To successfully track ovulation periods, prevent pregnancy or maximize chances of conception, there are few fertility awareness methods (FAMs), which are also known as “the rhythmic method” or “natural family planning.”
In other words, FAMs help girls and women keep track of their menstrual cycle to ascertain when monthly eggs are released from ovaries, carefully noting the fertile days before and after ovulation—when birth control (such as condoms) or abstinence is considered a necessity to avoid pregnancy.
Some of the methods through which FAMs help you monitor your fertility signs and correctly predict your ovulation period are:
- Temperature: Checking your body temperature before getting out of bed every morning.
- Cervical Mucus: Looking out for vaginal discharge every day.
- Calendar: Calculating your menstrual cycle on a calendar.
According to health experts, best results are obtained by combining these three methods which are also known as “the symptothermal method.”
Considering that normal menstrual cycles vary between 26 and 32 days, you need to keep accurate records for few months to be sure of the actual number of days. However, if it is shorter or longer than the average, you are advised against using the symptothermal method. In this case, medical professionals advise that you use birth control or abstain from unprotected, vaginal sex between 8-19 days from your first menstrual date.
FAMs are proven to be about 90% effective; an indication that nearly 20 out of 100 couples who use FAMs will “most likely” conceive every year—depending on their choice of pregnancy-prevention methods. This implies that you can get pregnant despite having good knowledge of the three methods and carefully combining them. Other birth control methods include: use of intrauterine device (IUD), sponge, implant, patch, shot and vaginal ring, among other scientifically-proven options.
According to Andrea Tone, a professor of History who also holds position as Research Coordinator for the Social History of Medicine in Canada, effective contraceptives (such as that made from honey and crocodile dung) have existed since 1870s as confirmed on medical papyrus in Egypt. The term “birth control” was, nonetheless, first used in medical science by American activist Margaret Sanger in 1915.
Speaking on the Egyptian suppositories which were supposed to kill sperms and prevent conception, Tone told Elite Daily: “Clearly, a crocodile suppository and other early methods shouldn’t be romanticized…Many didn’t work, were unsafe, and were not aesthetically pleasing. What they do reveal is that the desire to separate sexual intimacy and pregnancy has existed for centuries.” Unfortunately, many people are still backwards with their puritanical attitudes toward sex despite the advancement in technology. For example, use of contraception are still illegal and widely “obscene” in many countries even though most people have been able to prevent pregnancy through periodic abstinence, condoms and diaphragms etc. Yet, many others have been unable to differentiate between safe, effective or dangerous birth-control methods.
Tone continued, “They had no way to know what methods worked or were safe…Illegal contraceptives were not inspected. If someone buying or using them got pregnant or hurt, the consumer had no recourse. As a result, women in the early 20th century sometimes used multiple methods at once.”
Here’s a list of the dangerous pregnancy-prevention methods you should never use:
VINEGAR: According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), most people have tried preventing pregnancy by inserting or drinking harmful chemicals such as vinegar. Medical experts in Syria, Uzbekistan and Moldova confirm that it is a common practice for women to pour some quantity of vinegar in the vagina before or after unprotected sex. Although an old practice, this method is still observed today.
Dr. Yasser Joha, who works as a gynecologist in Damascus, explained that vinegar is not a contraceptive and should not be used to prevent pregnancy.
In his words, ‘It [vinegar] disrupts natural bacterial balance in the vagina…This increases the chance of vaginal infection and should be avoided.’
SOAP AND WATER: Douching with soap and water has been an “acceptable” pregnancy-prevention practice in many parts of the world. But Dr. Su Sandy, who works with Myanmar’s Population Services International, said these “ignorant” people have the notion that washing with soap and water after sex is effective against conception.
‘These people believe douching can wash off the sperm but are unaware that it finds the uterus even before they have a chance to apply or rinse it out.’
