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Sexual Development

About Fertility Awareness

Talking to your kids about sex can be daunting, no matter how close you are. But discussing issues like abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and birth control can help lower teens’ risk of an unintended pregnancy or contracting an STD.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports sex education that includes information about both abstinence and birth control. Research has shown that this information doesn’t increase sexual activity among teens, but does promote and increase the proper use of birth control methods among those who are sexually active.

How and when you discuss sex and birth control is up to you. Providing the facts is vital, but it’s also wise to tell your kids where you stand. Remember, by approaching these issues like any other health topics, not as something dirty or embarrassing, you increase the odds that your kids will feel comfortable coming to you with any questions and problems. As awkward as it might feel, answer questions honestly. And if you don’t know the answers, it’s OK to say so, then find out and report back.

If you have questions about how to talk with your son or daughter about sex, consider consulting your doctor. Lots of parents find this tough to tackle, and a doctor may offer some helpful perspective.

What Is Fertility Awareness?

Fertility awareness is a way to prevent pregnancy by not having sex around the time of ovulation (the release of an egg during a woman’s monthly cycle). Couples who want to have a baby can also use this method to plan sex during the time the female is most likely to conceive. Fertility awareness can include methods such as natural family planning, periodic abstinence, and the rhythm method.

How Does Fertility Awareness Work?

If a couple doesn’t have sex around the time of ovulation, the female is less likely to get pregnant. The trick is knowing when ovulation happens. Couples use a calendar, a thermometer to measure body temperature, the thickness of cervical mucus, or a kit that tests for ovulation. The ovulation kits are more useful for couples who are trying to get pregnant. The fertile period around ovulation lasts 6 to 9 days and during this time the couple using only fertility awareness for birth control should not have sex.

How Well Does Fertility Awareness Work?

Fertility awareness is not a reliable way to prevent pregnancy for most young people who are sexually active. Over the course of a year, as many as 25 out of 100 typical couples who rely on fertility awareness to prevent pregnancy will have an accidental pregnancy. Of course, this is an average, and the chance of getting pregnant depends on whether a couple uses one or more of the fertility awareness methods correctly and consistently to ensure that they do not have unprotected sex during the fertile period.

In general, how well each type of birth control method works depends on many different factors. These include any health conditions the young woman may have or any medications she may be taking. In the case of fertility awareness, it depends on how consistent her cycle is and how accurately the couple tracks when she could be ovulating, and how reliably unprotected sex is avoided during the fertile period.

Protection Against STDs

Fertility awareness does not protect against STDs. Couples having sex must always use condoms to protect against STDs even when using another method of birth control.

Abstinence (not having sex) is the only method that always prevents pregnancy and STDs.

Who Uses Fertility Awareness?

Fertility awareness is not a reliable way to prevent pregnancy. It is often very difficult to tell when a female is ovulating, and she can conceive for up to 6 days before she ovulates and 1 or 2 days after. Because teens often have irregular menstrual cycles, it makes predicting ovulation much more difficult. Even people who have previously had regular cycles can have irregular timing of ovulation when factors such as stress or illness are involved. Fertility awareness requires a commitment to monitoring body changes, keeping daily records, and above all not having sex during the fertile period. Couples often need to practice for months to get this method right.

More Information About Fertility Awareness

Couples interested in this method should talk to a doctor or counselor trained in fertility awareness who can teach them the skills necessary to practicing this birth control method accurately.

How Much Does Fertility Awareness Cost?

The tools needed for fertility awareness — such as ovulation detection kits and thermometers — are available in drugstores but can be expensive. Again, it’s best to talk to a doctor for advice on using this method.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2013