For as long as humans have existed (and reproduced), women have attempted to control fertility and conception with various means. This means that the history of fertility awareness is much longer than what can fit into a single blog post! Throughout history, women have used herbs and barrier technologies to avoid pregnancy, and even evaluated the positioning and rhythm of the moon to understand the timing of ovulation.
Understanding Hormonal Birth Control
In the 1950s, the birth control pill was first introduced, and the world was changed forever. As more and more women began working outside of the house, "the pill," as it became known, allowed women to effectively delay the childbearing years (if desired). This gave a generation of women much more control over the timing of growing their families, as well as their careers.
While the pill did advance the status of women, many people are beginning to question and ask, at what cost? Today, more and more people are looking for secular, non-hormonal ways to manage their fertility.
It wouldn’t surprise me if women knew long before scientists officially discovered the times in the month in which pregnancy was most likely, as women have always been innately connected to their bodies and to the cycles within themselves and nature. However, it wasn’t until the 1850s in the UK when the connection between cervical mucus (secretions from crypts in the cervix) and conception was discovered.
We know now that different types of cervical mucus correlate with the levels of estrogen and progesterone present in one's body. As estrogen rises, and ovulation approaches, the type of cervical mucus changes to become more fertile. Cervical mucus helps sperm to stay alive and travel to meet an egg, and the more fertile it is, the more successful it is at doing its job.
Basal Body Temperature
In 1905 scientists correlated an upward shift in basal body temperature (BBT) with the event of ovulation. That shift in basal body temperature indicates ovulation has happened due to the combination of decreasing estrogen and increasing progesterone, resulting in a higher resting temperature.
Early thermometers were made with alcohol or mercury. Nowadays some people still use mercury thermometers as their basal body thermometer, though the most common options being digital thermometers, or even ones that sync via bluetooth with your smartphone (like Tempdrop!).
About 30 years after the scientific discovery of the shift in basal body temperature, a temperature-only method of birth control was created in Germany. Meanwhile, the calendar and temperature methods were endorsed by the Catholic church, which was instrumental in contributing resources and research towards the Catholic Natural Family Planning approach of fertility awareness.
Symptothermal Method Development
In 1951 the Symptothermal method of fertility awareness was developed in Austria, combining both basal body temperature and cervical mucus for the full picture of fertility throughout the cycle. This was followed closely by the Billings Ovulation Method, a cervical mucus only method, developed in Australia. All of this was before the creation of the first hormonal contraceptives.
Nowadays women are increasingly looking for mainstream methods of fertility awareness based methods. This means as technology expands, so do options for basal body thermometers - and a whole new category of technology called “femtech” (like our friends over at Proov). It raises the question of introducing technology and apps into a very intimate part of our lives. There exists a fine balance between trusting our bodies, doing our own education and empowerment, and relying on app algorithms.
In an ideal world, I believe technology can enhance our body literacy, not replace it! After all, discovering the connection with basal body temperature and ovulation was one form of technology that increased women’s capacity to understand their bodies. As a fertility awareness educator, apps and devices that enhance body literacy (and don’t just do the work for you) are ideal when it comes to fertility awareness.
Present Day: Tempdrop
This leads us to our current day. More and more technologies monitoring fertility and hormone levels are being developed and released, including apps and devices intended entirely for gathering data, generating insights, and tracking women’s health. This includes Tempdrop, the wearable basal body thermometer, which launched initially in 2017. Tempdrop and continues to grow and develop with more women using the device. You can find out more about how Tempdrop works in this article. This information can be empowering and help women feel empowered by, rather than burdened, by their fertility.
The most wonderful thing about tracking your fertility with basal body temperature is that it isn’t inherently difficult or complicated. While we know much more about fertility than we did in the 1850s, the general idea of tracking basal body temperature and cervical mucus is the same. It requires you to get to know your body and the very basic cyclical concept of ovulation and menstruation. Thank goodness we now have technologies to make measuring this easier, like Tempdrop!
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.