Fertility awareness-based method for birth control, 2018 edition
October 28, 2018 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend your favorite technology, apps, resources for practicing this good old fashioned form of birth control in this glorious digital age?

I'm curious to know about your experiences with fertility awareness, aka rhythm method, for birth control in this day and age. Although there are prior Asks on this topic, most of them are kind of old and don't account for the numerous smartphone apps that i'm sure now exist and could help me with this.

A little background: I've been on all sorts of methods including various types of pills and both copper and hormonal IUDs and basically I'm at the end of my rope with all of that. I swore off hormonal birth control years ago and have zero interest in ever revisiting that in any form. I got my copper IUD removed several months ago on sort of a whim because I was frustrated by how bad my periods were getting and I just hit the wall and had enough. That was my second copper IUD, I had one in my 20's and had it removed under similar circumstances.

My partner and I have been discussing possibly trying for kids in the near-ish future anyway, so we figured we could just use condoms until that time came. But having been so long since I used them I forgot how much I hate them. We tried lots of different kinds, the non-latex, lambskin, various suggestions I've seen on here and it just hasn't been good for me. To the point where my interest in sex has taken a nosedive and that's not good. I am not really interested in suggestions for other types of condoms or barrier methods at this point, like diaphragms/cervical cap type stuff.

Looking at old Asks I saw the Daysy mentioned, which is a device that takes your temperature and does some magic with algorithms and syncing to your phone to tell you which days are "safe" and which are not. I was super excited about this because it sounded pretty convincingly effective. But given the steep price tag ($300+) I decided to do a bit more digging. Sounds like the technology can be buggy, and I also came across some skepticism about the merits the studies on which the effectiveness claims are based (the study that they base their claims on was done by the company that makes it, used retrospective data, etc). I have also seen some comments from people on the internetz that you can basically just do the same thing yourself with a regular digital thermometer and some sort of tracking app/system. So that is really where my question lies: how can I most effectively do what the Daysy claims to, with my own thermometer and some sort of app? There are so many fertility apps I truly have no idea where to begin. Do you have recommendations for the right app for this (and/or helpful books, websites, other resouces?) I'd like to try to do this without spending tons of money so I don't know that I necessarily want something like a bracelet or other fancy monitor for my temperature, I hope I can do this using a regular old thermometer.

I've read the ACOG's page about this method which is generally helpful but doesn't give specific guidelines. I am comfortable with the potential failure rate for this, as noted above, I actually do want to have kids which would ideally be in a year or two but if it happened earlier would not be the end of the world. I've recently entered the "advanced maternal age" bracket so not only are my baseline odds of pregnancy probably somewhat lower at this point, I also feel like if I did happen to get pregnant earlier than anticipated, I'd frankly probably be sort of relieved that I was even able to. Still, though, if I'm going to try to use this method I might as well do the best job of it I can. Thanks Metafilter!
posted by Argyle_Sock_Puppet to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The classic book for this is Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I used Fertility Friend + ovulation test strips to get pregnant last year and of course they can also be used to avoid pregnancy. TCOYF is really helpful in laying out the nuts and bolts of temping and charting your cycle.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 12:13 PM on October 28, 2018 [13 favorites]

Sorry, forgot to add Fertility Friend is an app and you can order the ovulation test strips on Amazon.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 12:17 PM on October 28, 2018

Another vote for TCOYF definitely (and for FertilityFriend possibly as it’s as a free app that allows you to throw in all the data you’ve got, but it is more aimed at aiding pregnancy than avoiding it).

There are a lot of the shiny new apps you mention that will promise to make all this a lot simpler - no need to read a book, no need to track different fertility indicators, just give it one simple datapoint and ~handwave~ magic algorithms will do all the work for you! I recommend serious, serious caution at anything selling itself on the grounds that it makes this method that simple, though, as the reliability rate goes waaaaaay down accordingly. For this method to work properly you really need to know yourself what it is you’re measuring and what it means. But once you’re used to it it becomes second nature.

One bonus of this method too if you do want to conceive in the near future is that it’ll teach you if you’re ovulating ok and what days you’ll be most fertile if you are, which will make future conception easier!
posted by Catseye at 12:48 PM on October 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Taking Charge of Your Fertility (the book) is recommended for a reason - it’s well-written, well-researched, accessible and immediately applicable. Start by reading this. Then yes, start incorporating temping and charting into your life.

Personally I use Fertility Friend and a TempDrop to take my temperature. However other apps will be more focused on prevention vs. conception.
posted by samthemander at 12:57 PM on October 28, 2018

I echo the other comments above. All you need is Fertility Friend (app), a good digital thermometer (you should be able to get for less than $20), and ovulation strips.

Temping and charting is a steep learning curve, but after reading and a few cycles, you will get such a handle for your patterns that you can probably skip the ovulation strips. I always know when I ovulate, because I get very specific ovulation pains. I learned so much about my body during temping and charting, A+++ would recommend to everyone.

