My Experience Becoming a Certified Fertility Awareness Teacher

In early October 2019, I finished my double check sympto-thermal method teacher training through the Natural Family Planning Teachers Association (NFPTA). NFPTA is headquartered in England, but the organization certifies teachers internationally through an asynchronous online course. Women can certify alone, or they can certify with their spouse. The course is offered in celcius, but American teachers can chart their own cycles in farenheit.

One of the things that makes NFPTA different than other courses out there is that teachers are required to make their own teaching materials. For those who would rather avoid religious affiliations, the course is technically secular with some small remnants of religious beliefs in some of the materials. Abstinence is emphased in the fertile window as the most effective way to avoid pregnancy. This course certified me to teach cervical mucus, basal body temperature, cervical position, and calculation rules to adult women until menopause (information on charting menstrual cycles during puberty was not given).

Example of a chart in my teaching materials

In part one of the course (this is roughly 13 weeks long), I learned the rules for avoiding pregnancy with the sympto-thermal method in both regular and irregular cycles, post hormonal birth control use, postpartum, and perimenopause. I was also taught to support women who would like to use their fertility signs to become pregnant. This part of the course was given in downloadable course packets and videos. I evaluated and gave feedback for over one hundred charts with NFPTA interpretation rules.

Following this, I took an exam on the teaching rules as well as female and male anatomy. Once I passed the exam, I created my materials. Since NFPTA does not provide teaching materials, teachers are required to create their own lesson plans, booklets, videos, and whatever else they require to teach the rules and fertility signs. This took me around two months of labor (probably at least ten hours or more per week). My end products were:

✏ ~140 page learning manual

✏ 60 minutes of video

✏ PowerPoint (70 slides)

In part two of the course, I was required to teach a minimum of three women how to chart for three full cycles. I had to evaluate them based on a NFPTA checklist and teach them how to avoid pregnancy using NFPTA charts. I found clients through the Facebook group I help moderate, and a few people I knew in real life volunteered.

Overall, I would only suggest this course to people who have been competent charters for a year or more. In addition, potential enrollees should have an aptitude to teach and create materials. The program is a bit disorganized, and sorting through all of the various materials is a challenge in itself. If you are wanting your materials handed to you, this is not the program for you. Farenheit charters will need to learn to read celcius for the course.

The course does need some updating, but I have high hopes for the future of the program. The program allows teachers to be very creative which is a big plus if you are up for the challenge. It is also very reasonably priced compared to most other programs. In addition, the rules are very similar to the Sensiplan method. This is very important because the Sensiplan rules are what yield the oft quoted 99.6% efficacy statistic. Every three years, teachers are required to do a skills training. While this is usually in England, we should be able to do this virtually within a few years or less.

Your Guide To Getting Started With Charting Your Menstrual Cycle

One of the most common questions I get in my inbox is how to get started with the fertility awareness method. This post outlines all the different ways you can learn to chart. First and foremost, I will do a shameless plug for learning with me. My course opens in late September 2019. I will provide you with a materials packet and support for 3 cycles charting. I teach basal body temperature and cervical mucus (cervical position is a bonus sign). I also have postpartum and perimenopausal protocols available. You can find out more about this here.

For anyone who is able to chart multiple signs of fertility (temperature and mucus or temperature and cervix), I do suggest using two signs over using a single sign. This is because if one sign is obscured for some reason, you will still have the second sign to fall back on. In addition, charting temperatures will prevent you from having issues with double peaks. Charting temperatures also allows you to have unprotected sex during menstruation (only if you do not have short cycles); cervical mucus only charting does not allow intercourse on the days of heavy bleeding. The 99.6% perfect use efficacy rate that you may see quoted around is based on charting temperature, cervical mucus, and using a Doering rule to limit dry day usage. You can read more about this study here. STM charting also allows for barrier use in the fertile window, depending on whether you learn from a religious source or not.

However, using a single sign like mucus can be really great for postpartum charting and perimenopausal charting. Mucus only methods can also be used to pinpoint health problems. The method you pick should be based on your fertility intentions and what stage of life you are in. Notably, mucus only methods require abstinence in the fertile window because without abstinence penetrative sex could disturb the mucus sign. I like how this faith-based document explains “Your Right to Know” about multiple fertility signs.

