Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

How to Check Your Cervical Fluid When You Feel Like You Just Don’t Have Any

February 12th, 2013 by Kati Bicknell

In an older post I wrote, I talked about how to check your cervical fluid with a folded piece of toilet paper or your clean fingers.

BUT! What if you’re doing that and not finding anything? What if you, like many women I talk to, think that they don’t have any cervical fluid?

Well, you’re in luck, because I’m about to explain how to measure your cervical fluid, even if it seems like you don’t have any! Are you ready for this? You’re so ready.

Adapted from a photo by Lamerie // Creative Commons 2.0

Things you’ll need:

  • Hand mirror
  • Clean towel
  • Soap and water

So … it goes a little something like this — CRAM YOUR FINGERS IN YOUR VAGINA! Just kidding. Not really. Kind of. Kidding about the “cramming” thing, but not about the “in your vagina” thing.

First things first, wash your hands. You don’t want to introduce any foreign bacteria into the vagina — it’s got a whole host of its own friendly bacteria that keeps things running smoothly, and you don’t want to upset the balance.

Now that your hands are clean … wait a minute! Okay, a lot of you reading this are probably very familiar with your vagina, where it is, how it looks, and every little nook and cranny inside and out. But some of you may not be. For those of you in the second camp, there is an extra step.

Grab a hand mirror!

Okay, was that hand mirror very dirty? Did you take it out of the woodshed or something? Is it your husband’s shaving mirror? If any of the above are true, wash your hands again.

Now get naked from the waist down — think gynecologist’s office, but significantly less unpleasant. You can leave your socks on. No cold stirrups (hopefully). Now sit or squat on a clean towel on the floor, and hold the hand mirror between your legs so you can actually get a good look at your vulva (external genitalia). As women, our genitals are positioned in such a way that they are very hard to get a clear look at without the aid of a hand mirror, so unless you’ve done this before, you may be surprised at what you see. Look at how beautiful you are! So many little folds of soft delicate skin, so many different shades of color. Vulvas come in all shapes and sizes and colors, and each are perfect and beautiful and packed with nerve endings, so don’t you even dare consider labiaplasty, even if the vulva you see in the mirror doesn’t look like the ones you may have seen in certain adult movies (or Canadian strip clubs). Yours is perfect. I promise.

Have a look and a feel around! Gently spread your inner labia apart and take a peek at what’s in there. You’ll see your clitoris, vaginal opening, and, if you have keen eyesight, the urethral opening. Neat, huh? You may even see some cervical fluid at the vaginal opening.

Now see where your vaginal opening is? Gently slide one clean finger inside, see how that feels? Okay, now you know WHERE to stick your finger when checking your cervical fluid internally.

Crouch in a squatting position, and place one or two (if they fit) fingers in your vagina, until you feel something like the tip of a nose (if you are fertile it might be much softer). This is your cervix! The place from whence all cervical fluid hails! The motherland!

Now draw your finger(s) gently out of your vagina and have a look at them. They will be slightly damp, because the vagina is a mucus membrane, like the inside of your mouth, so wetness is a given. Other than that, is there any “substance” on them? Anything that looks like grade school paste, or hand lotion, or raw egg whites? If so … there is your cervical fluid!!!! You found it! Hooray!

If not, you may be a) on the pill, b) in the pre-ovulatory infertile phase of your cycle, before you’ve started to make cervical fluid, or c) in the post-ovulatory infertile phase of your cycle, after ovulation, and your body may have stopped making cervical fluid for the remainder of your cycle.

If you don’t notice any, check again later in the day, and several times tomorrow, and every day after that! Soon you’ll have something to record on your chart!  :-)

Now you can stand up, wash your hands (again), pull up your pants (this step is critical), and go about your day!

Wheeee!!! Any questions on that? Ask me in the comments.

Cross-posted at Kindara, February 5, 2013

Getting Over The Pill

January 15th, 2013 by Kati Bicknell

Here’s a notion: Birth control pills are not the only way manage your reproductive health.

The pill came out more than 50 years ago, and at the time, it was a symbol of liberation and freedom for women. Suddenly, they no longer had to worry about unplanned pregnancy. It was great. But now that 50-year-old technology is starting to lose much of the appeal it once had.

