agreed on what we would do if it happened.

We love it. It's cheap, and as jmd82 mentions, it makes me feel in much better touch with what my body's up to (I think the Weschler book includes charts of at least woman who noticed irregularities in her usual cycle, got herself to a doctor and caught ovarian cysts early), and the intimacy of the process as a partnership offers opportunities to communicate about important things - which brings us closer. And knowing where I am in my cycle turns my husband on. When I'm fertile we still have a good time with oral, manual, toys - our idea of a good time isn't fixated on penile-vaginal intercourse.

My current GP pooh-poohed NFP when I first met her and told her I was using it, but by now she seems to be reserving judgment. My two previous GPs raved about NFP, and are of the opinion that it gets zero or bad press mainly because pharmaceutical companies can't make money from it.

on preview: seconding everything purplemonkie said.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:01 PM on October 21, 2005

Correction: when I wrote "guidelines" I meant "rules."
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:10 PM on October 21, 2005

> ovulation she should have been watching for using NFP criteria

Well, yes, of course. But the original comment, that she should have been watching for these things *before* her early period, was silly. The point was that stress can affect the entire cycle, and that if you're not willing to watch the entire cycle, then you can easily be screwed. If you *are* tracking everything, then wonderful.
posted by occhiblu at 12:06 AM on October 22, 2005

It seems like the trend in this thread is that those who have actually practiced NFP have found overall success with the method, while those with doubts or stories where it didn't work are largely anecdotal or word-of-mouth (sorry, don't mean to detract from those opinions or those who are here because of NFP).

Anyone out there who used NFP themselves, but had it not work?
posted by roaring beast at 9:44 AM on October 22, 2005

It sounds like an immense amount of effort for those of use who travel a lot though. I wonder if it would work for them?
posted by fshgrl at 9:35 PM on October 22, 2005

Although [this method] is designed for people who are trying to conceive, you just need to reverse the logic (ie abstain during your fertile time rather than going for it during this time) and it should work.

This is a horrendous error, by the way. Spermatozoa can survive inside a woman's reproductive tract for five days.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:26 PM on December 12, 2005

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