What you will never see me suggest is using a device like Natural Cycles or Daysy to chart temperatures only. Temperature only charting is valid, but you do not need to shell out a bunch of money to do it. Temperature also cannot be relied on to open the fertile window. You need cervical mucus for that. Even if you want to only do temperatures, it will be much cheaper and arguably more effective if you get an instructor and interpret your own data.

First Step: Pick an Instructor

Sympto-Thermal Methods (STM)

Sympto-thermal methods require you to monitor at least two fertility signs. These signs are basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and/or cervical position. You can learn these methods from religious or secular sources.

Religious Organizations Who Teach STM

These methods may include some religious teachings in the text. Usually, this is Catholic teaching based on their theology.

Couple to Couple League USA

Price $135 USD. Both members of a couple can attend. Online options available. Some in person class offerings. Emphasizes abstinence in the fertile window.

SymptoPro USA

Price $110 USD. Online options available. Religious materials may be absent from the course but the organization is pretty open about its religiosity and beliefs. Emphasizes abstinence in the fertile window.

European Institute for Family Life Education

Price will vary widely. This includes information for most of the NFP organizations in Europe that partner with this institute. There is a chance that some of these may have secular teachings, but you would need to contact them to ask. Emphasizes abstinence in the fertile window.

Marquette USA

Price will vary. This method sometimes teaches temperatures in addition to mucus and hormone testing. Emphasizes abstinence in the fertile window.

Sensiplan France, Germany, Slovenia, Netherlands

Price will vary. Instruction available in person and online depending on the country. This is a Catholic organization. Emphasizes abstinence in the fertile window.

Secular Organizations Who Teach STM

Natural Family Planning Teachers Association Based in United Kingdom but teachers are located world wide

Prices will vary. Many teachers work online, but there may be in person classes available. Method does emphasize abstinence from genital to genital contact in the fertile window but no religion is present in the text. (I am certifying through this organization). Barrier method allowance will vary from teacher to teacher.

Justisse Method Based in USA but some teachers world wide

Prices will vary. Many teachers work online, but there may be in person classes available. This method can only be used as mucus only (from my understanding, please do ask a teacher). Barrier methods are allowed.

The Association of Fertility Awareness Professionals USA

Prices will vary. This includes Grace of the Moon and Justisse teachers. May or may not emphasize abstinence in the fertile window.

Fertility Awareness Method of Birth Control Instructor List World Wide

Prices will vary. This list includes teachers from random methods. Most teach online, but a few teach in person. Reach out to one to find out more. May or may not emphasize abstinence in the fertile window.

Mucus Only Methods

Billings Method USA and Woomb Billings Method Australia Likely world wide availability for teachers.

Prices will vary. Abstinence is required in fertile window. Religious in nature (Catholic).

Creighton Method World Wide and USA

Prices will vary. Abstinence is required in fertile window. Religious affiliations but may not be overt in materials. Connected with NaproTechnology doctors and may be a good choice for women with fertility problems.

FEMM USA but teachers are available online

Prices will vary, but can run as cheap as $75. This method includes mucus and LH strips. Abstinence is required in the fertile window. Secular, but the organization does have religious affiliations.

Rhythm Methods

These methods only involve tracking your cycle length. I do not recommend this to anyone who absolutely cannot get pregnant for health reasons or who absolutely does not want to get pregnant in general. If you are okay with the possibility of pregnancy, this may work for you. These methods also require you have to fairly regular cycles. This type of charting should really only be done if for some reason you cannot learn or are not able to track mucus or temperatures. These methods are not good for postpartum or perimenopause.

Dot (Free)

Cycle Beads ($12 USD)

Communities and Self-Teaching

If you plan on self-teaching, I highly recommend joining this community. I am a moderator in this group. I do not recommend self teaching unless you absolutely cannot afford instruction. We have no known efficacy rates for self-teaching; so, it will be sort of “uncharted” territory if you choose to rely on it. The reason I recommend an instructor is because many people do not know what they do not know. Missing key details in a self-teaching manual can result in an unintended pregnancy. If self-teaching, I recommend waiting 12 full cycles before using any dry days. Dry days are one of the easiest things to misinterpret if self-teaching. If you are going to learn, I suggest the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. This is a single check sympto-thermal method for opening the fertile window, but a double-check for closing the fertile window. This puts it at closer to 98% perfect use and 88-90% typical use. You can see that this is less effective than the other STMs linked above. Check your local library to see if it has listings of the book. Here is a link to WorldCat which you can use to locate a copy near you. Click here to check out Taking Charge of Your Fertility on Archive.org.

