Susceptible to a World Outside Ourselves: Mucous Membranes


In a report set out by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, it says, "An average human skin surface contains 40–70 hair follicles and 200–250 sweat ducts per square centimetre." In all honesty, a set of numbers like that is a germaphobes worst nightmare- and you know who we mean: the person who uses paper towels or the edge of their tennis shoe to open bathroom doors, your co-worker who currently holds the monopoly on bottles of hand sanitizers owned, or even the person who's organic about everything else that they use except for the perpetual container of chlorox wipes that they use to wipe down (everything) at the end of the day.

There are throngs of people who are hyper-aware of which person coughs or sneezes, whose minds calculate bacterial defense like it's their job. Whatever your opinion on these slightly neurotic folk, you know you must pay them a degree of respect, because despite their scary, type A behavior, they're all about staying healthy and avoiding risks to their immune system. They inspire a kind of awe that is especially pertinent in 2015 when American society is developing a heightened awareness of what's going on with our consumer products. Stories about the harmful effects of phthalates and if they're truly unavoidable and flame retardants and nail polish that makes you gain weight are all over the media. And if you're a true Millenial or Generation Y member, this stuff has gone beyond scaremongering and has evolved into a new layer of your mindfulness. We are the generation of information and the directors of swagger. And in light of that sentiment, here's another thing to add to your health bank of knowledge...

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Getting back to skin, and the central roles our bodies play in soaking up what's around them, we often forget, that in addition to our skin, there is another huge player in what can make us sick: the often understated, ever-important set of MUCOUS MEMBRANES we're blessed with.

Mucous membranes are "different than normal skin because they allow pathogens (like fluid-borne STD/STIs) access to the blood stream" (UWire). This means a lot of how we get sick (and the reason why Hypochondriac-Heather dreads getting out of her plastic-wrapped bed in the morning) happens because of what the mucous in and around our exposed membranes fails to repel from entering our body. For women, there are mucous membranes all along the vaginal canal and around the clitoris. That stupid trend in the early 2010's of young women getting intoxicated through tampons- that, was brought to you in part by mucous membranes. Sexually Transmitted Infections’ preferred method of entry to your body- mucous membranes. And lastly, what soaks up all of the organic and nonorganic bi-products that reside on feminine hygiene products? You got it- the mucous membranes along your vulva and vagina.

Short of literally growing tougher skin, a clear thing we'd do well to advocate for are less opaque answers about what goes into the processed products that we use. It would be helpful if companies like Procter & Gamble would keep us abreast of the changes in their pad and tampon compositions. Take for example, infinicel. Have you heard of it? Probably not. But it might be (and here's what I'm getting at with this piece) what is at the center of many of P&G's pads to make them more absorbent. Do we know exactly what's in our pads and tampons at any given point (depending on where they're manufactured and who gave them a seal of approval for safety)? Doubtful. Is it something that's mandated for feminine hygiene product companies to publicize by the Food and Drug Administration or National Institute of Health? Not really.

Change is happening though! Just last week , Proctor and Gamble agreed to disclose their products’ ingredients, after a group organized by Women’s Voices for the Earth rallied outside of their shareholder meeting armed with signs anda petition signed by 35,000 people asking for more transparency. We call this a step in the right direction, but the fight for the #tampontruth is not yet over.

We are in a year where the traction behind regulating what goes into our feminine care products can turn from ripples into waves that will shift policy in the United States. With the Robin Danielson Act making its way into the spotlight , it is becoming possible to ask more of our regulatory bodies in the U.S. There are plenty of articles written to pique interest about what may or may not be present in the pads, tampons, cups, and sponges we use on a monthly basis, and too few studies done to explore what and a few here and there that demand active participation in the shift to demand more testing on consumer products that are used in more susceptible areas in/on our bodies.

Maxim Hygiene Products, makers of Maxim brand Organic and Natural Menstrual Care Products, has been one of the leading voices in safeguarding #healthymenstruation practices and products and is our choice for safer tampon and pad options until there ismore research to prove otherwise. Based on what we learned about mucous membranes in this post, wouldn’t you want to make sure that most absorbent and life-breeding part of your body is made of only the purest materials?

