Natural contraception – how does it work?

Reviewed: October 4, 2021
Many females find themselves opting for natural methods instead of the pill. By tracking your cycle and using apps, natural family planning can be effective.

With society and science still not knowing enough about hormonal contraception, the pill in particular, females across the globe seem to be moving away from pumping hormones through their bodies to prevent pregnancy.

The contraceptive birth control pill was arguably a revelation when invented, allowing women (and men) to have sex freely without the worry of getting pregnant (99.9% of the time). But, as research has come to show that the pill can have negative effects on some women – and we say some as many females reap the benefits of it – people are starting to wonder if hormonal contraceptives are beneficial in the long-term.

As a result, many people find themselves turning to not only non-hormonal methods, but natural contraception, or natural family planning methods, something that differentiates from non-hormonal contraception,

So, what is natural contraception, what are the options and what do our reviewers say? Here, The Lowdown reveals all.

What is natural contraception?

Natural methods of birth control do not rely on the use of hormones, barriers or devices to prevent pregnancy or to monitor fertility. Non-natural contraception refers to anything that interferes with the body’s normal cycle or is man-made, including non-hormonal contraception such as the copper coil.

Many females use natural family planning when trying for a family as it can help to track when they are at their most fertile and should therefore try for a baby, but it can be also used as a contraceptive. Natural family planning or the fertility awareness method (FAM), identifies and records symptoms or fertility, symptoms like the presence of cervical mucus. It would then be advised that you avoid sex when fertility is at its peak if the aim is to prevent pregnancy.

If used correctly, natural family planning can be up to 99.9% effective, according to the NHS. This means that one female in every 100 who use it will fall pregnant in one year. There are no physical side effects but if you want to have sex during your most fertile window and do not intend to get pregnant, it is advised you use another type of contraception such as a condom, diaphragm or cap.

How do I use natural contraception?

There are three different fertility signals you can use and record for natural family planning. These include; the length of your menstrual cycle, daily readings of your body temperature or changes to your cervical secretions (mucus).

Menstrual cycle and temperature

Your menstrual cycle lasts from the first day of your period (when you bleed) until the day before your next period starts. The average cycle lasts 28 days.

During the cycle, an egg is released from your ovaries, known as ovulation, and is usually released 10-16 days before your next period. The egg only lives for a maximum of 24 hours after ovulation.

You can therefore get pregnant up to two days before you ovulate but if you have had sex in the week before ovulation, it is possible to fall pregnant. By tracking your cycle, you can calculate when you’re most likely to get pregnant.

Like many females, you may not feel comfortable monitoring this yourself. Luckily, there are various health apps that will inform you when you are most fertile and least fertile based on the information you input.

The Natural Cycles app is the only ‘certified contraceptive app’ according to Gynae Geek. She says that when you subscribe, you are supplied with a thermometer (this is where the temperature method comes in) which you are asked to take every day. Based on this information and by using your last period dates, the app predicts ovulation and fertility.

While the app can be effective, Gynae Geek believes it should only be used if you would not be devastated if you did fall pregnant.

Of course, other apps are available to monitor your cycle such as Clue, Ovia, Flo, Glow and Fertility Friend. If you are considering using one of these, check out this study on the effectiveness of contraceptive apps.

Cervical secretion monitoring method

Perhaps not the most used method of natural contraception, the cervical secretion method involves a little more physical effort. At different points of your menstrual cycle, the amount and texture of cervical mucus changes.

For the first few days after your period, your vagina should be dry with little mucus. As your hormone levels rise to prepare your body for ovulation, you should produce more mucus that is moist, sticky and white. This is the start of the fertile period of your cycle.

Just before ovulation, the mucus will get wetter, clearer and slippery. This is when you are most fertile. After three days it should soon return to being thicker, indicating you should no longer be fertile.

To check the levels of mucus, you can gently place your middle finger into your vagina and pushing it up to around your middle knuckle.

So, what do the reviews say?

As with all forms of contraception, The Lowdown offers people the option to submit their own reviews on contraception, allowing other people to gain a better understanding of what might be the right choice for them.

The majority of our reviewers said their moods changed positively and their sex drive increased. Most said there was no change in their cycle or their weight.

“I used natural family planning for 1 year after coming off my implant. As a nurse working night shifts at times I struggled to get accurate recordings of my temperature therefore I believe it became unreliable. I suffered a chemical pregnancy. However, my sex drive increased, my skin improved ever so slightly and I was a lot less bloated.”

“I was sceptical but now I Love NFP and recommend it to everybody to give it a try. I felt more like myself right after I quit the pill 10 month ago and still feel better every day. It’s exciting to really experience how your body works. Now I can really sense in which phase of my cycle I am. I couldn‘t feel more like myself, more like a woman. Sex is wayyyyy better now!”

“By using The Billings Ovulation Method for 26 years so far. Planned our family with plenty of spacing in between. I would highly recommend this method for its benefits in couple relationship and healthy choice for women and family!”

“I started coming off hormonal birth control for nearly a month now before I was on the implant but that caused me to gain weight and feel hungry all the time and depressed and made my periods crazy but now I’ve just decided for my contraceptive method is to go hormone free and it’s the best decision I ever made at least I know I will get my periods every month I can track when it’s my ovulation and when it’s safe to have sexual intercourse I chose this method because at the minute I am not in a relationship I’m a single 24 year old woman and I thought this method with no hormones being pumped in my body is the right choice at the minute for me I’m giving my body a break from hormonal birth control at the minute due to the Covid-19 situation going on around the world it has been the best decision so far no hormones natural periods every month no side effects I feel healthier my skin has improved a lot since going hormone free…”

This guide was brought to you by The Lowdown. We are the world’s first contraception review platform, providing real-life experiences from thousands of reviews collected from our community of men and women.

Why not leave us a review of your contraceptive experience? Whether you’ve got good things to say about the Mirena coil or had trouble with implant removal, we want to hear about it! Tell us about your experience and help people around the world find the right method for them.