What is the rhythm method?

The rhythm method was one of the first attempts at birth control through fertility planning. It is based on the concept that a woman cannot get pregnant during the non-fertile days in her cycle, and allows women to prevent or achieve pregnancy. The rhythm method has been a form of birth control since at least 388 CE, where Saint Augustine mentioned it in a letter.

The rhythm method is based on three ideas. The first is that a woman's cycle length is usually 28 days or so, and that a woman ovulates about 14 days before she starts her period. The second idea is that sperm can last three days in a woman's body. The third idea is that an egg must be fertilized within 24 hours of its release.

Using these three ideas, a calendar was developed, beginning on the first day of a woman's period, the day her cycle begins. A woman is considered fertile from the time her period ends until four or five days after she ovulates, usually around day 19. From day 20 until her period starts again, she is infertile and cannot get pregnant.

There are some advantages to the rhythm cycle. It is easy to use and does not require a woman to remember to take a pill every day or use any other chemical-based contraceptive method. It's free and has no side effects. It can be a useful tool in helping a couple plan for conception, allowing them to plan intercourse for when a woman is most fertile.

Unfortunately, the rhythm method is not an effective form of birth control. It is estimated that between 10% and 25% of couples who use this method to prevent pregnancy will conceive within a year. It does not take into account fluctuations in a woman's cycle, or that not all women ovulate on day 14 of the fertility cycle, and not all fertility cycles last around 28 days. The rhythm method also does not provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

There are other birth control methods for fertility awareness that are much more accurate than the rhythm method. By recording basal body temperature, a woman's temperature when she wakes up in the morning, monitoring changes in her cervical mucus, and checking the position of her cervix daily, can give a much clearer idea of ​​when a woman is fertile. There are also specialized handheld microscopes, available at some pharmacies and online markets, that allow a woman to check her saliva for ferns, a pattern in the dried saliva. This is a sign that ovulation is only a day or two away, allowing a woman to plan for her most fertile time.

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