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How Effective is Fertility Awareness?

How Effective is Fertility Awareness?

January 03, 2024

How Effective is Fertility Awareness?

You may be considering using fertility awareness based methods (FABMs) for family planning. But perhaps you’re wondering if they are as effective as some hormonal contraceptives. Here’s some reassurance, one study found the Symptothermal Method of fertility awareness to be 99.6% effective in preventing pregnancy. So, if you want a reliable method of family planning, without the negative side effects of hormonal contraceptives, read on!

How do fertility awareness methods work for family planning purposes?

Did you know: you can only get pregnant about 5-7 days per cycle? This accounts for the time cervical mucus keeps sperm alive and the time that the egg survives. 

Fertility awareness works by identifying your ‘fertile window’. The fertile window is the time when it is possible to get pregnant. This includes the day of ovulation, and the days surrounding it. By charting your daily fertility indicators you can determine when you are fertile and make decisions based on your pregnancy intentions.

Unprotected intercourse outside of your fertile window cannot lead to a pregnancy when there is no egg to fertilize. However, you and your partner must decide which alternative contraceptives to use, if you decide to have intercourse during your fertile window. 

What can impact the effectiveness of FABM?

Unlike hormonal contraceptives, the effectiveness of fertility awareness is in your hands.
man and woman holding hands

Based on your pregnancy intentions, you can understand where you are in your cycle and how likely pregnancy is at any given time; putting you in control. 

There are many things you can do to increase effectiveness and ensure a successful experience. This includes: 

  • Learning a method of fertility awareness thoroughly before relying on it for birth control.
  • Working with a certified instructor to ensure you understand the method correctly.
  • Tracking your menstrual cycle for at least 3 cycles before relying on it for birth control.
  • Avoiding intercourse during your fertile window.
  • Using alternative choices in your fertile window correctly or consider combining a couple of options. 
  • Making sure both you and your partner are fully committed to using fertility awareness and are willing to communicate throughout your entire cycle.
  • Following the rules of your chosen method 100% of the time.

Remember that taking risks or cutting corners will compromise effectiveness. 

    What are my options during the fertile window?

    Fertility awareness is only as effective as the alternative practice you use in your fertile window - if your chosen alternate option fails, the risk of pregnancy is high. Here are some options to use alone or in combination, during your fertile window. Combining any of these will increase their effectiveness. 

    Note that in the following options perfect use is based on proper use; typical use accounts for user error.

    • Male Condoms: 98% perfect use, 85% typical use
    • Withdrawal: 96% perfect use, 78% typical use

    Withdrawal or the “pull out method” may be effective if your partner urinates before each round of intercourse and ejaculates far away from the vulva. It is important to note that some studies have shown that  some men have sperm in their pre-ejaculate, making withdrawal less effective for those people.

    • Diaphragm: 84-94% effective
    • Cervical Cap: 83-77% effective

    To be effective, most diaphragms and cervical caps need to be fitted by a professional clinician. Adding a spermicide will increase effectiveness.

    • Alternative sex: the effectiveness varies; there is no risk of pregnancy without genital contact

    (This includes any type of non-PIV sex – oral sex, outercourse, toys etc.)

    Is FAM for you? 

    Using fertility awareness for family planning isn’t as restrictive as it may seem. On the contrary, the fertile window is an opportunity to introduce playfulness and creativity to your sex life. Fertility awareness does not impact your sex drive, unlike some methods of hormonal contraceptives, and it allows you to experience the full range of your sexuality.

    This being said, fertility awareness is not for everyone. If you’re not willing to use alternate methods (condoms, withdrawal, diaphragms, alternative sex) or avoid intercourse during your fertile window, you will compromise the effectiveness. Similarly, if your partner is not on board and willing to communicate, this may not be the method for you. 

    What is important is that you have all of the information about the choices that are available to you and that you weigh the pros and cons so you can make an informed choice. For couples who want to avoid pregnancy, it’s important to understand the how and why behind fertility awareness effectiveness. For more information about fertility awareness, check out Tempdrop's Starter Guide written by fertility awareness educators, available on the resources page on our website. 


    Natalie Daudet

    Nathalie Daudet is a social worker and FEMM instructor based in Winnipeg, Canada. She discovered fertility awareness after searching high and low for a non-hormonal method of birth control. After learning the magic of fertility awareness and the gift of body literacy, she decided to pursue formal fertility awareness training and share the knowledge of fertility awareness with women looking for a natural birth control option. Fertility Awareness Project is the hub for Nathalie’s FEMM classes in both group and individual formats, online and in person in Winnipeg. If you love this post and would like to thank Nathalie, shop Tempdrop with Nathalie's unique referral link

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