does the rhythm method work?

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.


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  • alexis

    wat da fuk is a rythum method!!!!!!!!!!HELP!!!!!!!!!

  • Kaye

    Sperm can stay alive up to FIVE DAYS once they enter the female reproductive system, guys. Up to a week in laboratory settings. The rhythm method is RISKY.

  • alex

    I'd have to say that it works, because I keep track of when my period starts and stops and base my sex life around it. If you know the days that you ovulate (which is only one day out of the month), you really can avoid being pregnant. I don't use condoms or any kind of birth control, and I haven't gotten pregant. It works if you know how to use the method perfectly.

  • Rachel F

    My mom is an OB/GYN, and all through med school/residency she didn't particularly want or need a baby, but she didn't want to be on the pill either. She's told me she avoided pregnancy for about seven years of marriage by "being careful". She mentioned this to a colleague once during that time, and he told her she was definitely infertile.
    So basically, yeah, if you have perfectly regular cycles AND know what you're doing (not everyone's been to med school for OB/GYN, though…) it can work. But don't assume it will. MY periods are screwy as hell. I couldn't begin to guess when I'm ovulating. It's something worth doing if you're in a stable relationship and would prefer to wait for kids, but wouldn't mind having one.

  • Blake

    That's bull. It's like coitus interruptus, it might have been the BC of choice back then when the pill and condoms didn't exist, but now we have the 21st century peoples!

  • Hippiesque

    I second what althaea said.
    The rhythm method is like pulling out… yes, it does reduce the odds of pregnancy, but you shouldn't be using it unless you just don't feel like having a baby right then but are ultimately happy with the idea.
    But scarleteen CLAIMS that fertility awareness + pulling out is 94.6%… ok, so that's still a 5.4% chance of pregnancy, but it's impressive for behavioral methods…

  • Laura

    What is the rhythm method? And how does it work? 🙂

  • Chelsea

    my parent's and most of their friends were taught to use the rhythm method by the catholic church…most of the couples in the class got pregnant. my mom even said "Yeah, don't use it. For most people, it's the quickest way to actually get pregnant.

  • Mercedes

    I can tell when I'm ovulating by my discharge. And how confident I'm feeling.
    There's a drastic difference.
    However I will not ever rely on the rhythm method to avoid pregnancy.

  • Althaea

    The old joke goes "There's a name for people who use the rhythm method, Parents." It can be fairly effective, if used perfectly, but doing that is very difficult. And it doesn't protect against STDs.
    I think it's most popular with couples that have religious or other prohibitions on contracpetion of any kind, and so have to rely on charting.
    So unless you're Catholic (or a member of any other religion that prohibits contracpetion) you're better off using hormonal birth control and condoms.