Sources

Boundless. “Mucous Membranes.” Boundless Anatomy and Physiology. Boundless, 21 Jul. 2015. Retrieved 20 Oct. 2015 from https://www.boundless.com/physiology/textbooks/boundless-anatomy-and-physiology-textbook/tissues-4/membranes-62/mucous-membranes-389-4674/

"STD/STIs:  The Basics." STD/STI Basics. UWire, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.

Images courtesy of Beatrice Steinberg and Pearson Education

Heal Your Cycles and Regain Your Fertility.

I’d like to make an amendment to my book. Maybe I need to start work on a sequel. That’s the thing about publishing books, they can only ever represent a forever frozen moment in the author’s intellectual development. My book, ‘Sweetening the Pill,’ represents a time when I believed it was only a minority of women who experienced problematic periods. The statistics I studied seemed to suggest this was the case. But since its release I have come to realize that many more women struggle with issues like infertility, PCOS, endometriosis, cramps, heavy bleeding, and PMS. 

I was so focused on convincing the reader that women are not sick and that they do not need the daily medication of the birth control pill, that I missed the fact that there are women who do indeed require treatment. There are also women who, after coming off the Pill, don’t struggle to conceive only because they don’t know how to calculate when they are fertile and are not what I called “body literate”, but because their cycles need to be healed. 

Kelly Bourdet wrote an intelligent review of ‘Sweetening the Pill’ in which she remarked that I was never going to convince women who feel they “need” hormonal birth control to switch to other methods. She was right, I railed against the idea of hormonal contraceptives being a necessity from the perspective that women can use other methods, disregarding the sheer number of those using the Pill because without it they are debilitated. Not theoretically debilitated, actually sick from their periods. 

What has happened since this review is that more women have come to take up fertility awareness methods for avoiding and achieving pregnancy, often bolstered in their choice by the new apps and technology that can support them in the method. Watching this progression, something became very clear to me – women need support to regain healthy periods first or they will inevitably either return to hormonal contraceptives or conclude that they must rely on IVF and the requisite synthetic hormones to get pregnant. The Pill and Clomid become two sides of the same coin – one suppressing ovulation and one forcing ovulation. 

Although, yes, there are many women who do require treatment; they don’t always “need” the Pill and they don’t always need Clomid. Environmental toxins, stressful lifestyles, poor diet, sedentary living, long term Pill-taking – all of this could be culminating to cause an epidemic of cycle issues. The Pill is a band-aid for hormonal imbalances that too often leads women towards the band-aid of IVF treatment – they are both able to provide the desired results, but at what cost? We stop ovulation for years on end, believing that once we go off the Pill this will return naturally, then when it doesn’t, we are told the only answer is to use another drug with the opposite effect. 

But we are now seeing that changes to diet and lifestyle can heal many of the common problems women experience with their cycles. Holistic hormonal health experts are leading the way – revealing how what we eat, the supplements we take, the exercise we do, as well as our sleep and stress levels, all have real consequences for our menstrual cycles. A diagnosis of PCOS or infertility is no longer set in stone – it can be reversed, and without medical intervention or pharmaceuticals. Once women are having healthy, regular periods it becomes so much easier to utilize the apps and technology, like Ovatemp, that facilitate body awareness and knowledge. This is why Ovatemp incorporates a unique aspect that sets it apart from other fertility awareness technology – health coaching – because for some women, it’s simply not good enough for them to just track their fertility; they must regain their fertility first. 

For women who want to conceive it is a necessity that they heal their periods in order to ovulate regularly and experience fertile cycles and healthy pregnancy. For women wanting to avoid pregnancy, they need to heal their periods simply to feel better. Many advocates of fertility awareness, myself included, have over-emphasized the simplicity of making the transition, knowing the difficulty inherent in presenting an alternative to the convenience of pill-based medicine. For some the change is easy – I came off the Pill, my periods returned as light, regular, pain-free; I felt better. But for an increasing number of women, the new normal is irregular periods, anovulation, pain and discomfort. Now I see that it’s not only a lack of fertility awareness that’s holding them back and it’s up to us, as a movement, to break down these barriers.

