The Doctor Is In: 5 Myths About FABMs Every Woman Needs to Forget

An expert debunks some of the most common misconceptions about fertility awareness.
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An expert debunks some of the most common misconceptions about fertility awareness.

When it comes to taking care of our health, asking questions never hurts. But is it always worth a visit to your doctor? We’re asking experts to weigh in on your burning questions—from feminine to general health and everything in between—so you can get advice from a pro before you go. The doctor will see you now.

In an era when taking The Pill seems as common a rite of passage as getting your first period, many are surprised to learn that there has been a rise in popularity and use of methods for nurturing our natural fertility. From scientifically developed methods like NaProTECHNOLOGY to monitoring methods like Kindara's app and sleek Wink thermometer, researchers and health practitioners have been working to place women's fertility where it ought to be—in our hands.

Fertility awareness-based methods, or FABMs, are valuable tools for understanding your overall health and are key to helping a doctor diagnose underlying issues. Studies have evidenced that charting-based methods are effective in helping couples both avoid and achieve pregnancy. Despite the rise in popularity, there are still many misconceptions and myths surrounding FABMs. 

Dr. Marguerite Duane, a family physician and the Executive Director of Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science helps us demystify the top expectations and assumptions she has experienced from her own practice and investigation.

Myth #1: FABMs are based on guesswork; it's what people used before modern science developed contraception.

FABMs are based on solid scientific research of a woman's reproductive physiology. Early researchers discovered the link between ovulation and cyclical changes in cervical fluid as well as the rise in basal body temperature. Then in the 1920s, two independent researchers discovered that ovulation occurs consistently about 12-16 days prior to the woman's next period. Based on this early research, physicians and researchers began to develop modern natural methods of family planning starting in the 1960s with the Billings and then Symptothermal methods—about the same time the pill was launched. In the 1970s, the Creighton Model was developed followed by the Marquette Method in the 1990s, and then the Standard Days and Two Day methods. These methods are not based on guess work but rather on observations of specific physical signs that are produced in response to the woman's changing hormones

Myth #2: FABMs can only be used by women with regular cycles.

Except for Standard Days (which is based on the average cycle that lasts 26-32 days), methods of FABMs can be used by women with irregular cycles, as well as by women that may be breastfeeding, peri-menopausal, or have other special circumstances. FABMs teach a woman to observe specific physical signs (like basal body temperature and cervical fluid) that indicate whether or not she may be fertile. She does not need to rely on a history or previous cycles to predict future fertility.

Myth #3: FABMs are too complicated to be used by most people.

FABMs are easy to learn and, in fact, are used worldwide by women with very low literacy. Women learn how to observe 1 to 3 signs of fertility and follow just a few rules to identify when they may be fertile. The key to using FABMs correctly, though, is learning from a trained instructor who can explain to a woman how to make the observations and interpret them. The overwhelming majority of women are able to learn how to effectively use a FABM within 2-3 months after starting.

Myth #4: FABMs are not a reliable method of family planning.

FABMs are indeed a very effective method of family planning and are comparable to most artificial methods of birth control when it comes to avoiding pregnancy. I would say that FABMs are the only true methods of family planning because couples can use them to both avoid and achieve pregnancy. Read our FACTS report for the latest research on effectiveness.

Editor’s note: Each FABM has a different perfect and typical use rate. The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals lists the perfect use rate of the Symptothermal method as 0.4 (per 100 women years). The ARHP notes the perfect use rate for condoms as 5, the Pill as 0.3, the Paragard IUC as 0.6, and female sterilization as 0.5.

Myth #5: FABMs and contraception are pretty much the same thing.

There are significant differences between FABMs and contraception.
FABMs are natural, have no side effects, and allow a woman to work with her body rather than suppress her normal physiology. And it can be used to both avoid and achieve pregnancy.

Have a story about your experience using FABMs? Please share in the comments below. Or email us at ohhello@verilymag.com to ask a question for a future edition of The Doctor Is In.

Photo Credit: Ryan Flynn