These days, the female body is often treated as an object controlled by politicians. Insurance, doctors, advertising, and lackluster sex education all seek to influence women’s bodies through birth control, using a variety of methods that require prescriptions, money, and even invasive procedures. But there’s a surprising natural method that an increasing number of women are experimenting with: the rhythm method.
What is the rhythm method?
For the uninitiated, the rhythm method is a form of natural family planning in which you track your periods to predict ovulation. To track your cycle, you must measure your cervical mucus and basal temperature. Many of the women I spoke with who use this method of birth control utilize apps to track this information, further simplifying the process. It is vital for women to know their birth control options since—now that full health coverage for many women is in jeopardy—many are looking for more at-home solutions.
Like many of my peers, I didn’t think of the rhythm method as a means of birth control that applied to modern women. I had always associated it with women who are trying to get pregnant or people opposed to birth control for religious reasons.
Natural Birth Control Might be More common Than you Think
When I posted on Facebook looking for stories about people’s experiences with different types of birth control, I was flooded with responses. Young women rarely get the opportunity to discuss our fertility, so seemingly everyone jumped at the chance. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of 2014, the most commonly used birth control method among U.S. women is the pill at almost 26 percent, with the IUD ranking second in popularity at 10 percent. However, among my circle of Facebook friends (mostly young, urban women fresh out of college), that wasn’t the case. Many of these women are using intrauterine devices, or IUDs—but a shocking number are using the rhythm method (more than the number of respondents who used the traditional Pill).
The rhythm method is both a complicated and simple process. Many of the women I spoke with use apps which allow them to store their ovulation data in an easy, accessible way. Women like Kelly, a rhythm method user for several years, feel like, “we’re conditioned as women to just accept whatever side effects come from birth controls rather than listen to our bodies.”
Comparing the rhythm method to the Pill and IUDs
I got many different responses about why women choose to use the rhythm method instead of hormonal birth control or copper IUDs. A 2013 study published by the CDC stated that 63 percent of the 12,000 women who stopped using the Pill did so because of the side effects like nausea, weight gain, and mood changes. Another woman I spoke to, Laura, switched to the rhythm method because her sister had a pulmonary embolism, most likely caused by birth control pills. “Seeing someone so close to me and relatively young have a life-threatening emergency caused me to rethink using hormones. I felt completely different once they were out of my system—in a good way!”
Laura explained that you “definitely have to be more aware of your body. That might be the motivation for some women. I just wanted something that didn’t involve taking hormones and, preferably, no medical intervention.” She says that the process of switching to the rhythm method requires very little effort. “All you have to buy is a basal thermometer and ovulation prediction kits at least for a few months if you have regular cycles. Every month if you don’t.” Many women also make use of apps to make the process more simple. They recommend Clue, Kindara, Natural Cycles, and FF Tracker (aka Fertility Friend).
Getting in touch with your body
These women who have made the choice to forego hormones in their birth control method shared an amazement they now had for the female body. Laura said, “I never fully realized how complicated and amazing and perfect the female body is.” About her experience, Kelly said “using the rhythm made me become a lot more in touch with my body. It’s made me generally more comfortable—I know not to beat myself up when I suddenly gain eight pounds overnight because I know it’s because I am PMSing or ovulating. Or, if I’m experiencing something abnormal, I also know to talk to a doctor. Whereas on birth control, I really just threw my hands up in exasperation and assumed my body was just some medical anomaly.”
This is not to say this method is without risk; the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not see the rhythm method as a valid means of birth control. With perfect use, it is 95 percent effective and, with typical use, it is 88 percent effective. This makes the rhythm method less effective than the Pill and all IUDs but much more effective than condoms, diaphragms, and the sponge. As of 2010, 22 percent of women reported using the rhythm method and the numbers keep increasing due in part to the use of apps that make it easier than ever.
Be the boss of your body
Using the rhythm method allows women to bypass insurance and the healthcare system. With any change in the political climate, their access to birth control remains the same. According to the CDC study previously mentioned, women with formal education are more likely to use the rhythm method. Kelly and Laura are both very well-informed women. Kelly was a member of Planned Parenthood’s teen acting troupe and Laura used to teach health in a public high school. Yet Kelly said, “I still let doctors convince me to do something that was actively harmful to me for a full year of my life. So now I just like shouting from the rooftops all the time—women and anyone with a vagina, you can be the boss of your body!”