Testing mucuous is gentler than the pill, but you can't flake out
Every single one of the birth control methods out there is either a pain in the ass or downright scary: condoms, pills, implants, patches, female condoms, IUDs, diaphragms, sponges, creams, gels, vasectomies. Spermicidal creams burn like nothing else, and that can’t be good for you.
Everyone has heard the horror stories about the pill, and lord knows what we’ll find out about other newer hormone-based options 20 years down the road. And even if you’re not skittish about health risks, if you’re anything like me you’ll never remember to take the damn thing every day.
This is why I am not a good candidate for natural family planning. What else is out there anyway?
What the experts say
“There aren’t many great alternatives. The birth control pill is not recommended long-term. Natural methods depend on the person doing the monitoring. They are very effective if the woman’s cycle is regular. If not, she has to monitor even more closely. The Justisse method is a combination of basal body temperature, checking cervical mucous, keeping track of the menstrual cycle and checking the position of the cervix. You have to know how to track these things on a daily basis.”
DU LA , naturopath, Toronto
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to suppress a woman’s menstrual cycle by any means, herbal or otherwise. Nothing screws up a woman’s reproductive system more than going on the pill. Using herbs could be just as damaging. Your best bet is to use as many natural means as possible – mucous, temperature, rhythm – all at the same time. None of them is 100 per cent effective, so you have to combine them. And when it’s not safe, use condoms, which probably have fewer side effects than spermicidal creams. Those things are toxic not just to sperm but to your body as well.”
MICHAEL VERTOLLI , herbalist, Toronto
“The Ladycomp is a fertility monitoring device. Computer software tailors it to your cycle. It measures the elevation in body temperature caused by ovulation. There is a learning period for the computer of three to four months. The red light means you’re fertile and green means it’s okay to have barrier-free sex. I’ve been using the Ladycomp for the last three years and wouldn’t endorse it if I didn’t have personal experience. The device is not effective for people undergoing hormonal therapy and won’t work with the birth control pill. It may not work for people with thyroid problems or polycystic ovarian syndrome.”
EEVON LING , naturopath, Toronto
“If every woman in Canada had to rely on the Ladycomp, the failure rates would be horrific, but it can work for dedicated women. The W.H.O. says natural family planning methods, with perfect use, have failure rates between 1 and 9 per cent. That’s not too bad. For people who want to use it but aren’t perhaps as dedicated, the failure rates are around 20 per cent. Dedication is the main thing, and of course it assumes that a woman’s physiological changes are entirely predictive of ovulation. Everybody is variable, for better or for worse.”
TIMOTHY ROWE , associate professor, head of reproduction and endocrinology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
“There are very few women who can’t take the pill. It can be used right into a woman’s 50s, and this is appropriate except for smokers. Besides its use as a contraceptive, there are a host of other health benefits. By keeping the ovaries quiet, it reduces the involvement of cysts in the ovaries, reduces benign breast disease and possibly may help prevent ovarian cancer, but we don’t know about that yet. It even seems to have a protective effect against STDs going up into the upper tract. We know hormones have a tendency to cause clotting. We have to decide, like anything else, who should and should not be taking it.”
CHRISTINE DERZKO , associate professor, obstetrics and gynecology, U of T
“If you don’t want to use the pill or have latex allergies, your options are few but they do exist. One is the IUD another is the diaphragm. There are non-latex condoms, like the Avanti , and the female condom . They’re super-expensive, though. People really love both because they’re thin and transmit heat better, but they’re almost $3 a condom.”
CORY SILVERBERG , Come as You Are, Toronto