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Natural contraception

Published by Sarah Horrocks
Published on 9 October 2008

Information on natural methods of contraception and how reliable they are.

Withdrawl
This method of trying to control ejaculation has been around since ancient times. When the man feels that he is about to ejaculate, he withdraws from his partner's vagina. This withdrawal or interrupted intercourse technique fails 15 to 30% of the time, so it's not particularly effective! Besides the frustration felt by both partners, it's no reliable way of protecting against unwanted pregnancy: sperm is present in the urethra and secretions during sex can be fertile. Also, ejaculation on the vulva does not prevent sperm from finding its way into the uterus, especially if there is a lot of sperm. The only advantage of this method is that it can be used in any circumstances, though of course it should never be relied on.

The calendar
This famous technique by Dr Ogino-Knaus consists of determining the woman's peri-ovulatory period, during which the couple do not have sex. This period is determined by the length of the two previous menstral cycles, taking into account the fact that ovulation takes place 12 to 16 days before her period. This method requires very accurate periods and 15% of the time it fails.

The cervical mucus method (The Billings method)
This procedure can be used by all women, even those who have long or irregular cycles. It works by observing changes in the quality of the cervical mucus. Secretions are abundant and free-running during the ovulation period, and during this time the women abstains from sex (between 7 and 9 days). It’s 99% reliable, which makes it the most effective natural form of contraception.

Basal body temperature
The ovulation period is marked by a difference in body temperature of 0.5°C. Body temperature drops during ovulation, then increases rapidly afterwards. To identify your fertile period you need to take your temperature every morning and mark it on a graph to show the peak. It must be taken using a very precise thermometer, first thing in the morning when you wake up (even before you get out of bed or do anything at all). The couple must abstain during all the first part of the cycle, between the first day of the period and the third consecutive day when the woman's temperature is higher. Be careful: many factors can affect your temperature (infections, fever, time of waking etc.), so this method is far from reliable.

The sympto-thermal method
This combines all the previous methods and is without a doubt the most effective. It involves creating a graph of the menstral cycle, taking note of basal body temperature and state of cervical mucus. This combination helps you target the 'risk' period more accurately.

Breastfeeding and amenorrhea
Amenorrhea is the period following childbirth, when a woman breastfeeds and her periods have not returned. Sex is not risky if:
- you have given birth less than 6 months ago
- you haven’t had a period yet
- you're breastfeeding
- the interval between feeds does not exceed 6 hours
This method is 98% reliable if all the above conditions are met.

Fertility monitoring kits
There are fertility monitoring kits on the market (available in chemists) that can be useful in helping to identify the fertile and infertile days of your cycle. They measure the hormones in your urine and indicate on what day ovulation is likely to occur. They are also used by couples who are trying for a baby, but can also be used to get an indication of when you're not as likely to fall pregnant (although they should not be used as a reliable method of contraception).

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