The Worst Form of Family Planning…

In taking after Winston Churchill, I am going to boldly declare the following:

Fertility Awareness Methods (FAMs also known as Natural Family Planning) is like democracy, its the worst form of family planning, except for all the others we’ve tried…

…As this Cracked Video so bluntly illustrates:

Now, full disclosure: I have never used a contraceptive in my life. I’ve never needed to go on the pill for medical reasons and I’ve never needed to make use of any other method of contraception (I’m not planning to be sexually active until after I’m married) and even if I did, I would avoid them at all costs, especially given the side effects and that they’re also not very good at doing their damn job.

So what do I know? I know Fertility Awareness Methods (FAMs) a.k.a Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABMs), a.k.a Natural Family Planning (NFP). I’ve been using the Sympto-Thermal method for the last three years to track my cycle because it’s nice to know why I’m having a teary meltdown today. Oh right, countdown to period in seven… six…

I also know that many women are increasingly getting fed up with the side-effects and asking ‘is that all there is?’ (See Holly Grigg-Spall’s Sweetening the Pill). ‘Do I have to put up with feeling like crap just to maintain some semblance of control over this wild beast that is my uterus?’

Well, I’m here to tell you, that yes, there is an alternative: FAMs. FAMs in a nutshell, read your body’s naturally occurring signs of fertility (trigger warning: cervical mucus) to identify a fertile window of 9 days (on average) and having sex or abstaining on those days depending on your goals. The most effective FAM that I use, the Sympto-Thermal Method is 98% effective at avoiding pregnancy, it will also help you get pregnant, and it will also help you detect and treat a number of fertility issues. But, using FAMs will not change your wild and mysterious fertility system. It will help you understand it and wrangle some sense of a working relationship with it, but perfect control over this aspect of your body is a bit of a modern delusion, whether you want to avoid pregnancy or achieve it.

So bottom line. FAMs are effective (assuming you’re not using yo great-grandma’s rhythm/calendar method), they are cheap once you get yourself a digital thermometer, some paper and learn what your doing, there’s no expensive hormones, shots, latex or permanently lodged foreign objects. But, they are not glamourous, your body changes and reading signs can be difficult (just ask my mother), abstinence is frustrating (just ask Simcha Fisher) and this is something that you’ll have to be on top of for a good few decades until menopause.

So, my statement still stands: FAMs are the worst form of family planning… except for all the others we’ve tried.

I’m a Catholic* and my decision has been informed by religious and philosophical reasons as well as health, and practical reasons. After much (imaginary arguing) with the Church, actual arguing with wiser heads than mine, doing my homework trying to find any reason to write this teaching off, I’m pretty thoroughly convinced that FAMs are my only option.

I’m a self-confessed bad practitioner and right now, I can get away with it because I’m not sexually active. I haven’t kept a complete chart in a year and I got pretty tired with half-asleep fumbling for a thermometer as I wake up, taking my temperature, grabbing my phone to record it in the (actually really good) Kindara app, getting distracted by Facebook and forgetting it… giving up and waiting another month to start again.

FAMs are hard. They’re hard when your single, dating, married, divorced, widowed… they’re hard if your human, because FAMs don’t allow you to do whatever you want whenever you want and humans really struggle with that. But, do you know what else doesn’t allow you to do whatever you want, whenever you want, your body in general. It takes time, effort and self discipline to maintain a healthy diet and stay fit enough to live a healthy and productive life.

If I could take a pill that would allow me to stay at my ideal healthy weight and eat whatever I want, or not have to sleep, or make me able to run 20 km without actually running, would that be a good thing?

I would argue no, even if this hypothetical pill has no side effects. Healthy bodies need to sleep, eat, exercise, and need to have their normal course of hormones doin’ their thing. Why? Because your body is actually pretty good at looking after itself and when we start meddling with well functioning systems, it usually doesn’t do us any good in the long run. My sanity is much better cared for if I work with my body and allow it to function as it was intended to, intervening only when something goes wrong, as opposed to forcing it to comply with my need for a pathetic illusion of control, whether I want to be thinner, fitter or have babies when I want to.

So that’s my late contribution to NFP Awareness Week (Didn’t know that was a thing until the internet was invented) and that’s how a young, millennial catholic tries make sense of what I believe and how I act.

NB: DO NOT TAKE THIS AS SOUND MEDICAL ADVICE because it’s not. I don’t know you, I don’t know your situation, so talk to your doctor. Ask them about FAMs, do your own homework yourself and talk about it with your significant other. FAMs do require some lifestyle adjustment, which even for someone as committed to it as I am, is not always easy. Much like treating high cholesterol and blood pressure. Medication is sometimes necessary, but making the necessary lifestyle changes is also well worth the effort.

*Now, the Catholic Church DOES NOT HAVE A PROBLEM WITH WOMEN TAKING THE PILL FOR MEDICAL REASONS and I don’t have a problem with doing this myself, should it be necessary to do so. If you have an awful case of endometriosis that knocks you flat out in agony as bad as or worse than childbirth once a month and the pill is the only damn relief, then this is not a problem. The fact that the pill suppresses ovulation is intended to treat and relieve an awful malfunction is what medicine is for. Medicine is not for suppressing perfectly healthy systems and treating its normal function like a disease.


3 thoughts on “The Worst Form of Family Planning…

    • Hi Veronica,

      My parents have been Billings Instructors and I am quite familiar with the method. I have to say, it doesn’t work as well for me, at least psychologically. I very much like the additional reference point that the sympto-thermal method provides, but my baseline tracking is obviously just they sympto part which Billings is based on.


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