Other Free Manuals:

Sympto

NFPTA Fertility Guides

Many people ask if there is a self-teaching manual for mucus only methods. Mucus only methods should not be self-taught. That would be incredibly risky. If you want to do this, select an instructor from the list earlier in this blog.

Second Step: Order a Thermometer and Pick a Way to Chart

Recommendations for Thermometers and Apps

I recommend the iSnow as my favorite basal body thermometer for charting. Whatever you do, make sure you do not have a fever thermometer. These are not suitable for charting. It must be a basal body thermometer. For as slightly cheaper thermometer with a back light and memory, I suggest Easy@Home.

For information on the only wearable basal body thermometer I am willing to suggest, please read this blog post.

For information on charting apps, please read this blog post.

Third Step: Start Charting

While it will take you some time to make the initial investment and learn the method, it takes less than 5 minutes a day to chart once you have learned the rules. Build good habits right away. Check for mucus at every opportunity. I highly suggest taking your temperature after at least 3 hours of sleep at the exact same time when you are first charting. Some people may find that the time they can take their temperature can vary and still give them clear charts, but others will find they need to take it at the same. It takes a few weeks to make a habit. Once you have your routine down, charting will get so much easier.

Shortcut charting, or “Wait… I don’t have to take my temperature every day?”

Many people come into FAM overwhelmed by all the data that they have to collect daily. It can be a bit of a turn off for those new to the method. They may wonder why they have to check their cervical mucus ALL day and then set an alarm on top of that.

When you first begin charting, it is vitally important to try to get the information down every day so that you can get into a habit and make sure that you are following the rules. Missing information will leave you with less complete charts that could leave you confused as to whether ovulation is confirmed or not.

However, once you have been charting for a significant amount of time and become confident, you can stop recording fertility signs once you have confirmed ovulation.

I am headed into chart number twenty-two successfully avoiding pregnancy with FAM, and I have been shortcut charting most of the time for about seven cycles now. I personally recommend confirming ovulation in 12 cycles before shortcut charting. This is so that you know how early you ovulate, your normal temperature levels, and how to tell whether something abnormal is going on in your cycle (ie sickness causing temperatures to be higher than normal or an abnormal cervical fluid dry up due to cold meds or some other medication).

Toni Weschler, author of Taking Charge of Your Fertility, recommends that women have several months of experience in the standard rules before taking any shortcuts. She offers some modified guidelines to follow and emphasizes that “contraceptive efficacy won’t be compromised as long as both your fertility signs have confirmed that ovulation has already been confirmed for that particular cycle.”

The Modified Rules

Temperature Taking

  1. You don’t have to take your temperature during your period. Toni explains that these temps may be unreliable anyways. However, if you have short cycles with early ovulation, you may need those temps in order to confirm ovulation. If you have a temperature shift CD12 or sooner, you will need some period temps in order to have enough temperatures to draw a coverline.
  2. You don’t have to take your temperature after you confirm ovulation with temperature rules. This means at least 3 high temperatures with a standard shift. If you have weak shift or a fall back rise, you must have the extra temperatures needed to fulfill those rules before you stop taking your temperature. Some people take their temperature again a day or two before they expect their period since it can (but not always) give an indication that menstruation is approaching.

Cervical Mucus

  1. You don’t have to check cervical mucus after you confirm ovulation. You will need to check until you meet peak rules (P + 3) and crosscheck this with 3 high temperatures before you can stop checking for cervical mucus. Again, if you have a weak shift or fallback, you will need to check until you meet the rules.
  2. From the day after your period until the day you observe peak type fluid, you should check cervical mucus continuously throughout the day and follow all rules for mucus checks. However, you don’t have to check cervical mucus multiple times a day once you observe peak fluid. If you observe peak fluid first thing in the morning, there is no need to keep checking. You have already recorded your most fertile observation for the day.

Those are the basic changes when short cut charting.

Here is an example chart.

