Let's cut to the chase: it sucks to have to be anxious and fearful about your sex life when pregnancy is something that absolutely can not happen. Perhaps the mother has had multiple previous c-sections, and for the health of her uterus or even her life: pregnancy is not an option. Or maybe the family is currently unemployed, out of a home, and generally unable to provide for another. Other things such as the state of one's marriage or even mental health can also play a role.
While there are always the option to try for a child in such hard places in life, some may discern through careful discussion and prayer that it is best to avoid another pregnancy. And once that decision is made, you have your NFP charts staring right at you and your spouse.
NFP is effective, very effective: but only when you chart consistently, seek support from an instructor, and work together with your spouse to make it a team effort. While this should be the norm for any couple, the anxiety of a pregnancy may put more pressure on said couple than desired, causing the anxiety about charting to be even worse, and thus creating a cycle of needless worry.
To get the most from your charting and also reliably avoid pregnancy, there are four options to choose from with NFP. I list them in order from "most abstinence" to "least abstinence".
NOTE: I give this advice to inform people of their options. To know which choice is the fit best with your situation, always go over your options with an instructor. This is especially true when implementing rules is involved.
Option 1: Total Abstinence
I don't blame you if you skip through this option! No one wants to abstain completely within their marriage, and many know that it can strain the relationship. Yet, it is an option: and one I will discuss, so that whoever reads this knows all the options that they have.
You have probably heard from just about everyone when growing up: abstinence is the only 100% perfect way to completely prevent pregnancy. No sex = no baby. If a couple decides that this is right for them, they will refrain from sexual intercourse and genital contact until the woman is clinically shown to have reached menopause. Testing the levels of a woman's Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) by a doctor will show whether or not this is the case.
Even if you go this route, continue to chart diligently. As tempting as it is to throw out your charts and never bother with them again, that could be a huge mistake in the long run. Why? Five reasons:
1) If there comes a time when the couple can not stand it anymore and both of them are willing to have sex just this once, then their chart will be able to show if and when the woman is infertile. This prevents "taking chances" and causing needless fear and anxiety over a possible pregnancy.
2) It's handy to have filled-out charts if the couple ever changes their mind about being completely abstinent! By having that information on hand, they can jump right in and not have to worry about re-learning all the rules, contacting their instructor for a refresher, etc. And of course, as with point one, they can already know when the woman will be or already is infertile.
3) Even if the couple never has sex, charting has other benefits, mainly for the woman's health. Especially when menopause approaches, a woman can know what when something is off, or if something she is doing or taking is effecting her cycles. The chart then can be used to accurately test for hormonal imbalance, show whether diet or exercise is helping her, and more.
4) If charting while avoiding pregnancy ever made couples unfocused and anxious before, charting purely for health reasons, without sex, can help them better understand the woman's cycle. They may even discover issues with charting as a couple they didn't before, such as whether the woman did all the work, or if they allowed themselves to be bitter over this or that part of charting, making it more a dreaded chore rather than an everyday habit. All this could slowly give them the confidence needed to chart again for pregnancy prevention and resume sexual relations: if they is what they decide on.
5) Last but not least, you should chart because it encourages communication between man and woman. Abstaining from sex will be straining enough, and losing that communicative aspect that charting provides could make it worse. They chart every cycle together, and discuss together whether or not it is worth it to continue complete abstinence whenever they are in infertile blocks of time.
Option 2: Refrain from Sex until AFTER ovulation
There are three phases to the menstrual cycle. They include:
Phase 1, (or Relatively Infertile Time) which varies in length each cycle, and begins at the onset of menstruation. It continues until the body begins preparing for the release of an egg sometime after menstruation;
Phase 2, (Potentially Fertile Time) which is when the body begins preparations for ovulation, and sex during this time could lead to pregnancy because of the availability of an egg; a woman can know Phase 2 has started when she begins producing fertile signs through her mucus and cervical changes;
and finally, Phase 3, (Completely Infertile Time) which occurs after ovulation has been confirmed, the egg is dead and gone, and menstruation is set to begin again within two weeks or so.
