Natural birth control—known in various permutations as the ‘rhythm method,’ natural family planning, or the Standard Days method—basically means you keep track of your monthly menstrual cycle and abstain from sex (or use condoms) on fertile days of the month. They’re all forms of fertility awareness or calendar-based contraception. Some of these methods also involve tracking basal body temperature and cervical mucus. Some use good old pen-and-paper calendars to chart menstrual cycles, while others rely on websites, iPhone apps or glow-in-the-dark beads. Technology is making it easier than ever to tell when you’re ovulating.
We talked to J.W., a 27-year-old living in New York City, about ditching the pill to practice natural birth control, with the aid of the Lady-Comp fertility monitor.
What do you call your method of pregnancy prevention?
I guess I just say ‘natural birth control.’ I don’t really have a name for it, I just usually say that I just follow my cycle. I’ve been doing it for about two years.
Did you use hormonal birth control before that?
I was on the pill for 10 years. Occasionally, I would stop for 2-3 months. But when my boyfriend and I broke up I thought, well, I’ll just stop taking it. About three months later, though, my skin started going crazy, so I started researching. Three months is about when the hormones from the pill have finally left your body, so your hormonal balance is totally messed up. I literally didn’t want to leave the house for, like, two months. Eventually that did go away, but I was, like, ‘oh shit, I don’t want to go back on the Pill’ if that’s what happens when I stop. So I started researching other methods, and found the Lady-Comp and I started using it. I don’t think I’ll ever go back on the Pill.
What’s the Lady-Comp?
The Lady-Comp is a fertility computer. It takes your temperature every morning and tells you whether you’re ovulating. It’s really easy to use, it’s really efficient and accurate. [Lady-Comp claims to be 99.3% effective. It also costs $485.] It’s the same thing as charting except it’s in a computer and you don’t really have to do anything. It tells you what day you’re menstruating, and what days you’re ovulating.
Do you feel like you know more about your cycle now? I was on the pill for 10 years also, starting at 16, and I feel like I never learned much about when ovulation happened or anything like that until I got off of it.
Yes, I didn’t even know anything about that, ovulation, at all when I was on the pill! It was all just automatic. I didn’t even know the rhythm method or anything like that was out there.
So what do you do on days the Lady-Comp says are high-fertility days?
You’re supposed to use a condom on days that are unsafe. It gives you a green light if you're infertile or a red light if you are. And it gives you a safety net, so basically it will do a few days before and after you’re ovulating. I think it’s about a third of the month that you can’t have unprotected sex, like 8-10 days to be safe.
Did you ever use anything else to track your cycle? There are charts and phone apps and special beads and all sorts of things designed for the same purpose. And you can buy thermometers that track your basal body temperature.
I’ve never done it without the Lady-Comp, no. I’m probably too lazy to do it otherwise. I guess I’m an easy case because I’ve neer really had any problems with my periods, I’ve always been regular, but the cool thing about the Lady-Comp is it does work for people who aren’t as regular. Basically, it uses your (basal body) temperature to say you’re ovulating. It’s easy.
So you’re happy doing this? It’s working well for you?
Yes, it’s great. and it actually works. I think a lot of women are really scared of trying it, and feel like it’s just easier to pop a pill. But I think it’s really nice to be aware of your body and what’s going on.