I don’t have any religious or moral objections to birth control. I do, however, have significant health objections to all forms of hormonal birth control. Depending on the method in question, hormonal birth control can cause side effects like nausea, vomiting, changes in libido and more serious but rare problems like heart attack, stroke and blood clots.
Even if you don’t experience any of these side effects, I think that hormonal birth control is far from benign. On a philosophical level I have serious objections to continually taking a drug designed to upset your body’s healthy functioning. Fertility is not an illness. Taking hormonal birth control to disrupt your body’s natural fertility seems entirely different to me than taking medications to treat an actual illness. (Of course, for many illnesses I don’t think that drugs are necessarily the answer either, but that’s a whole other topic.) All parts of our bodies are so interconnected that when you start messing with one part it’s hard to know what else you’re going to disrupt. In their eagerness to treat problems I don’t think that scientists always acknowledge these challenges.
What about Barrier Methods?
I’ve known for a long time that I didn’t want anything to do with hormonal birth control. When I was first reading about other options, the next category I investigated was barrier methods. I think barrier methods can be great options for some people. Condoms, the most effective barrier method, are very good at preventing pregnancy when used correctly. Personally, though, I just don’t care for condoms. Other barrier methods have lower rates of effectiveness so I haven’t considered them.
There’s also the copper IUD, of course, which is not exactly a barrier method but isn’t hormonal either. I’m not totally sure what to think about the IUD. I’m not particularly interested in trying it, though, since it can cause more cramping and heavier bleeding during your period and already have both of those in abundance. I’d also be a little worried about having a piece of copper in my body long-term, though I don’t know if that’s justified or not.
My Experience with Natural Family Planning
I don’t remember when I first stumbled on natural family planning but I was instantly intrigued. Eventually I bought the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility, which has been my go-to resource for learning how to practice fertility awareness. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to learn natural birth control or even just better understand how your fertility works.
I use the symptothermal method outlined in Taking Charge of Your Fertility, meaning that I track my waking temperature as well as my cervical mucus. This is more effective than just tracking one or the other.
I have been very pleased with the symptothermal method. We’re currently waiting to have kids and we’ve been using it to successfully prevent pregnancy for the last three and a half years. I feel great knowing that I’m not putting anything potentially harmful into my body. Theoretically conception should also be easier once we start trying for kids since I already understand how my cycle works.
I also like that natural family planning is inexpensive and doesn’t require you to buy much. Once you get your thermometer and your book (or perhaps take a class instead) you’re set for life (or at least until your thermometer dies). I would not use cost as the sole factor in picking my birth control method, but the fact that my chosen method is cheap is just an added bonus.
Fertility awareness is not without its drawbacks, of course. You can’t have intercourse whenever you want because you need to abstain (or use barrier methods) during your fertile period to prevent pregnancy. This hasn’t been a big issue for us, but it may be difficult for some couples.
Taking your temperature is also not always convenient. You need to wake up at around the same time every day to make sure you’re getting accurate temperature readings. Sometimes I wake up late and can’t take my temperature that day. Depending on where you are in your cycle, this may mean that you have to abstain for additional time in order to assure that you’re not fertile. I always err on the side of caution, though some couples may be looser with the rules if they are not as concerned about avoiding a pregnancy.
I just packed my copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility so I can’t look up effectiveness there, but according to the book’s website the failure rate of the symptothermal method is about two percent per year when used correctly. Planned Parenthood actually puts the failure rate even lower, at 0.4 percent per year when used correctly. In either case, this is comparable to or better than condoms, the most effective barrier method.
I feel comfortable with this effectiveness rate. Other than abstinence, no birth control method can promise 100 percent effectiveness at preventing pregnancy. At the moment we prefer to wait a little longer before getting pregnant but could certainly handle a pregnancy should one occur unexpectedly. Natural family planning is not quite as effective as certain hormonal methods, but avoiding hormones is well worth the trade-off to me.
One Final Note
In this post I’ve been using the terms “natural family planning” and” fertility awareness” interchangeably, although technically the two are separate birth control methods. Natural family planning requires that you abstain from sex during your fertile period while fertility awareness methods allow the use of barrier methods when you are fertile. Philosophically I agree with fertility awareness but we don’t actually use barrier methods so I guess you could say I adhere to natural family planning. Just thought I’d clear that up in case there was any confusion.
Do you use natural family planning/fertility awareness or chooseother methods? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
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