Phase 3 of a menstrual cycle is the most infertile time any woman will have up until she reaches menopause. Because ovulation has already occurred, and the egg dissolves if not fertilized, it is literally impossible for intercourse to lead to a pregnancy. Another ovulation will NOT occur during this time, making Phase 3 so infertile. The only way a woman can become pregnant this way is if she misjudged when Phase 3 began, and caught the tail-end of Phase 2 instead. In fact, following a Phase 3 only rule has a 99% failure rate, it is that objective!
Phase 1, though reliable, is still more prone to "surprise pregnancies". This is due to the fact that a woman may start Phase 2 at the end of menstruation, and -- thinking she is in Phase 1 still -- will have intercourse not knowing she is fertile. Even in women who regularly have a longer Phase 1, the next cycle still might possibly have an extremely early event of ovulation. Also, most user errors occur in determining when Phase 2 begins: and when that mistake is made, the couple may end up having intercourse during a fertile part of her cycle. In short, if a woman has yet to ovulate, and an egg is still able to come out in the future: pregnancy is possible, if extremely slim.
With these points in mind, it makes sense that reserving sex for Phase 3 has both good points (the couple still has sex) but with a drawback (still a lengthy time to abstain and only two weeks or so available days for intercourse). If they feel the drawback is worth it, a couple could be very happy and confident in this option.
Option 3: Limited Intercourse Before Ovulation
Although most user errors occur during Phase 1 of the menstrual cycle, there are some rules developed that are more objective to use, and are less prone to mistakes. They involve calculating available infertile days through past cycle lengths and past temperature patterns; though it may sound something from the Rhythm Method, this is actually quite accurate as they are based on YOUR cyclical patterns, and they require certain amounts of charting data to be implemented accurately.
These rules are universal among sympto-thermal methods, though each organization will vary on details and overall implementation. However they are used, they give a clear cut day for NFP users on when to start abstaining.
With SymptoPro, an NFP user can:
- calculate their first five or six infertile days by basing it on the length of their shortest cycle
- calculate their first fertile day by finding the earliest sixth last low (ESLL) temperature before a temperature rise from their past 12 cycles
- do the same as above, but crosscheck with mucus observations; if mucus appears first before the ESLL, then you are fertile; if the ESLL comes first, then you are fertile even if your mucus pattern has not changed
- subtract 20 from the length of your shortest cycle, and the answer left over is the number of days you have in the beginning of your cycle that is safe (only recommended for shorter cycles)
Other methods and organizations will have variants of these rules. You must also contact your instructor (or find one if you don't) so that they can recommend a rule for you that fits your charting preferences and lifestyle. Not to mention, they can teach you how to properly implement it!
If you are serious about avoiding pregnancy but would like more "wiggle room" than Phase 3-only sex allows, following a cut-off date approach with your instructor could be a choice that fits!
Bonus Tips: Keeping Healthy, Both Physically and Mentally
So now you know your options! But with those points given, I feel that it it prudent to discuss two things in relation to strict TTA charting: the physical and mental well-being of the couple.
Physically, it makes sense for the woman to keep healthy. The healthier she is, the healthier her menstrual health will be: and the healthier her menstrual health, the easier it is to chart her fertile signs! Confusing or tricky mucus, cervical, and temperature patterns are surefire ways to lower the charting couple's confidence in their method and cause more abstinence; fight against this by investing time, energy, and money to the health of the woman. Also, husbands who help with this charting and showing concern for the woman's health can help keep the marital bond strong!
Mentally, the couple as individuals and as a partnership must be mentally healthy to manage their relationship and sex life in non-toxic ways. When avoiding pregnancy for very serious reasons, this is important to remember and make a priority! A woman having abnormal anxiety about pregnancy because of past medical issues needs space and time to accept what she experienced; an overworked father already overwhelmed with other children needs to have his stresses expressed in safe ways; a couple going through relationship strains from previous issues need counseling to work through the issues together.
Strictly following NFP to avoid pregnancy can be stressful enough: so make your physical and mental health a priority!
Yes, you CAN do this!
If you have a very serious reason to avoid pregnancy, be rest assured that your NFP method has your back.