This woman does not take her temperatures during her period. She begins taking her temperature on CD6 when menstruation ends. She checks her cervical mucus multiple times a day and follows the rules for checking until CD11. On CD11, CD12, and CD13, she observes eggwhite mucus first thing in the morning and doesn’t check again. On CD14-CD17, she checks mucus multiple times a day because she knows she needs at least a 3 day dry up (P + 3) to confirm ovulation. On CD 15, she has her temperature shift. CD16 is above the coverline. CD17 confirms ovulation because it is at least .4 F above the coverline. Ovulation is officially confirmed with both peak and temperature rules met. She takes her temperature again on CD26 to see if she gets a temperature drop indicating that her menstruation may begin soon.

People Who May Want to Think Twice about Short Cut Charting

Not everyone is suited to short cut charting.

  • Charting for Health: If you are charting for health, you may want to record your signs every day. Odd cervical mucus patterns and temperatures can indicate health issues. If this is your goal for charting, short cut charting may not be right for you.
  • Using Tempdrop: Tempdrop says to wear the device every day. If you don’t, it could disrupt the algorithm. As far as I know, they do not recommend short cut charting at this time. If you use this device, you may not want to short cut chart if you are worried about being at risk of pregnancy.
  • You aren’t confident in charting: If you are not confident in your ability to chart, you should NOT short cut chart. You should be 100% confident in your abilities before attempting this.
  • You are sick: If you are sick, you may want to chart more diligently and stay protected if you are uncertain about your chart interpretation.
  • You are only charting one sign: You NEED two signs in order to short cut chart. If you pick just one, you may be putting yourself at risk of unintended pregnancy. Ovulation must be confirmed with two signs.

Why Fertility Awareness Can Be a Feminist Choice

In this blog, I’m going to refute some of the arguments against fertility awareness. At the risk of losing some of my audience immediately, I have included the word feminist in this blog title. A while back, I got into an argument in a Facebook comment section with someone who was offended by this article that questioned the pill and it’s effect on women. The argument went nowhere fast, but it got me thinking.

In many circles, questioning the birth control pill is tantamount to attacking women’s rights. I have been told that I’m not a good feminist if I don’t support the pill. As someone who fully supports women and their choices, and as someone who only wrote about women in my graduate degree (I did a lot of gender studies topics), this assertion really hurts.

I know that the birth control pill changed many people’s lives. It brought women into the public sphere more than ever before. Women could now work and have sex without fear of pregnancy. It is considered a great achievement. What’s better than that?

The problem is that not many women are not fully informed about what their birth control options are before being put on the pill. In addition, women are put on the pill for reasons other than birth control (things like heavy bleeding, endometriosis and PCOS). However, we now know there there are alternative forms of birth control, and that the pill does not treat gynecological conditions (it masks them).

I was put on the birth control at age 15. I suffered from heavy bleeding, and mostly my mom just wanted me on it out of pregnancy fears. My doctor did not give me any information about the pill or expected side effects. (Some may point out that the packet comes with information, but freshman year aged me from high school did not think to read my birth control pack in depth). I was switched between at least 4 different types of birth control that I remember. The pill gave me migraines with aura (which I recently learned means I should have gotten off of it immediately, there is a link with having a stroke and migraines with aura while on the pill). I would lose vision while at work and had other disturbances in my vision. I also had pretty regular nausea, weird bleeding, depression, and digestive issues.

When I came off the pill for the first time at age 21, everything felt different. My emotions felt different, and my relationships changed. However, I was left with little alternatives for contraception. To me, taking the pill had become synonymous with being responsible, and I felt like I was failing at being a responsible woman and controlling my fertility.

At the same time, I felt so great coming off of it that I knew it wasn’t an option for me any longer. I felt truly like myself for the first time. One line in particular from a short film called Birth Control Your Own Adventure really resonated with me. This film is about how one woman struggles to find the right hormonal birth control. At one point a friend asks her, “How do you even know who you are if you’ve always been on the pill?” And, truly, I don’t think I knew myself while I was on it.

In my search for a better birth control, I stumbled upon fertility awareness methods. I found out that it was possible to track my cycle and determine daily whether I was infertile or infertile. Charting my cycle helped me learn when to expect a period. I had no idea that you could literally count high temperatures after ovulation in order to know when to expect a period. This feeling felt revolutionary, and I wanted to tell everyone.

When I try to share the joy I have found in this method, I often hear a few retorts. I’ve listed a few below along with my responses to these arguments.

The Arguments Against Fertility Awareness

  • Why should I have to plan sex? It seems kind of sexist that you expect women to wait to have sex at certain points in their cycle. On the pill, I can have sex whenever I want.