 

A little bit about Holly and the awesome work she does!

Holly Grigg-Spall is a writer and women's health advocate. Her bookSweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control has been featured in Elle, the Sunday Times Style (UK), Marie Claire, New York magazine, the Guardian, and on CBC and the BBC, amongst others. The book was optioned by Ricki Lake and is the inspiration for a forthcoming feature documentary. She also currently writes frequently for LadyClever.com.

Can understanding your body replace IVF?

Anyone who keeps up with the Kardashians (and I’m afraid that I do) will know of 34 year-old Kim’s struggles to become pregnant with her second child. As the reality show had it, Kim found herself relying on ovulation test kits bought in bulk and the contradictory advice of her fertility specialist. She was stressed to always be surprised to find herself ovulating and then have to fit sex with her husband in around her busy schedule. Basically, she felt powerless in the face of presumed infertility issues and a body she did not fully understand. For someone so seemingly engaged with the outward appearance of her body, she was in the dark when it came to what was going on inside. 

In 2013 Atlantic magazine published a cover feature titled ‘How Long Can You Wait To Have A Baby?’ in which writer Jean Twenge suggested one of the driving forces behind the rise in the use of IVF might be a lack of body literacy, amongst both women trying to conceive and their healthcare providers. Twenge analyzed the research that makes up the basis for much of the national infertility panic as well as individual anxiety over falling fertility rates after 30 and she discovered that with increased body literacy many, many more women would be able to become pregnant when they chose. 

As she explained: “David Dunson’s analysis revealed that intercourse two days before ovulation resulted in pregnancy 29 percent of the time for 35-to-39-year-old women, compared with about 42 percent for 27-to-29-year-olds. So, by this measure, fertility falls by about a third from a woman’s late 20s to her late 30s. However, a 35-to-39-year-old’s fertility two days before ovulation was the same as a 19-to-26-year-old’s fertility three days before ovulation: according to Dunson’s data, older couples who time sex just one day better than younger ones will effectively eliminate the age difference.”

Essentially, the article put forth the idea that the older a woman becomes the more important it is that she truly knows how to observe and track her fertile period and precise day of ovulation. Gaining body literacy in your 20s could set you up for having power over when you become pregnant in your 30s. Rather than feeling pushed to have a baby perhaps earlier than they would have preferred, fertility awareness could give many women the confidence to wait until they’re ready. It could also prevent thousands of women from going through unnecessary, physically costly, and expensive IVF treatment. And, seeing as infertility is also associated with high levels of stress, perhaps the relief of the pressure that comes with a feeling of lack of control over one’s future can be alleviated with a fertility awareness education. 

When this Atlantic article was published there were few fertility awareness apps on the market and yet now there are both sophisticated apps and paired sophisticated thermometers to support women in gaining this education. This technology, as opposed to that employed as part of the IVF process, is entirely in women’s hands. Instead of more “IVF babies” we may well see an increase of “app babies” – born as a result of their mother’s superior knowledge of the workings of her fertility cycle.

 

A little bit about Holly and her awesome work!

Holly Grigg-Spall is a writer and women's health advocate. Her book Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control has been featured in Elle, the Sunday Times Style (UK), Marie Claire, New York magazine, the Guardian, and on CBC and the BBC, amongst others. The book was optioned by Ricki Lake and is the inspiration for a forthcoming feature documentary. She also currently writes frequently for LadyClever.com.

The Choice Not to Have Sex

I recently interviewed journalist Rachel Hills about her new book “The Sex Myth” in which she argues for a new sexual revolution that honors the choice not to have sex as much as it supports the choice to have sex – that is to say, a culture that respects those who decide to abstain, whether temporarily or permanently. One of the main contentions in the mainstream discussion of the Fertility Awareness Method centers on the component of the teaching and practice that suggests, but does not require, a couple choose not to have full sex while the woman is fertile if she does not want to get pregnant. 

