Monday, April 02, 2007

Fertility Awareness Method, Part 2

All that orgasm talk to say that I hate most forms of birth control. This is a problem if you're going to go around being eggy and put yourself in direct contact with semen on a fairly regular basis.

Read my disclaimers first.*

Every once in a while I have considered options besides condoms. But they're all so so so fucking awful. I do not care how safe doctors say the pill is, I have talked to too many women who just lost interest in having sex at all once they'd been on it for a while. While not having sex is a very effective way to avoid pregnancy, it's not my preferred way. So that cuts out the pill, the patch, the nuvaring, and shots.

Then you've got the poisons. This has always been difficult for me to wrap my head around. So you want me to take this film/jelly/jam/sponge/froth full of a noxious substance and put it in continuous contact with a semi-permeable membrane and highly sensitive part of my body? The one time I used a sponge, my partner’s mouth went numb after he went down on me. Sexy.

As a class, the poisons are more horrifying to me than jabbing my ass muscle full of hormones. Moo. Horrifying like the thought of eating a chili dog from the 7-11 is horrifying. Sure people do it, and have every right to do it, but jesus god, do you know what you’re putting inside yourself?

I got excited about the cervical cap and diaphragm for about 10 seconds until I realized I would have to use a poison to make them decently effective.

I also occasionally have the same blip of excitement for the IUD/IUS (the Intrauterine System). Not many side-effects any more. Not poisonous. The IUD doesn’t involve hormones and is supposed to keep you on your usual/unusual cycle. But something always kind of horrified me about it too. Maybe the idea of uterine perforation? And heavier crampier periods? Eesh. Not to mention that we’re a little fuzzy on how the copper ones work. They create an environment inhospitable for implantation. I don’t really want any part of my body to be inhospitable.

All of these options require me to treat my body like it is the enemy. Yeah, sure, there are times where I feel like that, but taking that as a business rule for my day-to-day operations? It is diametrically opposed to the way I have managed to develop myself as a sexual being. It is detrimental to my further growth as a happy, creative, satisfied sexual being.

All those forms of birth control would lead to behaviour patterns that would make me a bad lay.

So. That leaves condoms. And sure, I like condoms, you know, they're fine. Mostly. As I've gotten older, my skin has gotten more sensitive and lube that was fine is now not fine, and condoms have always dried me out, necessitating the fairly generous application of lube.

I've tried the female condom and it's a decent option, but it's a $4 fuck and I'm always worried that it's slipped in. You cannot worry and come at the same time. Probably if I used them more, I’d get over that. I dunno. And I’m not sure why I think that great sex isn’t worth $4, but there you go. There is something about the price-point that deters me.

If I’m going to be honest, sometimes I just want to feel some skin up in there.

You might think I’d exhausted the options. However.

Years ago now, I heard of this other thing called the Fertility Awareness Method. I read a few books, went to a seminar, read a bunch of websites. I read that it involves checking your temperature every morning, checking the position of your cervix once a day, and noting what kind of cervical fluid you’ve got going on about 3 x a day. I read that you need to chart for 3 to 6 months before you can trust it as a form of birth control.

In other words, I read that it was too damn complicated for me to manage. And too time consuming, and not enough immediate gratification. Six months? I’m all for planning ahead, but really. Not to mention the potential for human error. What if I interpreted the results wrong? What if I said my cervical fluid was sticky when really it was creamy?

As with any form of contraception, its only as effective as the people using it, and there are a lot more details to fuck up with this system than rolling on a condom. But hell, I've been using condoms on their own for years, and their effectiveness rate with typical use is only 88%. Obviously, I can live with a pretty high margin of error.

The other thing that kind of put me off about FAM are the people who advocate its use. They're a little evangelical. Like yoga people. They rave about FAM like it’s the best thing that ever happened to anyone. That puts me off. Like it put me off yoga until I became one of those yoga evangelicals.

My decision to join the wave has probably been happening gradually, but this fall, the tide of “No because. No because, no because…” seemed to recede suddenly and definitively. While I was with the Great Dater last fall, I thought, I’m going to start charting.

But never did. There were two things that had to change before I went from "yes, I will do this" to actually getting my shit together.

I decided that FAM would likely never be an all or nothing form of contraception for me. I would likely use it to limit the number of days I used condoms, and would be very conservative about which days I would consider infertile.

I decided, most importantly, that I would only start FAM if I were doing it for myself. If my primary motivation was to better understand the inner workings of my body, the 6 month goal was not relevant, because every day would either tell me something new or confirm what I already knew. This would likely make me want to treat my body better in general, and would certainly add to the store of information that makes me have orgasms. Thus, the main motivating factor would not just be codomless fucking, and thus would not be dependent on whether I had a male partner or not.

