What’s In A Name?: Fertility Awareness (Based) Methods and Natural Family Planning

It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit, but I find it hard to bring fertility awareness up to people in real life who haven’t heard of it before. For me, the awkwardness is their reaction to the name and what they think it entails.

Something about “fertility awareness” evokes something for some folks that is akin to “hippy” or “new age” type of connotations.

On the other end, some folks will think that this term means the calendar method or the rhythm method. This is partially because most people don’t know about the new science of real-time fertility signs. The other reason people think this is because most people who claim to be practicing a fertility awareness method are still doing some kind of bleeding tracking focused method. It’s truly a small percentage of us who are using a evidence-based real-time fertility sign method like Sympto-Hormonal, Sympto-Thermal, or Cervical Mucus only methods.

“Fertility” evokes conception for many folks. It also isn’t the correct word. We can only know if we were truly capable of fertility that cycle retrospectively when a pregnancy occurs, or if the cycle was visibly fertile by counting the luteal phase. I’ve seen a researcher say the correct term might be “fecundity.”

“Awareness” makes me think of some type of campaign. And what does awareness mean?According to the OED, “knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” This can sound like people are charting with their intuition, but we are not. Fertility awareness modern methods track tangible and measurable fertility signs (cervical mucus, basal body temperature, cervix) or hormone levels.

I also don’t want to tell people that I teach natural family planning. Something about “family planning” makes people assume that the method is only for those who want to conceive, but a part of family planning is avoiding a pregnancy too. Then, there’s the religious connotation. I’m not Catholic, and I don’t just encourage abstinence because of religious compulsion.

Then, there’s the word natural. Natural is an incredibly subjective term. Some folks will see it and think this also means the withdrawal or pull out method. In the context of charting, it does not include withdrawal. According to the OED, one of natural’s meanings is “existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.”

With this definition, do urinary hormones methods become “unnatural”? The hormones themselves occur in the human body, but you can only measure them with help from a machine. I’m not arguing against natural family planning including hormone monitors, but I do wonder if it makes sense to use that terminology.

My favorite terminology is “fertility awareness based methods.” Something about the word “based” makes it sound more scientific in my mind. I’ve seen some educators adopt this language to be more inclusive.

I’ve seen Samantha Zipporah talk about “conscious contraception” as a way to classify fertility awareness. I like the term conscious. Something about it sounds more sophisticated than awareness. I’ve seen it used in a few older academic articles. You can read them here and here.

I’ve also seen it called “Natural Fertility Control” or “NFC.” You can read an article with this terminology here. Some people will feel uncomfortable with the term “control.” In some ways, it isn’t control, because there is always a small chance of unintended pregnancy with correct use, and a larger chance of unintended pregnancy with incorrect use. I do think the self-knowledge gives the user a level of control over their choices more than other methods do. After all, with correct use, you will always know when you are possibly fertile, and then can make your decisions accordingly.

What terminology do you like best?

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Leslie Rewis

Hello! My name is Leslie. I'm from Alabama in the USA. I'm a fertility awareness educator and a body literacy advocate.

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