With fertility awareness methods, you don’t really have to “plan” to have sex. You can, however, choose to have unprotected sex during the infertile times of the cycle. If you are using a secular form of fertility awareness, you can also use condoms or other barriers during other points of the time in the cycle (keeping in mind that these barrier methods have their own efficacy rates).

I think it’s also worth noting how often the average couple has sex. A 2017 study found that the average American couple only has sex once a week. My window for abstaining or using backup protection is only about 9-11 days long. That’s a little over a week and a half a month. (I’m aware that some women have longer fertile windows. This aspect of fertility awareness is very individual and based on your own unique cycle). So, are these women really missing out on having unprotected sex a little less often?

Finally, yes, you can have sex on the pill whenever you want. However, the pill has been known to lower women’s libido and testosterone. Read this article to find out more. So, while you can have sex any time you want on the pill, doesn’t quality of sex matter? You can still have sex pretty often while using fertility awareness, and you may find you enjoy it more too.

  • This method seems really irresponsible. It only takes one time for a woman to get pregnant. What if she decides to have sex in her fertile window?

If someone is fully informed and taught by an instructor, they will know when their fertile window is. Yes, it only takes one time to get pregnant but if you are using fertility awareness, you know when that window is. If she decides to have sex in her fertile window, she may consider a barrier method. Anyone who has sex during their fertile window should be cognizant of the risks of pregnancy. By the way, at a typical use rate of 91%, someone could also have sex in their fertile window without knowing it while on the pill. At least fertility awareness lets women know what is going on in their own body.

  • Isn’t that a super religious method? I don’t care for that. It’s my body and I can have sex when I want.

Natural Family Planning is based in religious teachings. Fertility Awareness is not. Women can pick what they feel comfortable with based on their intentions. You can also still learn from NFP resources even if you aren’t religious. The method works the same regardless of any ideology attached to it.

  • Isn’t that like the rhythm method? You can ovulate at any time!! That’s not gonna work!

No, it’s not. There are many scientific studies on fertility awareness. Here is one. Here is a recent article reviewing all the studies done on FAM.

Women cannot ovulate at any time. Once ovulation has been confirmed in cycle, it is almost totally impossible for it to happen again. Some people say, “What about superfetation??” This is so rare, and almost impossible to prove. If you are confirming ovulation with a double check method, then you can be safely assured that ovulation will not happen again. At the beginning of a cycle before ovulation is confirmed, it could happen at any time. However, there are rules to follow so that women know when to stay protected.

The typical use rates of fertility awareness (when abstinence is practiced in the fertile window) is higher than the typical use rate of the pill. See my about section for more information.

  • But women need the pill for medical conditions, you know like endometriosis? Do you want women to suffer?

Obviously, I don’t want that. What’s important to know here is that the pill doesn’t actually treat endometriosis, or PCOS, or anything else really. It just masks the problem. If you have extreme period pain, you need expert care. The pill may mask problems that would eventually hurt a woman’s health and fertility. In particular, I want to note that if you are suffering from endometriosis, there is help. Join Nancy’s Nook Endometriosis Education to learn what your options are. For PCOS, Alissa Vitti is a great resource. Here is her website.

  • Isn’t it kind of anti-feminist of you to promote this? Women should be able to control their fertility however they choose.

Ah, my favorite question. I do agree that women should be able to control their fertility however they want. My whole shtick is that they should be fully informed in order to make this decision. With the dearth of good sexual education programs in the USA, almost no one is informed enough. Even doctors aren’t informed enough. Many only take one measly birth control class. Fertility awareness instructors do more than that, and they aren’t even in medical school. If more women knew that fertility awareness methods actually worked, they could make the decision to learn more about their body. I believe that all women should learn about fertility awareness methods as soon as they have their first cycle. It is so useful for girls to know what’s going on in their bodies!

I also argue that we have a #righttoovulate. I saw Dr. Lara Briden post this hashtag a while back, and I love it. Ovulation is amazing. And actually, I think it’s sort of anti-feminist to take that away from women, especially if they don’t understand what they are missing. Women are only fertile for around 24 hours a cycle (men’s sperm life makes up the rest of the fertile window). This is such a small window. Don’t we deserve the benefits of ovulation? Read Dr. Lara Briden’s article, “Ode to Ovulation” to learn more. In addition, some people have argued that it takes 7 years to develop fully healthy hormonal cycles, shouldn’t we be able to do that too? Putting women on birth control when they are young prevents so many of those benefits.

