Sex is fun, but worrying about getting pregnant can put a serious damper on your good times. There are plenty of ways to practice safe sex, and whether you swear by your IUD or you’re committed to using condoms, you probably have your favorite method down to a science. But there’s another way to reduce your risk: having sex on particular days to avoid pregnancy is known as the Fertility Awareness Method, or sometimes referred to as the Calendar Method or the Rhythm Method. This technique involves tracking your period and determining safe days to have sex based on your menstrual cycle. It’s not very effective on its own, but combined with other safe sex practices, it might give you a little extra peace of mind.
According to Planned Parenthood, the Fertility Awareness Method is a technique that tracks your ovulation. By following this method, you can opt to have sex on the days that you’re least likely to get pregnant, based on your ovulation cycle.
However, according to a 2019 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Fertility Awareness Method isn't very effective. "Fertility awareness alone has a 1 in 4 chance of leading to an unintended pregnancy," the report states. "Of 100 couples that use natural family planning methods, up to 25 women may become pregnant." Planned Parenthood reports the method is between 76-88% effective at preventing pregnancy.
While this technique does have the potential to reduce your risk of an unplanned pregnancy, you might opt for a more efficient preventative method, such as the birth control pill, which Planned Parenthood reports is 99.9% effective when used perfectly and 91% effective overall. Other methods of birth control that are more reliable than the rhythm method, according to Planned Parenthood, include the intra-uterine device (IUD) (99% effective), the birth control shot (94% effective), the birth control vaginal ring (91% effective), the birth control patch (91% effective), and the condom (85% effective).
In order to decide which method is best for you and your body, consider consulting an OB/GYN or medical health professional. You may want to use condoms in addition to another method of birth control, both to reduce your risk of pregnancy and because condoms are the only form of birth control (besides abstinence) that also reduce your risk of getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Still curious about the Fertility Awareness Method? Read on for everything you need to know about the safest days in your ovulation cycle to have sex, according to three experts.
It’s Safer To Have Sex On The Days You Are Not Fertile
According to Planned Parenthood, you are at your most fertile during the days closest to ovulation; that is when you are most likely to get pregnant. An egg lives for about a day after ovulation and sperm live for about five days after sex. So, your body is essentially fertile for around six days of every menstrual cycle, aka the five days before you ovulate and the day you ovulate. Additionally, you can get pregnant a day or two after ovulation, but it's less likely.
“Your menstrual cycle begins each month on the first day of your period,” pharmacist and wellness expert Dr. Lindsey Elmore previously told Elite Daily. “Approximately 14 days later, ovulation begins. Ovulation is the time of the month when your body is most fertile, and best equipped to sustain a pregnancy. Look at these days in your cycle as an opportunity to experiment in the bedroom with your partner with things like oral sex, anal sex, or masturbation. That way, you're still free to explore your sexuality without such a high risk of pregnancy.” If you prefer, you could also choose to abstain from sex during this portion of your menstrual cycle.
Here’s How To Track Your Cycle To Determine The Safest Days To Have Sex
Planned Parenthood recommends using one or more of the following methods in order to figure out when you are ovulating: the Temperature Method, which monitors your temperature daily, the Cervical Mucus Method, which keeps track of your discharge, and the Calendar Method, which counts your periods on a calendar. Additionally, the Standard Days Method “tracks your menstrual cycle for several months, in order to figure out if your cycle is always between 26 and 32 days long," but if your cycle is longer or shorter, the method is rendered ineffective.
If you’re planning on monitoring your cycle to discover the safest days to have sex in order to avoid pregnancy, consider using an app, such as Natural Cycles, which tracks your ovulation and fertility. According to Elina Berglund, the app’s chief technology officer and co-founder, roughly 85% of sexually active women who choose not to use any form of birth control will become pregnant within the year. “This is why it is so important to, when it comes to birth control, increase choice, such that each woman finds something that suits her,” Berglund previously told Elite Daily. “The risk is otherwise that she will not keep using it and then there is a high pregnancy risk.”
Ann Mullen, director of health education at Cycle Technologies and the creator of the Dot App, also suggested talking to your partner before having sex and coming up with a game plan together. "It may sound unromantic, but planning ahead is a good idea," Mullen previously told Elite Daily. "If you both know what the method is going to be, then your expectations are in line with each other, which contributes to lowering the risk of an unplanned pregnancy."
Because monitoring your cycle is not highly effective and in no way prevents against STIs, consider using this method in tandem with condoms or another form of birth control. Additionally, when choosing your preferred form of contraceptive, make sure to consult your doctor, who can also better help you to understand how to track your cycle. Remember: Everybody — and every body — is different. Use the method that works best for you and yours.
Additional reporting by Iman Hariri-Kia and Hannah Orenstein.
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