Finding 'Safe' Sex Days
It's Not Guesswork
Homan calls the calendar rhythm method "a guessing game,
pure and simple," but emphasizes that there is more to natural family
planning than just counting days. The more modern variations rely upon
physiological signs such as changes in cervical discharge, body temperature,
cervix position, or if it's the "sympto-thermal" method, a combination
of all three, to signal whether a woman is fertile. "Modern natural family
planning doesn't try to predict anything," he says. "It's, 'What you
see is what you are.'"
Using these indicators, he says, a woman should be able to tell
when she is in the preovulation, fertile, or postfertile phase of her cycle.
Couples attempting to avoid pregnancy either can abstain from sex during the
fertile phase or use other forms of protection.
Done correctly, it can be highly effective, says Stanford from
the University of Utah. Stanford co-authored a study of 1,876 couples using a
method of natural family planning that relied upon changes in cervical mucus to
chart fertility. The study, published in the June 1998 issue of the Journal
of Reproductive Medicine, found the technique had an impressive 96%
effectiveness rate in preventing pregnancy, comparing favorably to condoms and
diaphragms, though still less reliable than the pill or sterilization.
So why aren't more people embracing a birth control method that
is free, safe, and effective?
For one thing, natural family planning is not widely promoted
among healthcare professionals, says Ron Gronsky, PhD, professor of materials
sciences at the University of California at Berkeley. "It's a lot easier
for a practicing physician to prescribe [a pill] than to discuss and
counsel," says Gronsky, who with his wife, Andrea, teaches natural family
planning to other couples.
Andrea Gronsky recalls how information on natural family
planning was even scarcer two decades ago. "When we first got married, we
didn't know how to do it" because guidance was hard to find, she says. She
says she used breastfeeding, which can stave off ovulation and menstruation, as
a form of contraception after the birth of their first child. Soon after, the
Gronskys, both of whom are Catholic, switched to the sympto-thermal method of
family planning, which they have used for 26 years.
Not for Everyone
But the Gronskys also acknowledge that natural family planning
isn't for everyone. The method, they say, is best suited for stable, monogamous
couples, and they limit those they train to engaged or married couples.
Natural family planning also "involves more effort,"
says Lindy Pasos, development director for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte in
Nevada. "Our position is that we're thrilled that people are using family
planning and thinking about when they want to have children." But she says
checking physiological signs every day takes discipline and more commitment
than many people are willing to make.