**I will note that I understand that hormonal birth control can be invaluable in domestic violence situations, or when a woman really cannot do FAM, or is forced on HBC for unrelated medical conditions. I just want the average woman to know that she has other options.

Conclusion

Most of the arguments against FAM are from uniformed people who don’t know what they don’t know. Fertility Awareness is actually feminist, and it’s certainly not anti-woman. It allows women to take control of their own fertility (here’s a great book on that). What’s more feminist than fully owning and living in your own body, while also avoiding pregnancy and planning it as you choose? Why should women subdue their own fertility when their fertile window is so short?

Do you want to learn more? Visit my other articles and reach out to me.

Free Downloadable Paper Charts

I created some #NFPTA inspired paper charts. These charts can also be used for methods like Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Sensiplan, and other STMs (like the one I teach) too.

I always have trouble finding charts without temperature scales. As someone with lower temperatures than average, the standard temperature scale just doesn’t work for me. These charts have totally blank temperature scales. They will work for F or C charting.

I also included a page with space for cycle notes, method rules, and legends for certain things on the chart.

Click Here to Download a Blank Paper Chart PDF.

Click Here to Download a Blank Paper Chart Microsoft Word Document

If you don’t want to print them, screenshot the PDF of the chart and paste it into a program like Microsoft Paint. You can fill in the squares of the chart yourself to make your own kind of chart pattern.

An Example of a Simple Chart

digital chart

  • Red = Menstruation
  • Tan = Dry Day
  • Yellow = Non Peak Mucus
  • Green = Pink Mucus
  • Pink = Unprotected Sex
  • Blue = Protected Sex

 

Why I Do Not Suggest Using Natural Cycles

Natural Cycles costs around $10 a month, or $80 a year. The app claims to be able to tell you when you are and when you aren’t fertile by using basal body temperature (ovulation strips are optional).

This claim is not true. Natural Cycles only has a 93% typical use efficacy rating. After my experience, it seems even lower than that. I used Natural Cycles for 3 cycles and compared it with the sympto-thermal (STM) method that I use. The method I use is 98.2% effective with typical use.

As a long term charter, I use a doering rule (a rule to limit dry days). My last safe day for unprotected sex is day 5 of my cycle (usually the last day of my period) because of this rule. This rule is included in the high efficacy rates of the sympto-thermal method.

The charts that follow show when my method said I was safe versus when Natural cycles told me I was.

I have compiled 3 of my charts for comparison. During more than one cycle, Natural Cycles told me I could have unprotected sex on the day near my PEAK fertility. Peak day is the most likely day of ovulation, while not always the exact day of ovulation. Suffice it to say, the app told me that I could have unprotected sex on a day when pregnancy was still possible.

September Cycle (First with Natural Cycles)

On my very first cycle, without any knowledge of whether I had ovulated the cycle before, Natural Cycles gave me clearance to have unprotected sex during my period.

This is totally wrong. Without having confirmed ovulation the previous cycle, there is no way to know if this bleeding is safe or not.

The next BIG issue is that it told me I could have unprotected sex on the second day of my temperature shift (CD17). There is a huge chance that my egg could have still been viable and hanging at this point.

With the symptothermal method, you CANNOT confirm ovulation before 3 high temperatures.

The chart below has my actual safe days as calculated by doering. (Keeping in mind that I did confirm ovulation the cycle before so my period is safe. However, there is no way that Natural Cycles could have known that).

september 1

October Cycle (Second with Natural Cycles)

late september nc cycle

For the second time, Natural Cycles gives me a green light on the second day of a temperature shift in the morning. My egg could still be around! In fact, this green light was less than 24 hours after my peak day!

october 1 cycle

November Cycle (Third with Natural Cycles)

late october nc cycle

During this cycle, Natural Cycles decides that I’m not safe on CD 5 (I am).

It also gives me a green light on CD20. However, I would not be safe to have unprotected sex until the evening of CD21 due to peak day occurring on the first day of my shift.

oct 27 cycle

Conclusion

Natural Cycles does not follow the rules for STM charting.

When charting with STM, one must always wait until the evening of P + 3 and T +3 (three high temperatures and three days after peak). Both rules have to be met before you can have any unprotected sex. With weaker shifts, this wait can be a day longer.

