Fertility Awareness WORKS! But Why?

wrote this on November 23, 2015

The last two emails in this series gave you a good idea of what the sympto-thermal method is and what some of its fantabulous benefits are, but you probably still have some questions. Namely, WHY and HOW does the sympto-thermal method actually work? This post won’t teach you exactly how to use the method—although we do have lots of stuff on our website that can do that, including online courses, books, and free educational info—but it will hopefully leave you feeling confident in its ability to work for you.

HOW does fertility awareness work?

To reiterate what you learned in the last blog post of this series, the sympto-thermal method (which, remember, is the most effective method that falls under the “fertility awareness” umbrella) works by providing you with a live data stream that directly relates to your hormones and your fertility. You can use this data to benefit you in some pretty incredible ways, including effective pregnancy prevention, maximizing your chances of getting pregnant, accurately predicting your next period, and getting a comprehensive picture of your reproductive and hormone health. At the most basic level, practicing the sympto-thermal method means that you observe daily changes in your cervical fluid secretions and your basal body temperature (your waking temperature). If you’re trying to prevent pregnancy, you also follow a simple set of rules to determine when you are and aren’t at risk of getting pregnant.

WHY does fertility awareness work?

In order to grasp why the sympto-thermal method is so awesome, there are a few facts you need to know. I didn’t learn any of this in sex ed, and, odds are, you didn’t either! Prepare to have your mind blown.

1. You only ovulate once in between periods.

Sex ed probably led you to believe that you can ovulate any day, any time, any where…you can ovulate four days ago, and again today, and then again tomorrow if your body is feeling crazy. Here in the real world, though, eggs don’t just pop out of your ovaries whenever they please. It takes nearly a year (yes, a year!) for one of your eggs to get ready to ovulate. The process of ovulation is tightly-controlled by subtle hormone changes, and these hormones prevent it from happening more than once in between each period. Your body isn’t about to break ranks to release eggs out the wazoo.

2. Your cervix produces a fluid (called cervical fluid) that is governed by the sex hormone estrogen. Its look and feel changes around ovulation due to increasing estrogen levels.

When your egg is preparing to leave the comfort of your ovaries via ovulation, it secretes estrogen. Your cervix responds to this estrogen by producing cervical fluid. This has huge implications for those who want to prevent pregnancy or get pregnant (as you’ll see below), but it’s also important for those who are just interested in hormone health. Since estrogen levels control cervical fluid production, cervical fluid can tell you a lot about the balance (or imbalance) or your hormones.

3. The vaginal environment is naturally too acidic for sperm to survive.

The natural pH of the vagina is between 3.8 and 4.5 (which is relatively acidic), and sperm prefer a pH between 7.2 to 8.0 (which is slightly basic). These two things do not play nicely together! So how the heck does a pregnancy ever occur if the vagina is a natural sperm-killer? The answer is cervical fluid! When your egg is preparing to ovulate, is secretes estrogen. This is basically your egg’s way of yelling out to your cervix “I’m almost ready!” The estrogen triggers the production of cervical fluid, creating an environment where sperm can survive and thrive while it waits for your egg.

4. Sperm-friendly cervical fluid is produced right around ovulation.

Would it surprise you to hear that the human body is naturally very lazy? Based on the level of couch-potato I achieve some days, it makes perfect sense…your body naturally wants to conserve energy. This stems from the caveman days when saving energy was a matter of life and death. It would make no sense for your body to waste precious energy producing sperm-friendly cervical fluid if there’s no egg to ovulate, which is why cervical fluid is only produced around the time of ovulation. There’s no point in keeping sperm alive unless there’s about to be an egg to fertilize.

5. Your basal body temperature (your waking temperature) is governed by the sex hormone progesterone.

After your egg is released at ovulation, a sac in your ovaries produces progesterone. Progesterone has a direct effect on your basal body temperature, and allows you to detect ovulation. This is especially important if you’re trying to get pregnant or prevent pregnancy, but, again, this has implications even if you don’t. Since basal body temperature governed by progesterone, measuring it each day can give you data about the health of your hormones.

6. The number of days between ovulation and your next period is always consistent.

If you have functioning ovaries, you probably want to avoid being surprised by your period. The sympto-thermal method is awesome for this. Since basal body temperature tells you when you ovulate, and the number of days between ovulation and your period is always the same, measuring your basal body temperature each day means you’ll know exactly when your period is coming! There might be a period god after all!

The sympto-thermal method works with the events that naturally take place in your body each month, and it’s hella empowering. I love pretty much everything about the sympto-thermal method (is it obvious yet?), but the thing I love most is its ability to change with your changing needs. Right now, I the sympto-thermal method is my birth control. In a few years, maybe I’ll use it to help me get pregnant. But, regardless of how my family planning goals play out, I’ll be able to use the sympto-thermal method for the rest of my life to optimize my health. Babies or no babies, it will always give me information about the state of my health, and that right there is what I call empowerment.

If you’re ready to dive in and start learning the sympto-thermal method, read through the free educational info on our website and check out our online store to find out which books are amazing for learning.

Jennifer Aldoretta is the cofounder and CEO of Groove. She is an entrepreneur, engineer, and biohacker who is obsessed with periods, nutrition, hormones, and the microbiome.