Adapted from a photo by Jess Hamilton // Creative Commons A-NC-SA 2.0

Today many women get on the pill as teenagers to “regulate” irregular cycles, and they get off the pill in their late 20s or early 30s when they want to get pregnant. The unfortunate reality is many women find it’s not as easy as they thought it would be to get pregnant. Ten or fifteen years of being on oral contraceptives doesn’t “fix” an irregular cycle; it just kind of pushes the pause button on your reproductive system.

When you come off the pill in your late 20s or early 30s because you finally want kids, your body has to pick up where it left off when you were a teenager. Often women at this stage of their lives find it takes longer than expected to conceive and wind up on the assisted reproductive technology track — reproductive endocrinologists, expensive and annoying tests, procedures, hormone injections ,and all that jazz. And, heartbreakingly, after several years and thousands of dollars, that doesn’t always work.

The side effects of the pill are a real pain in the ass for many women, too. Weight gain, depression, loss of libido, and “not feeling like myself” (AKA “I seem to have gone insane”) are some of the more common complaints cited. In fact, a CDC report on contraceptive use states that 10.3 million women have stopped taking the pill due to side effects, or fear of side effects.

All women need a way to have children when they want them, and to not have children when they don’t. And they need to feel good about the whole thing — not freaked out, bloated and crazy. Imagine how the world would be different if this was a reality.

This reality is possible thanks to the wonderful simplicity of the Fertility Awareness Method — the technology behind Kindara. Instead of women’s reproductive reality being like this:  “Oh my god,  I don’t want to get pregnant” during her twenties, followed by “Oh my god,  I want to get pregnant NOW!” in her thirties, the Symptothermal Method makes it one question: “When do I want to get pregnant?”

Charting your cycle using the Fertility Awareness Method can help you achieve your reproductive goals without pills, side effects, or stress, whether you want to have kids in the next few years, in 10 years, or never. By charting your cycle, you will see if and when you are ovulating, and you will know when you are fertile, which is the trick to knowing when you can or cannot pregnant. Charting your cycle could help clarify issues that need to be remedied before you can get pregnant too. You can even confirm pregnancy with your chart. Exciting!

If women were taught the basics of Fertility Awareness as soon as they entered their reproductive years and knew that they could avoid or plan for pregnancy by charting their primary fertility signs (temperature and cervical fluid), they would save a lot of time, money, and stress.

What a different world we would all be living in if each woman shifted her thinking from “I need this pill so I don’t have unplanned pregnancies, and I need my doctor to prescribe this pill” to “I know just what is going on with my cycle at all times. I am calm, confident, and empowered. I manage my own fertility thank you very much, and I don’t need pills to do it.”

Now I’m not saying that oral contraceptives have no place in the world. They are a wonderful invention. Thanks to the pill, women today can take it as fact that pregnancy can be prevented easily and effectively. But because this is now a forgone conclusion, we are free to look for even better options — options like the Fertility Awareness Method that can prevent pregnancy easily, effectively, autonomously and without side effects.

Originally published at Kindara.com on December 15th, 2012

How to Make Sure Your Period is Never “Late”

November 20th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

Have you ever been concerned because your period was late? I know I have. But I’m not anymore! And you don’t have to be either! And since I’m sure you’d rather not spend several days every month nervously pacing and counting dates backwards on your hands while glaring at the general vicinity where you guess your uterus is, I’ll tell you how.

It’s simple:

LEARN ABOUT YOUR BODY!

Your period is not a Rolex watch; it was not specifically crafted in Switzerland to accurately tell time. A woman’s reproductive system is designed to … wait for it … reproduce! It takes into account all kinds of things when determining whether or not “now” is a good time to try and have a baby, and not ONE of those things is what day it is.

“Oh rats! I’m late for … uh … me ….”  This is something your period will never say. Think about it for a second. Your period is late? For what? For itself? Do you see how insane that is?

Whether or not, and when, a woman gets her period each cycle depends on a slew of hormonal events, which can be influenced by many things, such as diet, environmental and emotional stress, and on and on.

So let’s take things from the top and see why you think your period is “late,” shall we?

To begin, there is a theory that all women used to cycle with the moon. They would ovulate at the full moon, and they got their period with the new moon. But there is some evidence that suggests that the amount of ambient light in your bedroom while you’re sleeping at night can influence your cycle, in the same way that the moon supposedly did.

