Birth Control FAQs

What are the differences between the various methods of natural birth control?

    * Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is the generic term used to describe all scientifically validated, natural forms of contraception. It involves the daily charting of the primary fertility signs which indicate the fertile phase surrounding ovulation. The three signs which are charted are waking temperature, cervical fluid, and cervical changes. It allows for the use of a barrier contraceptive during the woman's fertile phase.
    * Natural Family Planning (NFP) is virtually the same as the Fertility Awareness Method, but it requires abstinence during the fertile phase. It is typically practiced by those individuals who think of the method more as a way of life and tend to be more religious-oriented.
    * The Rhythm Method is an antiquated, obsolete, ineffective method of contraception which is based upon a strictly mathematical computation of the average of a woman's past cycle lengths, with absolutely no daily observations to determine impending ovulation of each individual cycle . The Rhythm Method is the greatest obstacle to the acceptance of FAM and NFP as valid, effective methods of contraception, since it is often erroneously associated with the two, even though FAM and NFP are based upon scientifically validated principles which treat each cycle uniquely.

How effective is FAM as a method of birth control?

If used perfectly every cycle, including abstaining during the fertile phase, the FAM rules have a failure rate of approximately 2% per year. This is considered lower than any barrier method, except the condom, which is also 2%. But unlike other methods of contraception, this method is the most unforgiving, since, if you make a mistake, by definition, it will occur during your most fertile time. So in actual use, failure rates may be higher, depending on the motivation of the couple to adhere to the rules.

How many days do you have to abstain when using the Fertility Awareness Method for birth control?

You never have to abstain when using the Fertility Awareness Method. This is different than Natural Family Planning, which does require abstinence during the fertile phase. However, if you do have intercourse when you are potentially fertile, you must use a barrier method of contraception. The fertile phase will vary, but in practice this means that the average couple would have to use barriers about 8-10 days per cycle. The average cycle is 27-31 days, and thus for the typical couple, barriers (or abstinence) would be required for about 30% of the cycle.