The reactions to this – the idea of planned periodic abstinence – have been both concerning and fascinating. Many seem to be repelled by the idea of discussing the potential outcome of sex with their partner, making decisions about sex based on their fertility cycle, and not being open to having sex at any time. In this way Fertility Awareness does stand in opposition to the increasingly publicized benefits of using a long-acting, invisible, contraceptive method like the implant or IUD, that supposedly doesn’t get in the way of unplanned, spontaneous, around-the-clock sex and requires little or no conversation with your partner. The mainstream reactions suggest that those who chose the latter are sexually liberated and those that chose Fertility Awareness, including periodic abstinence, are prudes. 

Not only does this reveal how narrow-minded our concept of sex has become in that we cannot fathom eschewing full sex for other kinds of sexual experiences, it also reflects what Hills defines as the “Sex Myth” – this culture that insists that if we’re not having sex there’s something wrong with us and that if we’re choosing not to have sex (even temporarily), then we’re seriously defective. The horror at the idea of periodic abstinence, at least from liberal feminist quarters, seems to be reactionary – a kneejerk response to wider social issues like abstinence-only sex education and purity balls. Despite the fact that who knows how many women could benefit from the unsuppressed libido coming of the Pill or a long-acting hormonal method might provide. 

Desiring sex, but making the rational choice not to have full sex because of the context of your life situation, is received as counterintuitive to “natural” human behavior. The time around ovulation can be a time of high sexual desire for some women (and men) and some cannot imagine denying themselves full sex. As such, of course, some FAMers chose not to abstain and are happy enough with the effectiveness rates of condoms or withdrawal or a combination of methods to use those when fertile, and that’s okay. But it’s worth considering that choice in more depth and thinking about whether it is rooted in the “natural” or the “social.” 

It should also be okay if – whether for religious reasons or from a desire to be super-safe about avoiding pregnancy – some people chose not to have full sex for part of the month. Not only should it be okay, but it’s not actually all that abnormal. Hills reports in her book on how the majority of couples have sex a few times a month, not the “twice a week” we are prescribed by Dr Oz, Cosmopolitan et al. So, the outrage some may present online, may partly spring from a desire to appear more sexually active and as such fit in with the perceived social norms. 

I, for one, look forward to the new conversation, and the new sexual revolution, in time, that might come from the provocations of Hills’ book.

A little bit about Holly and her awesome work!

Holly Grigg-Spall is a writer and women's health advocate. Her book Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control has been featured in Elle, the Sunday Times Style (UK), Marie Claire, New York magazine, the Guardian, and on CBC and the BBC, amongst others. The book was optioned by Ricki Lake and is the inspiration for a forthcoming feature documentary. She also currently writes frequently for LadyClever.com.

My Ovatemp Baby Vol.2

I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl three days ago. My very own #ovatempbaby. 

I am now officially a mother of two. My miracle baby boy David, the very first Ovatemp Baby, and this new baby girl, Eva. She took us by surprise and I have no words to express how grateful I am for that. 

When David was born doctors said that getting pregnant again would be hard. I had gone through so much trying to conceive him. I had beaten all odds (according to doctors there was no way I'd get pregnant without at least a round of IVF) and gotten pregnant naturally. I had been able to carry to term after a miscarriage and given birth to a healthy, strong baby. So at my 6 week postpartum checkup my doctor told me to get ready to go on the pill once I stopped breastfeeding, otherwise my cycles would become wacky again, cysts would once again invade my ovaries, my endometriosis would worsen and conceiving baby number 2 would be next to impossible without some kind of hormonal treatment. Yeah right. 

We conceived Eva when David was 7 months old. I was exclusively breastfeeding and since we had taken so long to get pregnant the first time we figured it would be the same the second time around. Imagine our surprise when we got our big fat positive! It was, according to doctors, against all odds, but deep in my heart I knew it was not. 

Eva is proof that everything we did to conceive David had long term positive effects on my fertile health. All the changes in diet, lifestyle, stress management, acupuncture and so on were so beneficial that when my cycles came back they weren't wacky at all. When trying to conceive the first time around I had managed to heal my body, I took back control of my ovaries, I was able to fix the root of the problem and not just mask it with synthetic hormones. Eva is proof of that and this makes my desire to help other couples struggling with infertility that much stronger. 