So if we are basing the notion of a “standard 28 day cycle” off when we used to cycle with the moon, we’re all pretty much screwed! Think of your bedroom — your alarm clock, a charging cell phone, a streetlamp, a light from under the door because your roommate is on another ‘Friday Night Lights’ bender: most of us do not sleep in a room where the only light is moonlight.

To further confuse matters, women who are on the pill “get their period” at around the same time every month, but anyone who knows anything about the pill knows that is not an actual period. It’s a bleed caused by the body’s withdrawal from progesterone on the week of placebo pills.

So we’ve got these two things that mislead women into thinking that their cycle should be 28 days.  One of my colleagues who has been teaching the Fertility Awareness Methodfor years says that she’s never had a client whose cycle was the same exact length every single time.

Sample chart for Example 1
© Kindara, used with permission


Period not arrive when you thought it would? Let’s take a look at your chart, it could be several things:

If you actually learn about what is going on in your body each cycle, and chart your fertility using the symptothermal method, you will be able to see and understand what is actually happening with all your heretofore “mystery bits.”

1. You haven’t ovulated yet, which means that a period is a ways off.  You might experience breakthrough or withdrawal bleeding later, but this would not technically be a true menstruation.

 

Sample chart for Example 2
© Kindara, used with permission

2. You ovulated and are currently in your luteal phase, which appears up until now, to be of a normal length.  Depending on how long your luteal phases typically are, you could have a better idea of when to expect your period, and if that day passes with no period, let’s see what’s behind door number 3.

 

 

 

 

3. You ovulated and are currently in your luteal phase, which appears to be longer than normal, which could indicate pregnancy.  (Or in very rare cases, a luteal cyst.)

Sample Chart for Example 3
© Kindara, used with permission

You see, there is always a reason that your period has not come yet, if you’re waiting on it. Certainly, you could say I’m just arguing semantics, but the truth of the matter is that your period is never “late,” it is doing exactly what your body is telling it too. The trick is to understand your body, rather than blame it and stare wistfully up at the moon, hoping it will work its sweet, sweet magic on your uterus.

 

Chart your cycle, and you’ll always know what the deal is.

Doooooooo it.

Editor’s note: Click on images to view at full size.

“Here is the thing that is really driving me crazy about my goddamned IUD”

November 1st, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

“Population Bomb” by Jairus Khan // CC 2.0

Who among us wants to invite a T-shaped piece of plastic or metal to live in our uterus for the next 5 to 10 years, just for fun? No one! But if it’s to prevent pregnancy that’s a different story. IUDs may be uncomfortable and annoying but women still use them because they are so dang effective.

There are many ways to prevent pregnancy. Abstinence, Condoms, the Fertility Awareness Method, Birth Control Pills…and more. One form of contraception that has grown in popularity in recent years is the Intra-Uterine Device (IUD). One study found that teenagers who use long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) had fewer unplanned pregnancies. IUDs and sub-dermal implants are two LARCs. In light of this study, doctors have been recommending IUDs to teenagers as the most effective form of contraception. In the past, it was commonly held that only women who had already had children would be good candidates for IUDs, but today they are recommended for women regardless of whether or not they’ve had children. These devices are very effective at preventing pregnancy, and some even work without hormones. For many women, the IUD is a great option, effective contraception that they rarely have to think about.

But IUDs are not all butterflies and rainbows. I had one briefly, even after knowing my mom’s horror story with the Dalkon Shield in the late 60s. At the age of 27, I was done with the pill and all hormonal contraception, and as I didn’t have a history of heavy periods, my doctor said that the Paragard would be a good choice for me. So I got one. And…I freaking hated it! For the first three weeks after it was inserted, I had cramps so severe that even with intense pain killers, I found it hard to go about my life without thinking I was dying and/or wishing I was dead. My light 3-day periods turned into heavy 10-day affairs with crippling cramps the entire time. An additional unexpected and unpleasant side effect was a sudden inability to reach orgasm during sex. (Anyone else ever have this side effect?)

The one good thing about having the IUD was that one time when I sneezed while on my new heavier period and blood exploded out of my vagina like a gunshot wound, which I found HILARIOUS! But I digress…

A friend of mine says this about her Paragard:

“Here is the thing that is really driving me crazy about my goddamned IUD — my crotch has no idea what it’s doing anymore, and hence neither do I.”

Her cervical fluid is all out of whack, there is no longer any discernable pattern, so she doesn’t know where she is in her cycle. So, while she is using the IUD for contraception, and doesn’t need to chart her fertility for contraceptive purposes, the monthly cues her cervical fluid usually gives her about where she is in her cycle are no longer there.