These things clicked. Though weirdly, the third part is that after all the "I’m doing it for myself!" I started dating Eric, who is a kind and thoughtful person. He was genuinely interested when I told him I was starting. He asked questions about it. He read up on it. He asks for the temperature report. We look at my chart together and he asks me questions about how my body works. It’s endearing beyond belief. He blows off my wonderment at his interest by saying he’s got a vested interest, but I’ve had other partners who had a vested interest and wouldn’t have really cared to know the ins and outs of my beautiful cycle of renewal (thanks to Steve for that phrase).

The stars thus aligned, I printed off a chart and bought myself a basal thermometer 6 weeks ago.

It’s pink because it’s for the ladies.

Every morning, my alarm goes off at 6 am. I almost wake up, paw around for my thermometer, stick it in my mouth and hit the on button. It beeps once. I clamp my jaw shut and fall back asleep until it beeps belligerently. I take the thermometer out, turn on the light, check the numbers and scribble them down on the back of the chart, which is tri-folded and placed under the pen, just so, on my night table. I turn the light off and fall back asleep for an hour or so.

Through the day, I wash my hands before I go into the stall, put my fingers up my cunt and see what the fluid around my cervix is like. I decide how the fluid should be classified and make a mental note. At the same time, I check how high my cervix is and how soft it is. I’m still trying to figure out what feeling is equal to SHOW (soft high open wet) which means DANGER! FERTILITY!

FAM also involves charts, which I like.

But in the end, this is what has converted me: even after only a month, I’m starting to get a better handle on how my body works. I look forward to learning what my temperature pattern is. Checking my fluids 3x per day keeps me in touch with my vag instead of ignoring it unless it's feeling really good or really bad.

I think I may take to FAM the way I took to the Wahl. I may be an FAM convert the way that I’m a yoga convert.

Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood Ottawa (call them for info, they're lovely)
Canadian Federation of Sexual Health
Fertility UK

*One, this is only an issue when I find someone longer term. Condoms and dams go without saying for people with whom I'm only spending a few hours. Two, what follows below is only what’s right for me. Women have the right to choose the birth control that works best for them. And they have the right to base that decision on having access to complete information about every type of contraception before they make that decision.

**This site is good for straight up STI and contraceptive info, but DO NOT read it for info on FAM. They only talk about “Natural Family Planning,” which is close but not the same, and while the pill is presented as 99% effective, NFP is presented as 2% ineffective. Seems to be the only one where the smaller number is the number given. How many people are going to gloss that and think, Wow, only two percent? What are those hippies thinking? As well, the only link the website provides is to a group called Serena that has “teacher-couples” (hyphenated, I kid you not) and seems geared oppressively towards straight people and states that “The respect for individuals and for human life from conception is central to our philosophy.” Read: anti-choice. I’m not sure I would get along so well with them.


Evey said...

Yeah, sexuality andu is pretty conservative. They have no info on abortion because that way, the schools will use it to teach their kids about STIs. So I put up with it and work at their booth. Good pay, fun T-shirt. Who wouldnt love getting paid to talk about sex all day?

PPO = coolest place ever. Everyone is SO nice.

Andrea SK said...

Awesome, awesome post.

suge said...

These were awesome, Megan!

I used to think I was selfish and unreasonable in my refusal to use birth control and my insistance that my ex use condoms instead. But all the "convenient" options all seemed inherently violent to me, with the potential to cause harm to the parts of my body where I hope to one day grow some babies. Now I feel strengthened in my resolve to not fuck with my boy's natural cycles and encouraged to chart them instead. thanks!!

Asteroidea Press said...

hey thanks! glad you liked it and glad, sue, that it stregthened your resolve against "convenience"!

evey: they're definitely working from a medical model, but i use the website pretty frequently for stats. it's good info, generally. that totally sucks about not including info on abortion. especially when their only link for FAM, excuse me, NFP is to an anti-choice group.

hmm, i'm sensing a letter coming on.

Jamine said...


Well it figures a yoga teacher would come up with this type of response...

I did this method years ago and learned so much that I became sensitive to other signs of ovulation that once I got the pattern down and was confident that I was reading the signs correctly, I gave up the charting and checking my temperature. It's sometimes called the "french method" when once your sure you've ovulated, you can go for 2 weeks until your period starts again.

Anyways, you go girl!

zoom! said...

**I’m not sure why I think that great sex isn’t worth $4 **

That line cracked me up. But I know exactly what you mean.

Anonymous said...

Turns out now has info on both Fertility Awareness Method and Natural Family Planning on their site.