We are so happy to welcome this little girl into our lives. It is a beautiful reminder of why we are working hard on our biz baby: Ovatemp.

Fertility Awareness and Fear of the Body

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As I scrolled through the tweets from attendees of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference last month, wishing I was there myself, one quotation from a talk given (I believe) by Lisa Leger, caught my attention: "Lack of body literacy is feeling unsafe in your own body."

This statement struck me because it made me recall how learning just the basics of fertility awareness when I came off the Pill changed my relationship with my body. Whereas before I had treated my body like a ticking time bomb that threatened me with unplanned pregnancy or periods and rebelled against the regimen of ten years on oral contraceptives with difficult side effects; body literacy gave me the insight I needed to stop seeing my biology as my enemy. 

I had been fearful of my body; fearful especially that I would get pregnant, and this kept me on the Pill too long. I had been led to believe that I was fertile every single day, with pregnancy a potential outcome every time I had sex. I didn’t trust the Pill to keep me safe, mainly because I started taking it long before I started having sex. My mind never confirmed the connection. Coming off the Pill, though, I believed would definitely end in an unplanned pregnancy or such terrible anxiety about getting pregnant (even worse than when on the Pill) that I would no longer want to have sex anyway. 

As my cycles started again I felt confident in knowing when I was fertile, when my period would start, and when I was most likely to have PMS symptoms. Whereas before I thought the best way forward was to overcome my biology; I found I felt better for leaving behind the constant struggle of managing it. I felt in control, but I didn’t feel like I had to be controlling. Nor did I feel like my biology was controlling me, anymore. My biology wasn’t demanding that I take the Pill, it wasn’t forcing me to experience side effects, and it wasn’t scaring me into doing what I thought was necessary. I didn’t feel like my reproductive system defined me, but I was ready to accept it as an important, healthy, helpful part of me and my life. 

Today, my body literacy allows me to feel safe in my body and gives me a positive perspective on what my body is like both inside and out. In a way, fertility awareness is an essential part of the body positive movement. 

What I like about the new technologies that are supporting body literacy – from the apps to the Bluetooth thermometers – is they act as great mediators between our bodies and our selves. They help us to learn fertility awareness in a way that doesn’t trigger defensiveness. This technology has become the bridge between not knowing and knowing. It’s not easy to go from feeling unsafe in your own body to feeling safe; and having the safe space to do work through that is vital. 

Exploration of fertility awareness (while still using barrier methods, of course!) is facilitated via our constant companions, our smart phones. Progressing from thinking your cervical fluid is an STD symptom, to knowing it’s a healthy sign of fertility, to understanding the difference between consistencies, to sharing photos with your FAMily online, is a process of overcoming our fear of our bodies that leads to connecting with ourselves and, ultimately, with other women.

 

A little bit about Holly and her awesome work!

Holly Grigg-Spall is a writer and women's health advocate. Her book Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control has been featured in Elle, the Sunday Times Style (UK), Marie Claire, New York magazine, the Guardian, and on CBC and the BBC, amongst others. The book was optioned by Ricki Lake and is the inspiration for a forthcoming feature documentary. She also currently writes frequently for LadyClever.com.

4 Signs of Low Progesterone and What To Do About It

Progesterone is your calming, soothing, anti-inflammatory hormone. It’s good for mood, hair, breasts, and of course for holding a pregnancy. In fact, progesterone’s essential role in pregnancy is how it got its name: Pro-gestation hormone, shortened to progesterone. 

Are you making enough progesterone? Are you sure? 

4 Signs of Low Progesterone

Short Luteal Phase

Your luteal phase is the time between ovulation and your period. It should last 11-14 days, which is the lifespan of the corpus luteum—your ovary’s temporary progesterone-secreting gland. If your luteal phase is shorter than 11 days, then it’s because your corpus luteum did not form properly. This is called a luteal phase defect, and is associated with low progesterone. 

Low Temperatures in Your Luteal Phase

Progesterone stimulates your thyroid, so it heats up your body. That’s why your basal body temperature goes up after ovulation, and should stay up until one day before your period. If your temperature does not go up or stay up, then you probably have a problem with progesterone. 

