There are a lot of different terms used to define what is commonly known as cycle charting, or fertility charting. The most common terms are Fertility Awareness Method and Natural Family Planning. Most people have heard of one or the other but don’t know what they actually are. Or what the differences are.
I’m here to explain them to you!
What is Fertility Awareness?
Fertility awareness is, essentially, a lifestyle. It is about being mindful of, and bringing awareness to, your body and the natural signs of fertility that occur throughout your menstrual cycle on a daily basis. By charting this awareness every day you are able to identify when you are fertile and when you are infertile. This way, you can choose to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally. Both the Fertility Awareness Method and Natural Family Planning are forms of fertility awareness.
There are quite a few methods of fertility awareness which have been established by medical doctors and scientists over several decades. The signs of fertility these methods utilize include cervical mucus, basal body temperature, urinary hormone levels, and more. Some signs of fertility have been identified as relating to the menstrual cycle as early as the 1800s. Although research began as early as the 1930s, it didn’t really come together to create “fertility awareness” as we know it until around the 1950s.
Fertility awareness is an umbrella term that describes the various methods created by doctors all over the world. Also known as Fertility Awareness Based Methods (or FABMs). Each method is different in how it utilizes the signs of fertility to identify ovulation. But most Fertility Awareness Based Methods that are backed by scientific studies have been proven to be 98% or more effective at preventing pregnancy with correct use.
What is Correct Use of Fertility Awareness?
This could be a long conversation. But to put it simply, there are two main things that are required for correct use. You must learn fertility awareness under the guidance of a fertility awareness educator/instructor, for at least 3 full cycles. This is the minimum amount of time used in the studies. For my clients who are serious about using fertility awareness long term, I have them work with me for 6 months. They can leave their time with me fully confident that they will be able to handle whatever comes.
The second requirement for correct use is to follow the established rules of the method. Any deviation from the rules automatically crosses into “typical use” and no longer falls under “correct use”. Correct use is very important for anyone wanting to use fertility awareness for avoiding pregnancy. Correct use is also known as “perfect use”.
If you are someone who absolutely cannot – or should not – get pregnant right now, correct use is strongly recommended. If you are okay with reduced efficacy and the possibility of conceiving, “typical use” and educated rule breaking might be okay.
I strongly recommend working with a Fertility Awareness Educator to learn the difference between correct use and typical use. They can help you decide the best rule use for your particular situation.
What is Natural Family Planning?
Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Method are mostly interchangeable terms. The development of Fertility Awareness Based Methods came from a need for a natural method of pregnancy avoidance for Catholics. This was around the time that prescription birth control options were on the rise.
There is a lot of theology surrounding this, too much to really go into on this blog. But essentially, the Catholic religion teaches that use of birth control is a sin and should not be used to prevent pregnancy. Because of this, many Catholic medical doctors spent decades trying to improve on the rudimentary and ineffective methods available at the time.
The only real difference between Natural Family Planning and the Fertility Awareness Method is that Natural Family Planning requires abstinence on all days of fertility unless you would be okay with a surprise pregnancy. Fertility Awareness Method leans more secular. It is generally considered to be compatible with the use of back-up methods of birth control on fertile days. That is, as long as users are fully aware that it would be a deviation from correct use. Efficacy rates of back-up methods used need to be understood and acknowledged.
Essentially, the Fertility Awareness Method is “typical use” of Natural Family Planning. Or, Natural Family Planning without abstinence, practiced primarily by non-Catholics using back-up methods of birth control on days identified as potentially fertile.
Fertility Awareness for Pregnancy Achievement
Although Fertility Awareness Based Methods were developed as a natural form of pregnancy prevention, they can also be used for natural pregnancy achievement! Usually you begin learning the method by learning how to use it to avoid pregnancy. Then you are able to better understand your fertile patterns to know when you’re most fertile. Then you can understand how to focus intercourse for the best chance of conception.
Several studies have been done on using fertility awareness for conception and found that most couples conceive within 6 cycles. After a year of trying by following correct use of a Fertility Awareness Based Method, couples are more likely to have fertility issues. But the great thing about charting your cycles with fertility awareness is that you have great data about your cycles to take to a knowledgeable doctor for help!
What is the Fertility Awareness Method?
Just because the terminology may be confusing, let’s discuss “Fertility Awareness vs. the Fertility Awareness Method”. Most often when people use the term “Fertility Awareness Method”, they’re referring to a method they learned in a book. This is usually Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. This book is popularly used to self-teach a Fertility Awareness Based Method that was developed by the author.
There are also a small handful of similar books used to self-teach. They exclusively teach what is called the “symptothermal method”, a combination of body temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical position observations. Because Taking Charge of Your Fertility is so accessible and popular, most people are unaware that it’s not the only Fertility Awareness Based Method in existence.
So people often unknowingly use “Fertility Awareness Method” to refer to the method taught in Taking Charge of Your Fertility, or other similar self-teaching books. Fertility Awareness Method broadly refers to the use of Natural Family Planning minus the theology and abstinence.
Fertility Awareness – awareness of your body’s natural signs of fertility. Including, but not limited to basal body temperature, cervical mucus and sensation, cervical position, or urinary hormones like LH and estrogen.
Fertility Awareness Based Methods – An umbrella term to describe formally developed methods of fertility management which utilize fertility awareness
Fertility Awareness Method – Another way to say “Fertility Awareness Based Method”. Also commonly used to refer to methods taught in self-teaching materials such as Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Or any methods which promote the use of back-up methods of birth control moreso than abstinence on days of potential fertility; a deviation from the original intent of the methods.
Natural Family Planning – Fertility Awareness Based Methods while using abstinence on days of potential fertility as the methods are designed.
Correct Use – Correct use of Fertility Awareness Based Methods as studied involve abstinence on days of potential fertility. Also known as “perfect use”.
Typical Use – Any deviation from the rules of the individual’s chosen Fertility Awareness Based Method, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Including using back-up methods of birth control on days of potential fertility, or just not understanding the rules.
Back-Up Methods – Condoms, diaphragms, spermicide, or any other form of barrier methods, and/or withdrawal (also known as “pull out”) often used in combination with a Fertility Awareness Based Method.
Next: What is a Fertility Awareness Educator?
Questions? Feel free to reach out!