I’m not a healthcare practitioner, so don’t take this as medical advice, but this worked for me for years when I either couldn’t afford birth control pills in college or simply didn’t want to add extra hormones to my body. You may ask, “What if you just weren’t fertile?” Well, I got pregnant the second cycle my husband (then fiancé) and I started trying, so that can’t be the case. Note that I am in no way endorsing sex without birth control, I am simply saying if you don’t have access to it or can’t use it for some reason, you should follow a tracking method to ensure you don’t experience any unwanted pregnancies. Also note that this method is not a substitute for condoms (or at least the pull out method), it is only a substitute for birth control that puts the burden on the woman. This method allows you to take control back, and put the burden of birth control on the man.
Although I do not support abortion, I absolutely sympathize with the powerlessness a woman can feel when her body acts out of her control. This method, although not foolproof, helped empower me when I wasn’t ready to be a mother but I could not and would not put added hormones in my body.
Anyways, here’s the scoop. What you’ll need to do first is download a free period tracker app, such as Glow, Flo, Clue, or Eve. You’ll also need a pack of ovulation test strips, which are about $10 on Amazon. The next time you get your period, log it on the app. Period Day 1 is the first day of full flow. If it happens at night, count Day 1 the next morning. Period Day 1 is also Cycle Day 1. On Cycle Day 11, use an ovulation test, and do so every day for 6 days. Log each test in your app, whether it’s negative or positive. Hopefully you’ll get at least one positive result, but if you don’t, test for a couple days longer. If you still don’t get a positive, test earlier next month.
Continue doing this tracking until you get at least 3 months’ worth of reliable data. If your results are fairly consistent during this period (i.e. all 3 months are about the same amount of days, and ovulation happens around the same time each month), then you can stop testing your ovulation. If your numbers are not at all consistent, keep tracking until you get a somewhat predictable pattern. If your numbers are never consistent this method may not work for you.
Once you’ve gotten consistent data you can stop testing and rely on your app to predict your future cycles. But even after you’ve completed the testing phase, continue to log the first day of your period each month. This is really important so never forget to do this. Your app will use your previous testing data, plus your period date, to calculate your predicted ovulation day each month. It will also predict your fertile window, which is about a week surrounding ovulation day.
Make sure to enable notifications on the app for when your fertile window is about to start. Avoid sex during this window. I repeat, avoid sex during your fertile window. If you and your partner are feeling frisky, you can improvise and do other activities, which can be fun and make you feel like you’re back in high school. Be really careful around this time because even if you’re several days away from your predicted ovulation day, 1) you could ovulate earlier, and 2) sperm can live in the fallopian tubes for up to 5 days.
I would definitely repeat the testing phase every so often in case your cycles change. And use common sense. Every woman’s body is different. If you know you’re going through an unusual time — maybe you’re under a lot of stress, or you recently suffered a miscarriage, or you just got off birth control — obviously this is not the best time to start testing. Also note that this is in no way a foolproof method. You might want to use it on top of using hormonal birth control, just to be doubly sure you don’t get pregnant. Or you could be like me and use it as your primary method of birth control. Just be smart about it. It’s a good way of feeling in control of your body, but you really have to know your body for it to be effective.
Good luck and don’t hesitate to ask questions!