What Are Fertility Awareness Methods?

Men produce about 1000 sperm per second and are thus considered fertile everyday.  A man’s ejaculate contains between 50-500 million sperm. Conception can only occur when one of these live sperm meets a woman’s live egg.

Women ovulate (release an egg) once per menstrual cycle and the egg lives a maximum of 24 hours. For a few days prior to ovulation, tiny glands in the cervix called cervical crypts produce fertile cervical fluid (a wet, often slippery, raw eggwhite consistency). This fertile cervical fluid can help sperm survive for up to five days in the vagina as they patiently wait for the egg to be released. So, even though her egg itself only lives for about a day or less, women are considered to have a ‘fertile window’ when they are producing fertile cervical fluid – meaning that intercourse/insemination in that window of time could lead to conception if the sperm stay alive (for a few hours or even days) in the fertile fluid and then make their way into the Fallopian tube to fertilize the egg after ovulation.

There are a variety of methodologies for calculating a woman’s natural fertility windows, both religious and secular – collectively they are called Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM) or Natural Family Planning (NFP).  Some are less accurate and based on guessing a women’s fertility based on averages of past cycles (Calendar methods/the Rhythm Method/many period tracker Apps).  Some are based in checking cervical fluid only (the Ovulation Method).  A very effective practice is called the Symptothermal Method (STM) of FAM and is based on the scientific facts that hormonal fluxes during a woman’s menstrual cycle cause observable changes in the quality of her cervical fluid and a rise in her basal body temperature (BBT, or temperature upon waking) after ovulation.

In practice, STM is relatively simple: throughout the day, a woman notices and records the sensation and quality of her cervical fluid as it appears at her vulva or on her toilet paper after wiping. On this chart or app, she also records her basal body temperature, taken orally, vaginally or under her armpit when she first wakes up in the morning. Optionally, some women also check the firmness and depth of their cervix within their vagina to confirm the other two fertility signs on their charts.

STM takes about 4-8 hours to learn, either through reading a book, taking a workshop or during one-on-one lessons with a teacher/mentor. Once initial guidelines are understood, STM takes a commitment of about 2 minutes a day to maintain and interpret data on her chart.

STM can become an empowering path of enhancing a woman’s overall body literacy, increasing communication with her partner, and gauging her overall health. STM can be used as a natural form of birth control, to help achieve pregnancy, and to find underlying health issues that may be affecting the regularity of her cycles or her fertility overall.

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