We’ve covered menstrual cycle charting/fertility charting a number of times on our show. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to catch those episodes, here’s some info for you. Its written as though you are a fertile person with a female reproductive system that has sex with a fertile person with a male reproductive system but this is information that could be of interest to a range of other people!
Cycle charting is a form of natural birth control. When practiced properly, it is 99.6% effective. It is also a means of conceiving – for healthy partners, pregnancy is guaranteed within six cycles when using fertility charting.
So, this is clearly not the rhythm method. What is it then? While the rhythm method works on a template to predict fertility (it works based on other people’s averages or on your previous averages along with knowledge about the usual time in an average cycle when ovulation occurs), cycle charting does not predict and is not based on previous averages – its a way of checking in with your fertility on a daily basis. By learning what your body does when it is fertile and what it does when it is not, you can know whether or not you are able to conceive judging by those signs.
Cycle charting can be used in a number of ways – for instance, you can monitor your reproductive health through it, you can use it as birth control itself (which requires abstinence from reproductive intercourse on fertile days), you can use it as a means of becoming aware of when you are fertile and then using that knowledge to plan the use of other birth control methods (ex. using a condom on fertile days, or choosing to take plan-b after an accident), or you can use it to have a better idea of what’s going on throughout your cycle. This is great when, after a stressful month, your period is a week late and then you are stressed about that as well! If you chart, you would know that you didn’t ovulate until much later in your cycle than usual (or, alternatively, that ovulation occurred long enough ago that you are likely pregnant).
The major drawback to cycle charting is that it isn’t easy. There’s a lot to figure out and it will probably take some time until you are confident in what you are observing. It is also much easier to do with a healthy body and healthy cycle. As a very busy person, committing to doing it and to learning it is enough of a challenge, throwing in the potentially sporadic way in which your cycle reacts to your busy-ness and stress makes it even more difficult.
All birth control methods have pros and cons. While it is understandable that a method in which you must pay a large amount of attention to your body and alter the way in which you have sex based on your fertility is not necessarily a great method for you, being aware that the option exists in which you do not need any outside intervention to avoid pregnancy while sexually active is surely important. More options, more power!
(Trigger warning – the following paragraph briefly discusses abusive situations.)
It should also be noted that cycle charting isn’t necessarily a good option for people in non-supportive or abusive relationships. While all birth control works best when supported by all sexual partners, fertility charting is birth control that requires space to learn, interest in fertility by the partners involved, and freedom from sexual violence (unlike oral contraceptive/the pill, you are not able to make your body constantly infertile). If you are in a situation like this, consider contacting your sexual assault centre (In Edmonton: http://www.sace.ab.ca/ or http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/SAC/ or http://www.saffron-ssac.com/) for help.
If you would like to learn more about cycle charting or get started right now, you can read the full guide to cycle charting online. You can also work with a health practitioner through Justisse Healthworks. There is also a group that meets once a month October through March that teaches and supports users of the method.