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Fertility Awareness Method

An Interview with Amanda Robinson & John Conomos

Fertility Awareness Method, also known as the symptothermal method, is a birth control method that combines the monitoring of basal body temperature, vaginal mucus, and cervical position on a daily basis to determine a woman's time of ovulation during her menstrual cycle. The Fertility Awareness Method is 99% effective, according to a study done by Fairfield University in Connecticut in 1974. In constrast, the Pill has a sucess rate ranging from 97% - 99.9% due to the "imperfect use" variable.

The Method is based on dividing the menstrual cycle into three phases. Phase I consists of the duration of a woman's period (average is 2-7 days). Phase II begins on the last day of menstruation and ends three days after ovulation. Phase III is the third day after ovulation until menstruation begins again. By keeping track of these fertility indicators, a woman is able to determine when she is at high risk of getting pregnant. During the high risk phase, a barrier method of contraception such as a condom should be used. The Method comes with a set of Rules that are easy to understand and apply once the three phases have been clearly charted.

Who is likely to be successful with this method?

Amanda: This method of family planning is useful for someone who is diligent and somewhat organized. Keeping a chart day to day, every month is really the only way that this method can be guaranteed. Also, it helps to have a cycle that is, for the most part, regular and reliable.

It is my personal recommendation that if readers are interested in using the Fertility Awareness Method, they find a certified teacher before attempting it.

John: This method of birth control does not protect either participant from STDs, etc. It should not be used as a birth control method for casual sex, [but for] couples who are committed to each other and want a natural form of birth control without confusion or guesswork.

How does it compare with other birth control methods that you have used?

Amanda: Over the last fourteen years, I have tried several methods of contraceptives on my doctor's recommendation. I found them all to have negative side effects.

I have used chemical contraceptives, namely The Pill and the Depro Provera shot. I never liked taking a chemical that changed my body's normal behavior. I gained weight and suffered increasingly from migraine headaches. If I ever forgot to take a pill for a day, I was paranoid for the rest of the month that I might be at risk of becoming pregnant.

I also tried using barrier contraceptives — both the cervical cap and the diaphragm. I found them to be difficult to position correctly, uncomfortable, and desensitizing. I then developed an allergic reaction to the spermicides (something I only discovered later to be a very common side effect).

Finally, when I heard about the Fertility Awareness Method, I felt like I finally had an option that allowed me to be in charge of my body. It was very empowering to know that I didn't need to rely on chemicals or doctors for a reliable form of birth control.

John: I have experience with condoms and diaphragms in the past, both of which were awkward. My partner and I were often frustrated with the results: the condom was somewhat restrictive to me, and the diaphragm was painful for both my partner and I to use. And neither of us were interested in spermicides and pills.

What are the advantages?

Amanda: The advantages are as I mentioned above, the feeling of reclaiming my body and gaining personal empowerment. I know day to day where I am in my cycle and I have a better understanding of my body as well as my moods.

John: Most importantly, it places the responsibility of birth control on both people.

What are the disadvantages?

Amanda: I can't think of many. I guess that it is important to remember to carry a basal thermometer with you if you are traveling or away from home, but it would be the equivalent of carrying condoms, a diaphragm, or pills with you.

John: Unprotected intercourse during Phase II is a no-no. Unfortunately, this phase is also when my partner is most interested in sex. So we are forced to find alternative ways of satisfying our sexual urges. So if there is a positive, FAM forces couples to experiment a little more.

Is the responsibility of birth control equally shared? How does this compare with other methods?

Amanda: My partner and I share in the responsibilities because it is important to the both of us to know where I am in my cycle. Good communication is key. I appreciate the fact that I have someone to remind me at 6 a.m. that I need to take my temperature.

John: I thought that this form of birth control would be a bit of a free ride for me. But I had always been a little clueless about the female menstrual cycle, so I actually got a lot out of the FAM course. It is still the responsibility of my partner to take her temperature every morning and check her mucus, but since we took the course together, talking about her body, charting her "readings," and discussing when we must be careful vs. when we can "have at it" is free flowing.

What has this method meant to you, how has it affected your life, your relationship to each other, your relationship to your sexuality, etc.?

Amanda: I feel that I now own my sexuality. I no longer rely on artificial methods of birth control. This method has taught me a lot about my body and I feel more in control of my life choices. I also know that when the time comes when my partner and I do want to have children, I will know when I am at the most fertile phase of my cycle.


Fertility Awareness Network, PO Box 2606, New York, NY 10009 Send a SASE (business size) for an info packet that includes an overview, book recommendations and suggestions for finding an instructor.

Planned Parenthood, – While you're there, make a donation in Dubya's name!

Couple to Couple League, Christian organization. Good information on the website, including class searches by area code. Most likely appropriate for those individuals who are easily able to overlook religious differences.

If you search the internet doing a search for "symptothermal method" will yield the most results.


What have you learned about yourself, your partner?

Amanda: My partner and I took the Fertility Awareness Method class together. This was a very important part of our relationship. Both he and I learned more about the female reproductive system than we were ever taught in High School Sex Ed class. I think he gained a better understanding of my cycle and I learned that I need to communicate with him more on where I am in my cycle.

John: I think our sex is relatively uninhibited. If our sex life is mediocre, we know that the only thing to blame is ourselves, so it forces us to continually check in with each others needs and talk about how we can improve things.

Interview by Kat Lilith