I am one of very few women that have never used any form of hormonal or pharmaceutical contraception. Out of hundreds of women that I’ve met on and offline, I’ve met about 4 that are in the same situation as me!
This means that I have had nearly 15 years of using different forms of natural birth control methods and I thought it might be useful to share my journey through it all.
As a teenager my primary means of contraception was condoms. My parents made sure I understood how anatomy works and yeah I did Biology in High School so I knew! The first time I slept at my boyfriend’s house, my mom asked me if I had condoms with me eeek, so embarrassing but I was responsible so I did, lol.
I’ve continued to use condoms throughout my life since then, because since I was about 20 I’ve used some form of cycle or fertility awareness and there’s always a fertile time which needs alternatives. I don’t mind condoms as much as some couples do but it’s nice to not always have to use them! Besides sensation there’s also the chemical ingredients, the waste etc which is not ideal.
Tips to improve effectiveness:
- Make sure you’re using the right size: too small could break and too big could leak
- Make sure it goes on the right way and you pinch the tip while you roll it down
- Once he’s ejaculated, make sure he exits before going flacid
- Use in conjunction with Fertility Awareness methods and/or withdrawal
Withdrawal, or the “pull out” method
Let’s be honest we’ve all used this method! It is widely used but also widely criticized. It’s often used in conjunction with other methods like condoms, fertility awareness and even pharmaceutical options. Withdrawal is a valid form of contraception and there shouldn’t be any shame around using it – there are plenty of couples (some of whom may not use other methods due to religious or other values) who use it highly successively.
Tips to improve effectiveness:
- Only a small percentage of men have sperm in their pre-ejaculate. You can actually see it in a microscope if your guy is one of that small percentage – if you have access to a microscope
- If you’ve had an “oopsie” using withdrawal before, don’t risk it again!
- Practice! If you’re using fertility awareness: practice in the luteal phase once you have confirmed ovulation. Also: double up with condoms while you’re practicing!
- Make sure he withdraws a good amount of time before ejaculation! Don’t wait till the last second
Femtech: Fertility devices
When I was about 20 and had been a long-term relationship for a couple years already (using condoms/withdrawal) I started looking for alternatives. In my search I came across a device called a Pearly, which had only recently been released in South Africa (I think I was one of the first women in SA to use Femtech!). The Pearly is a predecessor of the now more common Daysy device and has a history of a couple decades in the Femtech industry, going back to the LadyComp device. These devices, like the Natural Cycles app as well, use a single indicator (basal body temperature) plus an algorithm of your previous cycles’ data to determine the fertile window.
My experience with the Pearly was mostly very good and I used it for about four years. I did once take emergency contraception when I sleepily had risky unprotected sex but besides that no “oopsies”. However, I must say that I didn’t exactly put it to rigorous testing. My sex life at the time was a little lacking and we probably only had sex once or twice a month.
Femtech devices and apps designed for contraception do have their place and the convenience of technology does work for some couples. Knowing what I know now I have a few reservations about using these methods.
- The cost. The Daysy currently costs around R5000. Natural Cycles is subscription based and is available for $10/month or $100/year
- I don’t trust algorithms. Algorithms don’t take into account the little stressors that can affect our lives and our ovulatory cycles. We are not machines
- They only use one indicator – temperature. Symptothermal methods (STMs) of Fertility Awareness use at least two, if not three indicators, to double check and determine the fertile window which makes them more accurate than thermal-only methods
- No understanding of the body’s functioning is necessary. This might be a benefit for some but for me, since learning STMs and really understanding WHY and HOW I am fertile or not is super empowering for many reasons
While we’re on the topic – what about Emergency Contraceptives?
I’ve taken the “morning after pill” twice in my life. Once when I had risky sex during my fertile window while using the Pearly, and once while I was using the “I know my body” method and there was a bit of a miscommunication about where the fluids should (and did) end up!
Emergency contraceptives are basically a big dose of the contraceptive pill and are definitely hormone-disrupting. If you’re on the Hormonal Harmony path this is not ideal situation but what needs to be done, must be done! (There are ways to naturally and gently detox from having to take synthetic hormones).