Natural Cycles does not include cervical mucus. Since cervical mucus is what opens the fertile window (and not temperatures), this causes the method to lose efficacy. Cervical mucus is what allows sperm to survive and fertilize an egg. When cervical mucus dries up for 3 days and 3 high temperatures above the coverline occur, ovulation is confirmed for the cycle. Any app that leaves out cervical mucus, but still lets women have green days pre-ovulation, is misleading women and putting them at extra risk of pregnancy.

Another worrisome aspect of the app is that it frequently gave me a green light on the morning of the second high temperature. Temperatures can easily be disrupted, and new charters may not know their normal temperature ranges. Women need to be certain that ovulation is over before having unprotected sex. The third high temp (along with the third day after peak day) lets you know that ovulation is confirmed. Green lights after only one or two temps can put women at a risk of pregnancy, especially when cervical mucus isn’t taken into consideration. In fact, most STM methods require 4 high temps for women who don’t use cervical mucus (or cervical position). The reason that Natural Cycles may interpret shifts wrong is because of its static coverline. Some women may not see much of a change in coverlines from cycle to cycle. However, others may see a change. Having a static coverline can give users green days before they actually have a temperature shift.

Lastly, the app is misleading because it marks the day of ovulation. The only way to truly determine the exact day of ovulation is with a well-timed ultrasound. In fact, ovulation is most likely to occur over a period of about 4 days. Here is the link to the study that discusses which 4 days are the most likely. Since ovulation is likely up to day 2 of a temperature shift, this proves even further why it is so risky for Natural Cycles to give green lights on day 2 of a shift. In the other 9% of cases not hightlighted in the green box below, ovulation happened up to 3 or 4 days before a shift. This is why mucus is so important to record pre-confirmed ovulation. If there is mucus present, the sperm may live. Natural Cycles does not take enough factors into account when drawing its fertile window.

ovulation


If you are coming off of hormonal birth control or postpartum, this app may be an even worse choice for you. Those coming off hormonal birth control and postpartum may experience cycles changing in length and unexpected early ovulation even more so than people with regular cycles.

Anecdotally, I have seen many risky charts from Natural Cycles in the group I help moderate. You can find a link to this group here.

I highly recommend learning a real sympto-thermal method from an instructor and not wasting your money on the Natural Cycles app. I found it quite shocking that is was not very conservative when first learning about my cycles.

Check out my last post to learn how to start charting on a budget. Click here to sign up to learn to chart with me when my course opens in September 2019.

Here are some other articles on Natural Cycles that I recommend reading:

Natural Cycles’ FDA Approval: What’s The Big Deal?

5 Reasons I Don’t Use Daysy Or Natural Cycles

‘I felt colossally naive’: The Backlash Against the Birth Control App

How To Learn FAM On A Budget (And Why You Don’t Need Expensive Femtech to Chart)

When I first stumbled on the sympto-thermal method, I was lucky enough to find Groove‘s website. It intrigued me, and when I tried to learn more, I quickly came across Natural Cycles (an app recently approved by the FDA). I didn’t know much about fertility at the time, but the price of Natural Cycles turned me off. I also ran into into the Daysy thermometer and saw that it cost over $300.

It had me like…

Groove’s website had shown me that I could do the method for free. Luckily, a friend recommended Kindara to me soon after. Someone in the Kindara community told me to buy Taking Charge of Your Fertility and to join Fertility Awareness Method of Birth Control on Facebook. Thus, my charting journey began with a fifteen dollar book and a ten dollar thermometer. As a broke graduate student, it was an investment that I could afford.

I’m not alone in having Natural Cycles or Daysy catch my eye with an advertisement. Many women begin their charting journey when they are drawn in by the advertisements of femtech or “female fertility” devices. These devices promise to interpret a woman’s fertility for her. Rather than teaching women how to tell when they may be fertile, these devices rely on algorithms and ignore other vital fertility signs.

While I am glad that these devices get the word out about natural birth control, the problem with these devices is twofold. To begin with, the devices are pricey investments that many families may not be able to afford. Many people may be misled and believe that it costs hundreds of dollars to use a form of fertility awareness. Others may buy the device without realizing that the devices do not offer the same accuracy as a real sympto-thermal method. They don’t offer the close instruction that many women with troubling cycles may need (especially those confusing cycles that can happen post-pill).

