What is the Fertility Awareness Method?
May 6 2021 | Written by Miranda van Haarlem (She/Her)
Growing up, I truly thought the only birth control methods out there were the contraceptive pill and condoms. Because I hate relying on man for anything, I decided to go on the pill at the age of 14. Fast forward almost 10 years later, I am off the pill but still use a hormonal method of birth control, known as the IUD. Through studying sexuality and fertility, I discovered a method of birth control that involves no hormones and with real life use (meaning we aren’t perfect) can range from 76% to 88% in effectiveness. To put that into perspective, the male condom effectiveness for real life use is 85%. This method is known as the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). It consists of tracking your cycle in order to know exactly when you are ovulating. Through tracking your ovulation, you will know when you are fertile and therefore can choose to avoid sex leading up to and during ouvualtion, or you may simply use another form of birth control such as male or female condoms during this time. Throughout this blog we will go over how to track your fertility using three primary fertility signs and then how you can use these fertility signs to chart your cycle. While this method may start to seem like a lot of work (when compared to others), it requires you to really get to know your cycle and be in touch with your body, which some may see as a positive add on. As usual, Planned Parenthood suggests to use another form of birth control when you are starting to figure out your cycle and fertile days.
The Three Primary Fertility Signs
First of all, if you are interested in tracking your fertility signs I highly recommend purchasing the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. A large majority of the information you will find in this blog post is from this book.
The three primary fertility signs that all ovulating individuals produce are known as cervical fluid, waking (basal body) temperature and cervical position. We will go over each one of these in detail.
1. Cervical Fluid
As mentioned in one of our previous blog’s WAP 101 - A Guide to Lubrication, cervical fluid is one of the fluids that is produced in the body. Taking Charge of Your Fertility describes cervical fluid as the following,
“Cervical fluid is to woman what seminal fluid is to the man. Since men are always fertile, they produce seminal fluid every day. Women, on the other hand, are fertile only a fews days around ovulation, and therefore produce the substance necessary for sperm nourishment and mobility only during that time.”
Whether you have noticed it or not, cervical fluid changes depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. Below you will find a list of how your cervical fluid can change throughout your cycle.
Sensation: dry, wet, moist etc.
Stretchiness can vary
Colour: white, yellow, clear, cloudy, opaque etc.
Texture: sticky, thick, tacky, milky, creamy, gummy, slippery etc.
All of these factors form different types of cervical fluid and go by certain names consisting of dry, sticky, creamy, and eggwhite. Through identifying your type of cervical fluid you are able to determine your level of fertility. The following chart is a guide to the types of cervical fluids.
* Information from Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
Wait, how do I check my cervical fluid?
There are a couple different ways you can check your cervical fluid. You can check it manually by inserting a clean finger into your vagina and then removing your finger in order to note the colour and texture. You can also wipe the opening of your vagina with white toilet tissue.
It is a lot of information and I know it can be very overwhelming! Just remember it may take months to truly notice the changes in your body and discover what stinky or dry cervical mucus means for you. I encourage individuals to check out the following website. Here you can view photos of actual cervixes and cyclical fluid throughout the menstrual cycle. The following page tracks a 25-year olds who does not use hormonal birth control, and has not given birth throughout her menstrual cycle and you are able to view the changes in her cervical fluid.
2. Waking (Basal Body) Temperature
The second primary fertility sign is known as waking temperature or basal body temperature. Body temperature changes naturally by a couple degrees throughout the menstrual cycle. A menstruators temperature tends to be lower in the first part of their cycle ranging from 97.0 to 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit. After ovulation menstruators have a spike in body temperature due to the heat-inducing hormone progesterone that can be 97.8 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. Pictured below is an example of a typical waking temperature pattern. You are able to see a spike in temperature on day 15, meaning ovulation most likely occurred on day 14. That being said, a rise in waking temperature can signify that ovulation has already occurred, meaning one must track the other two signs of fertility (cervical fluid and cervical position) in order to reveal impending ovulation.
Wait, how do I check my basal body temperature?
In order to check your basal body temperature you must take your temperature first thing in the morning, before drinking water or getting out of bed. It is important to get a basal body thermometer as changes in your temperature will be quite small. After taking your temperature be sure to keep track of it, whether that via a charting app, a notepad or a FAM chart (more about these later).
3. Cervical Position
The final primary sign of fertility is cervical position. Tracking your cervical position is completely optional if you are tracking your cervical fluid and basal body temperature. You may be thinking, what, my cervical position changes in my menstrual cycle? Heck yes it does. Just like your cervical fluid, the cervix prepares for a potential pregnancy every cycle. It does this by changing its position in order to have the perfect entryway for sperm to pass through. The cervix is usually firm, low and closed directly after menstruation, but prior to ovulation the cervix becomes soft, high, open and wet. The graphic below from VeryWell Family shows the difference in cervical positions.
Wait, how do I check my cervical position?
The matter of checking one's cervical position can be overwhelming and I want to repeat that this is an optional tracking tool in the FAM if you are already tracking your cervical fluid and basal body temperature. If you are interested in tracking your cervical position the steps are listed below:
Wash your hands and find a comfortable position - similar to the position you would get into to insert a tampon.
Slowly reach your index or middle finger inside your vagina as far as you can reach - if this becomes uncomfortable at any time stop, take a breath and decide if you would like to continue or not.
Your vagina should have a spongy feeling to it but when you reach something that feels firm and round, you have reached your cervix.
If you are not close to ovulating it should be easier to find your cervix as it is low, firm and closed, but if you are ovulating your cervix might be higher and softer, making it harder to find.
Record your cervical position whether that via a charting app, a notepad or a FAM chart (more about these later).
Just to note: not every menstruator feels comfortable checking their cervix or putting their own fingers inside of their vagina - this is perfectly normal and doesn’t mean you are unable to use the fertility awareness method of birth control.
How to Observe and Chart Your Fertility Signs
If only there was a way to chart your cervical fluid, basal body temperature and maybe your cervical position all in one place… There is! There are actually multiple ways of doing this. The first way is by an application you can download onto your phone. Apps such as Groove, Kindara, Read Your Body, Fertility Friend, and many more allow you to keep track of your period as well as fertility signs. Some of these apps are subscription-based, which means they cost money. Some even link to certain basal body thermometers via bluetooth and automatically insert your temperature for you! I recommend playing around with these apps through their free trail periods to figure out which one works best for you.
Many menstruators prefer to track their fertility signs by a FAM chart. Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler offers free downloads for multiple charts in Fahrenheit and Celsius. Those can be found here. There are many other free downloadable charts that can be found here as well. These charts allow you to keep track of your periods as well as your basal body temperature, cervical fluid and cervical position, all which help in determining ovulation.
The fertility awareness method definitely is not for everyone, but I believe it is essential to have access to all the information regarding the forms of birth control so one is able to make the best decision for themselves. Below, I have included a small pros and cons chart for the fertility awareness method but as always, do what is best for you.