Question: My sex ed teacher taught my class about the rhythm method. Does this really work? Can you avoid getting pregnant if you know when you’re ovulating?
Answer: Let me tell you a little story about the rhythm method.
A few years ago, I went out with some friends of mine, Dean and Nancy. Over appetizers they informed me that they had exciting news: Nancy was pregnant. Then they informed of some startling news: It was my fault.
"Excuse me?" I yelped.
"Yup," said Dean. "We were using the rhythm method from the Planned Parenthood website, just like you told us to."
Nancy and Dean were joking about the pregnancy being my fault, of course. But it was true, when they had asked what I thought of the rhythm method, I had directed them to the Planned Parenthood website. They followed the directions carefully and gotten pregnant.
It’s not that there was a problem with the information. The problem was that even when the rhythm (or calendar or natural family planning) method is practiced perfectly, there is still a pretty high chance of pregnancy.
The way the system works is that a woman needs to figure out when she is ovulating. Once she determines this, she has to avoid having unprotected sex at that time. In theory, she can have unprotected sex throughout the rest of the month.
The problem is that tracking ovulation can be tricky. You need to take your vaginal temperature every day for six months before you start the method and plot the findings on a chart. Based on that, you can try to predict when you are going to ovulate in the future.
It is pretty easy to miscalculate. Add to the mix the fact that a lot of women have irregular cycles, and what you have is a pretty good chance that the system will fail.
Now Dean and Nancy were probably the perfect people to use the rhythm method. They were adults who were in a committed relationship and were ultimately happy to have a baby. Maybe he arrived a little earlier than planned, but in their situation, that was no big deal.
However this method isn’t great for people who really don’t want to get pregnant. If that is the situation you’re in, I’d recommend sticking to condoms or the pill.