She also brought up a study that found elevated levels of Mast Cells in the endometrium of women with IUDs. Mast Cells are what your body produces when it’s having an allergic reaction, like if you get hives after eating shellfish. So, are IUDs actually producing allergic reactions in women’s uteruses? That would probably help prevent pregnancy, but what about the woman who has to live with this every day?

Ultimately, I had my IUD removed after four months because I couldn’t stand it any more. All that blood and pain, and lack of orgasms, in a word, sucked! I really feel for women who have periods like this normally, it’s the worst! I was not going to subject myself to this if I didn’t have to.

Thinking I had fully exhausted all medical contraceptive options, I was resigned to using condoms or other barrier methods for the rest of my life. Luckily I didn’t have to do that! I soon found out about the Fertility Awareness Method and started charting my fertility. I can now have unprotected sex with my husband when I’m not fertile, and use barrier methods only when I am fertile.  It’s the best possible solution for us.

IUDs are very effective, but as my story shows, having one in your uterus can be pretty gnarly. In general, I am very glad that IUDs exist. The side effects of today’s IUDs are minimal when compared to the ones in the 60s and 70s, but that doesn’t mean that they are the magic bullet of contraception (see a recent post by Laura Wershler expressing some overlapping views). For me and many other women, the Fertility Awareness Method is a wonderful contraceptive. I want more women to hear about it so it can be brought to light as a serious contender for mainstream contraceptive use.

Footloose and Pharmaceutical-Free?

October 26th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Holly Grigg-Spall, Sweetening the Pill

At the West Coast Catalyst Convention for sex-positive sex-educators I was listening to a talk on definitions of sexual health when the birth control pill was brought up. I’d spent much of the event feeling desperately vanilla and so was pleased to be discussing something other than strap-ons and lube. The most popular forms of contraception – the hormonal kind – had been notably absent from all discussion that weekend.

Toys in Babeland window display, Photo by Joaquin Uy // CC 2.0

The speaker told the group that the pill is the leading cause of low libido and pelvic pain. She explained that studies had suggested the impact on libido could be permanent. The reaction of the audience was immediate and urgent – questions were fired out and it became clear that this information was news to most. A number of audience members seemed genuinely shocked. “What’s the science behind that?” one woman asked, but the speaker said she didn’t know.

Although the convention’s attendees had an intimidating level of knowledge when it came to sexual technique and sex toys, I discovered that once I mentioned I was there to develop a book and a documentary on hormonal contraceptives, many repeated the usual disinformation about birth control methods.

The speaker was right – the birth control pill is a leading cause of lowered sexual desire and pelvic pain. It’s also known to cause loss of lubrication, vaginitis, and vulvodynia. Other hormonal contraceptives such as the Depo Provera injection, implant, ring and Mirena IUD have been seen to have similar consequences. In fact, Dr. Andrew Goldstein, director of the U.S.-based Centers for Vulvovaginal Disorders and one of the foremost vulvodynia experts in North America, blames an increase in complaints of this kind on third generation low-dose pills.

The study the speaker referred to was conducted by Dr. Claudia Panzer of Boston University and it did suggest some women may see a permanent effect on their testosterone levels, and so their level of desire. There have also been studies on these methods impact on frequency and intensity of orgasm, showing both to be decreased. Not to mention the 50% of women who will experience general negative mood effects that surely impact on their interest in sex. Many, many other studies have shown a clear negative effect on libido whilst using hormonal contraceptives. So many that it’s become something of a joke to roll eyes over the “irony” of prescribing a pill for pregnancy prevention that stops you wanting to have sex anyway.

At a convention dedicated to the celebration of sexual pleasure, I was surprised to see this information received with such confusion. A sex-positive attitude is becoming synonymous with “set it and forget it” long acting hormonal methods of contraception. But it struck me that sex-positive advocates should be the biggest fans of fertility awareness methods. Here’s why:

In a fertility flap? Five things you need to know

August 22nd, 2012 by Laura Wershler

Your fertility is not a deep, dark mystery only your doctor can unravel. It’s yours to own, understand and manage. Forget the ticking biological clock, it’s the wrong metaphor. Fertility ebbs and flows, like the phases of the moon. It’s about the cycle – not the clock.