LAUNDRY SOAP: According to health experts in Asia, soaps have provided family planning options for decades. Women in Eastern and Central Asia often inserted a piece laundry soap into the vagina before sex, with the belief that its high-level alkalinity kills sperm. ‘But this method is dangerous,’ a doctor confirmed to UNFPA, ‘because it is capable of causing inflammation and ulcers, among other damages to the body…Moreover, it is not a reliable pregnancy-prevention approach.’
DISINFECTANT: Most people douche with disinfectants for the purpose of killing sperms without knowing that these chemicals can cause skin irritation and burns. Disinfectants can also lead to sepsis and death. Yet, they have no proven effect against sperm.
Hemantha Senanayake, a professor of medicine in Sri Lanka, explained that no amount of antiseptic applied around or in the vagina can successfully dislodge sperm. ‘This also applies to any disease-causing organism,’ the health expert noted.
MILK AND IODINE: For most women in Kyrgyzstan, one way of preventing pregnancy is to gulp a mixture of milk and iodine before intercourse. This method has been practiced since the 1980s and 1990s, and is currently used in many remote areas of the country.
According to Chynara Kazakbaeva, who holds position as the president of Kyrgyz Alliance of Midwives, iodine is toxic and the chemical solution is capable of causing burns or inflammation in the stomach tissue and oesophagus.
‘Use of milk and iodine to prevent pregnancy doesn’t work at all…Rather, it causes more harm than the “expected” good and should be avoided,’ Chynara said.
COCA-COLA: It’s a surprise that most people still believe Coca-Cola has some contraceptive properties. In Central Asia, North America and Eastern Europe, the beverage drink has been used as a vaginal douche—an ineffective pregnancy-prevention method which can cause infections and damage tissues. In Angola, most young people drink aspirin tablets with Coca-Cola after sex.
‘I tried this method many times—a long time ago—when I was a teenager,’ an Angolan woman told UNFPA, circuitously affirming its efficacy.
ALCOHOL: In many parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, women have used Rakija (a type of fruit brandy) to wash the vagina after sex. This method has been practised since 1950s and 1960s, and is still in use today. However, Dr. Tatjana Barišić said there’s no proof that Rakija has any effect on pregnancy.
‘The belief that applying alcohol in one’s vagina can stop conception is a myth which causes harm and does not work,’ Dr. Tatjana said. ‘Moreover, the high alcohol content can dry up vaginal walls and cause painful sex (dyspareunia).’
ALUM: This has been used as a vaginal suppository many years ago. According to health experts, using alum as a method of preventing pregnancy can upset the vagina’s microbial balance and cause irritation.
‘It is a myth believed by even highly educated women until recently,’ Yasmine noted. The Algerian health professional denied its efficacy.
‘In some societies, alum is mixed with mugwort plant and applied as spermicides,’ Fadil Rachida, president of the National Association of Midwives in Morocco added, with an advice that women should collaborate with their doctors, nurses or counselors to understand FAMs and learn how to correctly apply them.
BALLOONS: In Sri Lanka, some women prefer using balloons instead of condoms, and Dr. Senanayake says this method can cause infections or rashes because “balloons are not hypoallergenic.”
FREEZER POP COVERS: Women in Trinidad and Tobago use wrappers from freezer pops (also known as “ice pops”) as a substitute for condoms. According to Nikoli Edwards, a medical expert in the country who spoke at a meeting for improving adolescent healthcare, “this method can cause pain, irritation, tearing or abrasions to the vaginal tissue.”
‘Freezer pop wrappers cannot prevent pregnancy,’ Nikoli said.
PLASTIC BAGS: One of the most ineffective pregnancy-prevention methods is the use of plastic bags as a replacement for condoms. This presents users with high risks, particularly from breakage. Some women in Sri Lanka have used shopping bags, which Hemantha Senanayake said “will never offer any kind of protection.”
An unnamed American male admitted that his high school mate chose sandwich baggies because they’re affordable and cheaper than condoms but eventually impregnated his girlfriend.
ASSORTED HERBS: In Vietnam and many parts of the world, women have successfully used herbs to prevent pregnancy. However, the possibility that these assorted herbs mostly contain chemicals or heavy metals makes it risky. In addition, there are no exact dosages and one can’t tell what quantity is safe or dangerous.