Emergency contraceptives work primarily by delaying ovulation. If you are practicing a form of fertility awareness and know approximately when you ovulate, they will be significantly more effective. They may also work to a lesser extent by inhibiting implantation but that is not there primary function.
In terms of natural emergency contraception there are options although they are not well research or widely used in South Africa. Queen Anne’s Lace is a herb that prevents implantation by making the lining of the uterus slippery. It can be used in an infusion or a tincture and is taken multiple times after ovulation. Very high doses of Vitamin C (think 10 000 mg) may also work as an early abortifacient. (This is not medical advice – please understand the risks of unprotected sex and using alternative methods!)
I haven’t personally used Queen Anne’s Lace although I do have some growing in my garden and it’s on my list to experiment with when I am not particularly worried about the risk and we’re almost ready to conceive. I’ll keep you posted on this topic because it’s something I’m very keen to share!
The “I Know my Body” Method or using a Period Tracker app
After my long-term relationship ended in 2014 and I was single again, I stopped using my Pearly. For casual sex I was using condoms anyway and I thought I knew pretty much when I was ovulating. I was using an app called Clue that recorded my menstruation and told me when it thought I was ovulating.
Having an intimate relationship with your body is amazing! To be able to read the little signs like ovulation cramps or tender breasts as signs of hormonal changes is great! But please, friends, do not use this a contraceptive method if you are serious about preventing pregnancy! I literally used to say I could use my breast tenderness as a contraceptive method – my breasts would get sore about 2-3 days after ovulation. And yeah, it worked. Until it didn’t and one month my sore breasts were the first sign of an unintended pregnancy…
That pregnancy ended in miscarriage which was an extremely traumatic experience for me. From making the tormenting decision of whether to go ahead with the pregnancy or not, and then to have made the decision only to have it taken away – I do not recommend! While I’m 100% pro-choice and every woman needs to make the best decision for herself and her situation, termination of pregnancy of any kind is a difficult and heart-wrenching choice that we definitely want to avoid as far as possible! For me, I knew I needed to be more careful and not have a repeat experience. I wasn’t ready to try again (still not) and honestly I still get major anxiety over falling pregnant accidently. That’s when I started to use a Symptothermal method of Fertility Awareness in February 2018.
Symptothermal Method of FAM
Symptothermal Methods of fertility awareness use two, or sometimes three, bio-indicators to determine the fertile window, namely: basal body temperature, cervical fluid and cervical position.
This method is most effective when used with a qualified instructor. I suppose I used an instructor because my mom had just started studying the method – but we were learning together and my cycle helped her studies at the same time her studies informed my decision-making. My partner and I at the time were doing long-distance (a great form of natural contraception, lol) but we did have six successful cycles in that first year. This year we’ve added another three, yay!
I will admit that there have been some anxious moments – one cycle in particular I remember half convincing myself that we had definitely conceived! At that time I was still not super confident with my cervical fluid checks so I wasn’t really double-checking the closing of my fertile window. This year I’m way more confident and actually haven’t had any anxieties.
It’s always recommended to chart for at least three cycles (maybe more if you have recently come off synthetic hormones) where you can identify and confirm ovulation before having unprotected sex. With the support of your instructor you can ensure you and your partner’s confidence. In the absence of an instructor, please do as much research as possible! You can start by reading Taking Charge of your Fertility by Toni Weschler.
Any form of fertility awareness requires the use of one or a few other methods (condoms, withdrawal) during the fertile window and remember, any method failure thereof is a failure of that method – not of fertility awareness. Obviously abstinence is always an option as is used primarily in Natural Family Planning (NFP – the religious method of FA).
Some options I use during my fertile window (pro tip: sex gets so much better for everyone when it’s not just penis in vagina penetration!)
- I personally don’t do withdrawal because of our “oopsie” even though I’m not sure if it came from withdrawal failure (things were a blur of romance and passion that weekend!)
- Butt stuff
- Oral sex + masturbation
- Sex toys
- In combination with role play, some kink & lots of dirty talk
I’ll be posting some more pieces about the natural contraception, including your FAQs and a starter’s guide, so stay connected as always via our instagram or facebook.