Are you wondering about your fertility status? Will you be able to have a baby when you want to?

Seems these questions are on the rise for 20- and 30-something women who are finally getting the message that putting off motherhood may not be a good idea. Recent news stories report that young adults don’t know the facts of fertility decline and overestimate the success of reproductive technologies.

But as the message gets through, the response makes my eyes roll.

Judith Timsom, one of my favorite columnists, recently pondered the fertility fears many young women are having.  Among them:

A third woman, turning 30, with a committed partner and a great job, made fertility sound like the new “f” word as she glumly remarked to a friend ,“My doctor told told me my fertility just dropped 50 per cent. Crap.”

This is crap. It misrepresents how fertility works. Timson writes that “young women – and men – are crying out for more factual, emotionally neutral information on how their fertility works.”  Forgive me if I, and at least 700,000 others – the number of people who have purchased Toni Weschler’s  Taking Charge of Your Fertility since it was first published in 1995 shake our heads in frustration.

What women need is body literacy, the know-how to observe, chart and interpret our menstrual cycle events so that we – not the doctor, not the lab tech – can confirm our fertility status. Yes, it’s called fertility awareness, and, since the late 60s, millions  of women world-wide, including me – a bonafide pro-choice feminist, have used this life skill to both avoid and achieve pregnancy.

If you’re worried about your fertility, here are five things you need to know:

  1. You can learn to observe and chart three key signs of fertility: a) fertile cervical mucus b) basal body temperature shift  c) adequate luteal phase, or number of days from ovulation to next period.
  2. If you use hormonal contraception (HC), you have been infertile for as long as you’ve been using it. When you stop HC, your body has to establish healthy ovulatory menstrual cycles before you become fertile. Health and environmental factors may impact this process. Factor recovery time into your baby plans.
  3. If you began using HC as a teenager for heavy bleeding, painful periods  or irregular cycles chances are your reproductive system has not fully matured. When you quit HC this maturation process will resume. Depending on the method you used, it could take months before you have ovulatory, fertile cycles. Be patient. Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioners can assist in recovering fertility.
  4. If you began using HC for PCOS or endometriosis, expect symptoms to resume when you stop. The Centre for Menstruation and Ovulation Research describes treatments that manage PCOS  and endometriosis while helping to preserve fertility.
  5. Fertility is individually, not statistically, determined. It can ebb and flow from cycle to cycle. Diet, stress, travel and trauma can result in anovulatory, or infertile, cycles. When it comes to getting pregnant, the more you know about your own menstrual cycle, the better.

Fertility awareness is empowering, but Toni Weschler says that in her decades long experience she has repeatedly seen the sense of excitement that women feel evolve into anger. “Women want to know why they weren’t taught this when they were teenagers.”

The young women Judith Timson writes about have yet to acquire this knowledge. When they do, will they be angry enough to teach their own daughters? Weschler has a book for them, too - Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body Fertility isn’t a mystery if you know where to look for the clues.

Bring on the Fat!

July 31st, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

I’ve been doing research on my own menstrual cycle for almost four years, charting my cycle using the Fertility Awareness Method.

 

Photo by Pete&Brook // CC 2.0

My cycles have always been wacky. I got my period when I was 11  but bled only a couple times a year, until, at my doctor’s suggestion, I went on the pill at 18, to “regulate” my cycle.  At 26 I learned that the birth control pills didn’t actually regulate my cycle, they just covered up the real issue.  I was determined to let my body find its own natural cycle, so I went off the pill. I wanted the option to have my own children someday, and with my dubious state of fertility, I needed to give myself a head start on having a healthy cycle.

I didn’t find much information about cycle health for a while, but when I was finally introduced to Toni Weshler’s book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, I felt that  I had found the key!  I was fascinated to learn that with just a few simple actions each day I could get a clear picture of my cycle health. I started charting right away and did my best  give my body a shot at having a “normal” healthy cycle, exercising, eating healthy, trying different herbs and foods. But nothing seemed to make a lasting difference.  I would still only get around four periods a year.

This year in February I went to China, so Kindara could take part in the Haxlr8r start-up accelerator program. I was shocked when within two weeks of arriving in China, I ovulated, after not having my period for six months. I don’t generally ovulate in the winter, so I thought maybe this was just the end of that drought, being as it was March. But then I ovulated again in April, and in May, and in June.