All the fancy apps and tools do is to approximate temping and charting and predict things based on some algorithms, that if you learned it yourself, you would understand your body so much better.
posted by moiraine at 1:25 PM on October 28, 2018

I have a Wink (a basal thermometer) that syncs to an app (Kindara) but personally my temps seemed to not have a terribly strong pattern so having read Taking Charge of Your Fertility, i would have had to use other signs as well. Luckily I was just using the thermometer for “fun” and have an iud! But that’s a nice thermometer/app combo.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 1:37 PM on October 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing Taking Charge of Your Fertility, the author goes into the details and even clarifies how FAM is different from the rhythm method (namely, the rhythm method makes assumptions about menstruation & ovulation that just arent true for most women).

I, too, am 1000% done with hormonal birth control and switched to FAM + (involuntary) abstinence earlier this year. We’re talking about babies soon and so I’m using it to prevent for now and increase our chances later. I take my temp daily and monitor my cervical fluid. It’s very obvious when I’m ovulating, which makes it very easy to avoid for now. Feeling very in touch with my body, which is a nice side effect. :)
posted by Snacks at 2:10 PM on October 28, 2018

TCOYF, as others have said, is still basically the gold standard. It's a quick read, it breaks it all down, and while you CAN do this without reading it, I don't know why you would. I have passed my copy of the book around to so many friends, younger cousins, etc. Not just because of the fertility info, but because basically, it's an owner's manual for the female reproductive system, whether you're trying to get pregnant, trying to avoid pregnancy forever, or somewhere in between.

There are a lot of apps available, but Fertility Friend tends to be the most recommended of the bunch. It's not the slickest-looking or prettiest, but it's the most functional and most reliable according to most people. You just need an app (or paper to chart, but the app really is much easier, in my opinion) and a basal body temperature thermometer. Basal thermometers aren't the same as your normal fever thermometer, but they're not really much more expensive. Your local CVS or Walgreens probably has a store brand one.

If you do want to step up your technology game, I'm a fan of Tempdrop, a wearable thermometer device. Reliable temping requires that you take your temperature at the same time every day. It can also be affected by frequent wakeups at night, sleeping with your mouth open, and other quirks of your sleeping habits. As a wearable thermometer/sensor, Tempdrop reads your temperature and records it throughout the night to send your "true" basal body temperature back to its app. It's not perfect--you can only track about 3 nights worth of data without syncing, it doesn't sync to many apps directly, though they're working on adding more all the time, it's pricier than a regular thermometer, and if you don't find the armband comfortable, you may have to find your own solution. But the benefits are pretty obvious once you've done temping. No more alarms. No more forgetting to track, so your temp is gone forever and there's a hole in your chart. The algorithm learns to adjust for nights of drinking or being sick with a fever or other quirks, so your data stays reliable. The creator of the company is vocal and responsive in the Facebook community and is constantly working on improvements. Other users participate in the community as well and are generally supportive and kind. I've been out of the loop for a bit (I'm pregnant; thanks Tempdrop), but I have been very pleased overall.
posted by terilou at 2:27 PM on October 28, 2018

If you don't love Fertility Friend, OvuView is a good alternative -- and though not quite as thorough, it's much more user-friendly and aesthetically non-horrible! I've used it for years and prefer it.
posted by tapir-whorf at 2:59 PM on October 28, 2018

+1 for that book, the only technology you need is a paper chart, a pencil and a thermometer. Like everyone says, the apps are only helpful once you understand what is going on inside your body. Then all they do is replace the paper chart and the pencil. Reading the book takes about a week but it covers all the scenarios and is worth the investment.

Once I knew the basics from paper charting for years, I liked kindara app the best.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:06 PM on October 28, 2018

I saw that at least one of the “take your temperature + algorithm” apps out there is being investigated for overpromising and not working very well.

posted by forkisbetter at 6:52 PM on October 28, 2018

Another vote for Taking Charge of Your Fertility and FertilityFriend app! I track my temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical position. My temp shift is pretty obvious, though not always, and my CM is not as obvious as others’ seems to be, but I did not get pregnant the years I was using it for contraception and got pregnant my first try when I was using it for that. I also recommend the cheap ovulation strips you can buy online—my signs are pretty easy to read, but having a test strip to confirm is a relief.
posted by Illuminated Clocks at 11:25 PM on October 28, 2018

Seconding taking charge of your fertility. I also just monitor cervical fluid--we got pregnant using a method I had seen on the internet which is essentially that the days where it feels like it takes forever to wipe yourself clean after your morning poop are your fertile days. Now we use a combo of that, pulling out, and condoms.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:26 AM on October 29, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I love unanimous answers! I have purchased and started reading TCOYF and you are all correct about it. I'd heard of it on here before but definitely assumed it was mostly just about getting pregnant, but I was wrong, it's also everything you need to know about using tracking as birth control.

I'm going to leave this open for now, because I think I'm going to try paper charting first before looking at apps- I'll update later about that. So in the meantime anyone who sees this feel free to add recommendations!
posted by Argyle_Sock_Puppet at 7:22 AM on November 7, 2018

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