According to a health worker named Tema Neoline, ‘it is hard for rural and urban women to know what quantity is most effective and this creates a chance for overdose or death.’ Women in Mexico depend on a type of tea made from rue, an old and unreliable contraceptive method which Gabriela Rivera of UNFPA said is still widely used by some groups.
MANGO SEED: Due to the prolonged conflict in Yemen and unavailability of reliable contraceptives, women have resorted to using crushed mango seed with water, particularly on the 5th day of their menstrual cycle.
‘The traditional method has been appealing,’ said a Yemeni midwife named Eltaf, ‘since modern family planning methods are not allowed in some communities…These women totally avoid antibiotics, honey and milk.’ While there are no proofs mango seeds influence pregnancy notwithstanding its health benefits, avoiding antibiotics—especially where they are medically necessary—can be dangerous.
GINGER: Some women have attested to using ginger to prevent pregnancy. This myth held sway in Panama during the 1990s because most people erroneously believed that the spiciness of teas made from ginger can influence the menstrual cycle. The drink is sometimes mixed with rice wine or black pepper.
A Cambodian resident named Chuon said she used ginger to avoid pregnancy but had to rely on modern contraceptive pills after her fourth child was born.
TUMERIC: Despite is inefficacy, most people have relied on herbs such as turmeric to prevent pregnancy, especially in Nepal, where it is often soaked in water for some days before consumption.
A Nepali man told UNFPA that the situation became exigent after his wife conceived and had two children in succession. They chose the “turmeric option” to avoid a third pregnancy but ended up with 10, one of which was a stillbirth. Eight of the pregnancies survived and only one died in infancy.
LEMON: According to Dr. Ludmila Bologan of the Republic of Moldova, there are reports of many women using lemon slices to prevent pregnancy in different countries.
‘This method does not work and can cause dysbacteriosis, irritation and other problems…I am surprised but not shocked to know that some women believe inserting lemon slices after sex can influence pregnancy.’
TWO CONDOMS: Using two layers of male or female condoms is considered more effective by many people around the world, but health experts debunked the myth, calling it a misconception of what “double protection” means. According to Ms. Rivera of Mexico, the best explanation of “double protection” is a combination of condoms, pills, implants etc. ‘This would be highly commendable and effective,’ the health expert said. ‘Use of two condoms create friction which makes them easy to tear during sex—thereby increasing the risk of pregnancy, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and HIV.’
EXTENDED BREASTFEEDING: Although exclusive breastfeeding has provided a few women with temporary contraception—under the right circumstances—it doesn’t work for too long and may change any time.
Dr. Hlaing Htaik Hta Khin, a health worker from Myanmar, said a woman can conceive even while breastfeeding as little as 3 weeks after her baby is born. ‘There’s no guarantee that extended breastfeeding prevents pregnancy.’
JUMPING: There’s wide belief that jumping up and down after having unprotected sex can prevent pregnancy. Although this method has no medical proof at the moment, a health expert in Tajikistan confirmed that one out of five sex workers in the country encourages others to adopt the strategy.
A Roots of Health survey conducted on 5,000 young people in the Philippines showed that a shocking 75% of women and girls confirmed they’ve prevented pregnancy through this “weird” method.
CHARMS AND PRAYERS: For decades, people in most parts of the world have relied on charms and prayers as a pregnancy-prevention method. For instance, women in Malawi, Benin Republic, Ghana and Togo, among other countries, apply traditional medicines to ropes which they knot around the waist, with each knot representing a year of contraception.
Findings show that rituals, charms or prayers cannot prevent pregnancy and may be dangerous where people rely on myths to have unprotected sex.
Women have many options when it comes to birth control and most of these don’t cause weight gain as erroneously believed.
‘The first and most important step is to consult your doctor for proper assessment on which methods will affect your health,’ said Sara Newmann, an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.
‘The choice may depend on whether you smoke, have a history of high blood pressure or breast cancer.’