Natural Cycles costs around $10 per month, or around $80 annually, while Daysy costs several hundred dollars. Neither app takes into account cervical mucus (the thing that keeps sperm alive, ie what allows pregnancy to occur). It is beyond me why they don’t think to educate women about this vital fertility sign, but it is my belief that women should be fully informed and able to interpret their own fertility signs. These devices don’t promote empowerment, but instead ask for women to blindly rely on femtech devices. It is easy to be misled by advertisements, and women may not run into many peer-reviewed studies if they aren’t looking. Recent studies have shed light on the true efficacy of devices like Daysy. Click here to read about a recent incident regarding how Daysy is misleading (and here to read the peer-reviewed study) regarding the efficacy.

Natural Cycles is very open about its 93% typical use efficacy rating, but why would women pay ten dollars a month for a lower efficacy than what they could achieve by working with an instructor? I think that sometimes when women buy these devices they have come into charting with little knowledge of their own fertility and may feel that they can trust technology over their own interpretations of their fertility. Ladies, we are smart. With a little help and guidance, we can learn to determine our own fertile windows with a more reliable method than this device. Fertility awareness can be really empowering, and knowing your own body is a fantastic feeling.

When women are taught by an instructor, the sympto-thermal method typical use efficacy rating is 98.2% (self-learning has not been studied for efficacy). By working under an instructor, women can achieve self-reliance when it comes to interpreting their cycle. Instructors can help clear up tricky charts, and help women understand their own cervical mucus. A one time investment in instruction can provide a woman with years of reliable birth control. After a major life event like the birth of a baby or during times of hormonal change, women may need support with charting again. Otherwise, learning how to chart can serve a woman until menopause. Finding an instructor and buying a reasonably priced thermometer is both cheaper and more empowering than using a femtech device.

So, what’s my point?

Ditch the femtech.

You can learn NFP, and you can do it on a budget without expensive devices (and it’ll be a more reliable method of birth control).

In this next section, I’ll show you the three first steps to get started.

The following advice is geared more towards those trying to avoid pregnancy or trying to achieve pregnancy without any special circumstances (not recently postpartum, breastfeeding). I also only point towards sympto-thermal resources. Look for a future post geared towards those charting with special circumstances.

Step 1: Find an Instructor

charitng

Symptopro and Couple to Couple League offer very reasonably priced courses that can be taken online or through video chat / phone calls. Both of these offer instructor support (all of these courses are around $75-$150, but rates may vary for individual teachers). These two organizations also offer their own app (or website) to use with the method.

Besides the organizations I listed, there are also many freelance NFP teachers. FAMBC offers a list of instructors. You may also stumble on a few on Instagram by searching for things like #naturalfamilyplanning and #fertilityawareness.

I have plans to offer services that are affordable to someone who makes minimum wage. My basic charting help and course will cost $75. It is my belief that all women should be able to afford to learn how to interpret their own fertility. It is such a vital skill for navigating our lives. If you would like to work with me when my courses open in the September 2019, please fill out this —> form <—

You may wonder why anyone would pay for an instructor if it is possible to self-teach. When I first started charting, I didn’t know that the perfect efficacy rating of NFP was based on the Sensiplan study which followed people who had been taught by an instructor. Women who are self taught and lack a community may not reach the perfect efficacy level. Similarly, when women trust femtech devices blindly, it may result in less than perfect efficacy rates. When women are taught by an instructor, the sympto-thermal method typical use rate is 98.2%.

Step 2: Get a Thermometer

thermometer

If you are looking for a thermometer, any basal body temperature (BBT) thermometer will do. Just make sure that it is not a fever thermometer. The precision of the BBT thermometer is necessary. Check your local pharmacies or look online. My personal favorite thermometer is the iSnow. It holds sixty temperatures, has a backlight, an alarm, and a pretty quiet beep. You can find multiple versions of it in the twenty dollar price range.

If you want a cheap thermometer without a backlight, the mabis is great. This was my first thermometer.

You can also use a glass BBT. These take a little longer to take your temperature. Check for them in stores near you or online.

3. Pick an App / Way to Chart

fertlity friend

If your method doesn’t come with an app, check out my blog post “Top 3 Fertility Awareness Mobile Charting Apps” to help you decide which one is right for you.

Look into paper charting. Pen and Paper Fertility releases some great journals. You can also find some free charts to download on TCOYF’s website.

You can also try spreadsheet charting. Look for my blog post on how to get started with Google Sheets.