Fertile Mucus in Your Luteal Phase

Estrogen stimulates the clear stretchy fertile mucus or cervical fluid. Progesterone dries it up. You should see drier, tackier mucus throughout all your luteal phase. If you see fertile mucus in your luteal phase, then it means your progesterone has dropped away too soon. 

Premenstrual Spotting

Progesterone matures and stabilizes your uterine lining, so it holds and does not shed too soon. If you don’t have enough progesterone, then you’ll see a small amount of red-brown bleeding 3-4 days before your period starts. 

Other causes of premenstrual spotting: Gynecological conditions such as infection, endometriosis, uterine polyps, and ovarian cysts. If it’s a new symptom for you, then check with your doctor. 

Normal spotting with ovulation: Light bright red bleeding (or blood streaked mucus) on the day of ovulation is common and normal. It is caused by a mini-estrogen withdrawal as your estrogen dips after its pre-ovulatory surge. It doesn’t mean anything about progesterone. 

Blood Test

If you suspect low progesterone, then ask your doctor for a blood test. To get a meaningful result, you must do the blood test about 7 days before your period is due. That is sometimes called “day 21 progesterone”, but it will only be day 21 if you have a 28 day cycle. If you have a normal 35 day cycle, then you should test progesterone on day 28. 

Your blood level of progesterone should be greater than 8 ng/mL or 25 nmol/L. That is the minimum but you can have a lot more progesterone—which would be a good thing! When it comes to progesterone, the more the better. 

What to Do

The only way to make more progesterone is to have a strong, quality ovulation. That means correcting any obstacles to ovulation such as insulin resistance, thyroid, chronic stress, and nutrient deficiency. Beneficial supplements for ovulation and progesterone include magnesium, zinc, selenium, and the herbal medicine Vitex.

For more information on how to improve the quality of your ovulation, please see my book Period Repair Manual.

 

The fabulous Lara Briden and how she helps women get healthy.

Dr. Lara Briden is a board certified Naturopathic Doctor. She qualified from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 1997, and currently runs a busy hormone clinic in Sydney, Australia. Lara has nearly twenty years experience treating period problems, and earlier this year, she released her book:  Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods. To learn more about her visit larabriden.com

When is it time to Make a Baby?

You might be surprised to learn that there are certain times throughout your cycle where it is much easier to get pregnant, and other times where it can be virtually impossible. The trick is knowing which is which, so you can have the best chances of conception that month.

If you had to guess the best time during your cycle to get pregnant, what would you guess? The days around ovulation, right? It stands to reason that getting pregnant is a matter of getting the sperm to meet up with the egg when it is released. (You’re right about that, by the way.) But there are a few other factors that should weigh in when talking about timing.

Let’s start with some basic facts about women’s cycles. On average, a woman’s cycle will last about 26-34 days, during which her body will release one or two eggs around ovulation. In general, ovulation usually occurs close to the middle of the cycle, about a week or two after her period ends. The most fertile time in a woman’s cycle are usually the few days leading up to ovulation, not after!

If this is your first time hearing this, let’s say it again for emphasis: trying to get pregnant involves more intercourse pre-ovulation than post-ovulation. This is because your body produces fertile cervical fluid in the days leading up to ovulation. This life-sustaining fluid provides a safe passage for sperm to get through the cervix, and can nourish and protect sperm for up to 5 days while it safely waits in the fallopian tubes for the egg’s release. Without this cervical fluid, sperm can die in a matter of hours. This means that having sex up to five days before ovulation can lead to pregnancy, as long you are producing fertile cervical fluid! 

Why don’t you have a lot of sex after the egg is released? Seems like that would be the logical thing to do. There are two big reasons why this isn’t as lucrative: once the egg is released, its lifespan without being fertilized is a mere 12 to 24 hours. So, while having sex after ovulation has been confirmed certainly wouldn’t hurt, there’s very little evidence to say that it would actually help. The second reason is that after ovulation, your cervical fluid tends to dry up. This means that any sperm that might have made it to the egg in time have much less of a chance now without the protective advantages of fertile cervical fluid.

In general, the best way to time intercourse for conception is in the days leading up to ovulation, especially the days where your body is producing fertile cervical fluid. Need help figuring out when you’re fertile? Download the Ovatemp App and start tracking!

 

A little bit about Danielle and how awesome she is!

Danielle learned first about fertility awareness almost three years ago, and has been hooked ever since. After being frustrated by the limited online resources for other women using FAM, she started her own website, Appleseed Fertility. She is passionate as an advocate for using fertility awareness and works to educate women on their bodies, their cycles, and their fertility.

Men, FAM and Birth Control Equality.

As part of the brilliant UK Telegraph #TakeBackBirthControl campaign the editors asked men on the streets of London what they thought about contraception; the majority said there should be more equality of responsibility and more options for men. The male birth control pill, along with other male-centric possibilities like Vasalgel, is forever on the horizon and always not quite here, yet. We’ve had the female birth control pill for 55 years, as well as multiple delivery systems such as the shot, the patch, the ring, the IUS and the implant. So many options for the one half of the human race that is only able to get pregnant for approximately 7 days per menstrual cycle. 

In theory, according to the Telegraph survey, it seems that many men are interested in the idea of having an injection of polymer in their scrotum to block sperm. In theory, I suppose this procedure seems no more intrusive or uncomfortable than having a piece of plastic and copper inserted into your uterus. For some women, the idea of Vasalgel can ignite birth control-based revenge fantasies. The Telegraph discovered that 35% of women feel they are expected to “put up” with side effects of contraceptives, as such a male Pill or procedure like this is seen as an opportunity to redress the balance. 

A writer for the Telegraph campaign noted that many men feel that they don’t have the “right” to discuss contraception openly. I would argue that men have a duty, rather than a right, to talk about pregnancy prevention. As men are the other half of the human race that is fertile every single day, the burden should be, at the very least, equally distributed between both men and women. 

So, if men and women are equally enthusiastic for a shift in the contraceptive conversation, is there a way we could start the process without having to wait for the pharmaceutical industry to provide a profitable product? To my mind, the tech industry is better suited to act as a catalyst for progress and it is already ushering in this change. 

In my book, “Sweetening the Pill,” I discussed how Fertility Awareness Based Methods might set this new equality-minded way of approaching contraception in motion. Teaching couples, rather than just women alone, to understand the female fertility cycle and practice pregnancy prevention without pharmaceutical intervention is an important step towards shared responsibility. 

How many more men would see the current imbalanced approach as inherently unfair and even sexist if they knew that a woman is unable to get pregnant for the majority of her cycle? 

Fertility Awareness Based Methods, when taught to couples, also hold the potential for changing how we communicate about sex. Just as women come to believe, wrongly, that they are fertile every day; men often believe that they must be constantly interested in and available for sex. The establishment of a “fertile window” when PIV sex can be taken off the table opens up a reexamination of the assumptions, expectations, and social pressures that surround our sex lives. The woman might have felt she had to sacrifice her health, be that mental, physical, or sexual, by using hormonal contraceptives, in order to maintain a no-strings sex fantasy within a committed relationship. 

To quote clinical herbalist and fertility awareness practitioner Katja Swift, “Through history we’ve always blamed women for getting pregnant even though it’s men that are fertile every single day. This cooperation liberates women from that, but it also liberates men in letting them know that they too can decide to be unavailable for sex. They can have less sex and be just as masculine, despite what they’ve been taught. We don’t just need women’s liberation, we need a people’s liberation.”

 

A little bit about Holly and her awesome work!

Holly Grigg-Spall is a writer and women's health advocate. Her book Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control has been featured in Elle, the Sunday Times Style (UK), Marie Claire, New York magazine, the Guardian, and on CBC and the BBC, amongst others. The book was optioned by Ricki Lake and is the inspiration for a forthcoming feature documentary. She also currently writes frequently for LadyClever.com.

Myths & Misconceptions about us "FAMers"

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In the past 12 months the community of women who use fertility awareness for avoiding pregnancy has become both more visible and more diverse. This FAMily, as I have heard it called (FAM stands for Fertility Awareness Method), has welcomed newcomers with the generous spirit that comes from being, still, a band of outsiders who are, in many ways, going against what is deemed acceptable at this time by the mainstream in the medical establishment and society at large. Often these newcomers are Pill refugees, seeking a non-hormonal, effective contraceptive, despite being told since their teens that their choice amounts to hormonal birth control or an unplanned pregnancy. 

Although “charters” or “FAMers,” as they also call themselves, are actually on-trend when viewed within the context of the quantified self movement, the organic food movement, and the holistic health movement; they are pioneers, and like all pioneers by positioning themselves on the threshold between the past and the future of reproductive health, they have become targets for judgment, assumptions and willful misunderstandings. Choosing to become a charter today reveals no particular political or religious allegiance, but it is interesting to note that this choice is politicized by others. 

Just as Pill-takers might otherwise be fastidious about eating only organic food, avoiding hormones in their meat and dairy products, feel wary of GMOs, and not use plastics; FAMers might be quick to pop a painkiller when they get a headache, not adhere to a strict diet, and never have taken a yoga class or made their own kombucha. Although charting can make a FAMer aware of food intolerance and allergies as well as the impact of poor sleep and alcohol on hormones, and so increase overall engagement in good health – choosing to chart and become part of the FAMily doesn’t require an application form that outlines why your lifestyle and personality is suitable for this contraceptive method. 

The friction between FAMers and the mainstream comes mostly out of the proliferation of misinformation. A comment in a recent feature at Al Jazeera America on women using the method noted that it is mostly “white, educated” women in the US using FAM at this time, misguidedly suggesting that this was the only group who would be able to learn (of course, the reason for this is primarily that Planned Parenthood does not offer FAM instruction as standard) Many in the FAMily believe that, although it is not a method everyone will choose for birth control, democratization of this knowledge and information is important. Important and desired - a recent study showed that when FAM is explained, at least 1 in 5 women are keen to know more and would consider using the method for contraception. 

Here’s a rundown of some of the other myths and misinformation that prevent women who would benefit finding the FAMily.

1. It’s antifeminist to choose FAM over the Pill.

Some see a woman’s decision to chart as a step backwards. The Pill was a very important part of our journey towards equality for women, but 55 years on, we have to wonder whether it is still as necessary or relevant to our liberation. Many FAMers are feminists and see their choice as empowering.

    2. It’s anti-sex.

    Even though many FAMers had actually grown tired of the libido-suppressing Pill when they found this method, there is an assumption that FAM = less sex or bad sex (read: unspontaneous, overly planned). It is assumed charters have to do without sex entirely for anywhere between a week to half the month, but many use barriers when fertile (which is, realistically, only a 7 day window for accomplished charters) or just abstain from baby-making sex only (meaning they might actually be more experimental than the average couple). In a committed relationship FAM allows you to go condom-free for much of the month, too.

    3. It’s irresponsible.

    What is actually irresponsible is giving women the Pill in their teens, knowing that many will experience side effects and stop taking it, with no clue how to properly protect themselves from pregnancy without this. If you know you’re fertile when you have unprotected sex, you are empowered to make the right decision for you. With proper use, FAM is as effective as the Pill.

    4. It’s for getting pregnant only.

    It’s often assumed that all FAMers either want to get pregnant or they secretly want to get pregnant. However, some women use it because they absolutely do not want to get pregnant and feel more in control knowing their own body than trusting the Pill. The FAMily has room for women at all points on the scale of baby-fever to baby-adverse.

    5. It’s a gateway to hippy-dom.

    Although many FAMers do become more health and environmentally conscious as a result of developing a close relationship with their body; not all charters are keeping a close eye on the moon or heading to red tents once a month. Some are, sure, but not all. In fact there are also a lot of science nerdy-types who are extremely skeptical of anything not evidence-based or even slightly mystical.

     

    A little bit about Holly and her awesome work!

    Holly Grigg-Spall is a writer and women's health advocate. Her book Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control has been featured in Elle, the Sunday Times Style (UK), Marie Claire, New York magazine, the Guardian, and on CBC and the BBC, amongst others. The book was optioned by Ricki Lake and is the inspiration for a forthcoming feature documentary. She also currently writes frequently for LadyClever.com.