The only thing I could point to that I was doing differently from what I had ever done before was eating lots of weird meat. In China it seems that no part of the animal is wasted. I had countless meals consisting of mostly bones and/or animal fat. In fact the regular “meat” that I was used to in the States didn’t seem to exist.  Everything was either bones, organs, or fat. This was pretty unnerving to me at first, but I slowly got used to it. So I kept it up. When we came back to the states in mid-June I made an effort to eat meat at least several times a week, the fattier and weirder the meat, the better!  And that’s hard to find here. But my efforts seem to be working, I ovulated in July as well!  This makes five months of regular cycles, for the first time in my life.

This is incredible, and I never would have had such a front row seat on the action if I wasn’t charting my cycle. I seem to have cracked the code on what my body was missing. And this means that I should have an easier time getting pregnant, if and when I decide I’m ready. My procreative power is now in my own hands, and I love it!

Adventures in Building a Fertility Awareness Charting App

June 20th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

I’m obsessed with fertility charting, and in my search for a Fertility Awareness app that met my needs, my husband and I created one.  The most important thing to us are our users, and their feedback is gold. We learned the hard way that women want to chart on their phones, not their computers. We want to avoid the mistake of thinking “we know best” again.  So what our customers say to us is taken very seriously. But sometimes they ask for things that we don’t want to give them!

I received a question from one of the women who downloaded our app, asking me if there was a way to enter temperatures measured to the 1/100th of a degree, (like 97.34).  She didn’t want to round to the tenth of a degree (97.3)  and risk throwing off her chart.  We thought we understood her concern.  If you’re taking your temperature every morning, you want that exact temperature to go in your chart! Rounding seems like it might throw off the chart. Right?

Well that depends on if you’re measuring in Fahrenheit or Celsius.  If you’re measuring in Celsius you must measure to .05 of a degree to catch the temperature shift.  In Fahrenheit you only need to measure to tenth (0.1) of a degree. Measuring to the hundredth (.01) of a degree is too small of an increment to make any important difference on your chart.

When charting basal body temperature (BBT), the bi-phasic temperature pattern over the course of your cycle tells you if you’re ovulating, when you’re ovulating, and the length and health of your luteal phase.  Post-ovulatory temperatures are usually around 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the preovulatory temps.  0.3 is larger than 0.01 by a factor of 30. This means that measuring to hundredths of a degree is not necessary to catch the temperature shift.

Typical Rounding Scenario

This graph shows a typical bi-phasic temperature pattern, clearly confirming ovulation.  The red line was graphed using temperatures that were accurate to the 1/100th of a degree.  The blue line is graphed using those same temperatures rounded to the 1/10th of a degree.  As you can see, the difference between the two lines is not enough to obscure a temperature shift on a chart.

We had a moment of deliberation… do we tell our user to just get a different thermometer?  Do we tell her to round her temperatures?  That didn’t seem like great customer service.

We realized that the solution is not to simply tell this woman why what she was concerned with didn’t matter.  From her perspective, rounding temperatures is a pain in the ass and she doesn’t want to do it!  THAT “pain in the ass” factor is the problem that we have to solve.  So, with this realization we decided to add the ability to chart in hundredths to our development plan.

Even though measuring to this accuracy isn’t necessary, if adding the second decimal place on our data screen makes it easier for women to get their data into the chart, we’ll do it!  We want all women to have access to the yummy benefits that are to be had from charting one’s cycle, and we are committed to removing the barriers to that, however it must be done.

 

Politics and Sex Education Make Strange Bedfellows

June 6th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Lisa Leger

Yesterday (June 4) on MSNBC-TV, my girl Rachel Maddow interviewed New York Times columnist Gail Collins, author of the new book, As Texas Goes. The book criticizes the state’s politics and morality laws and their impact on the rest of the country. Now, I’m all for slagging the state of Texas for its abstinence-only sex ed policy, and I look forward to reading Collins’ book (which Maddow called “the funniest political book of the year”). However, my problem started when Maddow read a quote that seems to mock a piece of sexual health information that is actually correct.

The statement in question is “if the woman is dry, the sperm will die” , followed by the interpretation that it is some sort of colonial-era notion relating to the woman’s enjoyment or collusion in the sex act. Of course, the quote refers to fertile mucus and not lubrication or ejaculate, as the rather garbled interpretation seemed to imply. It’s a shame that a piece of perfectly useful information about fertility is confused with some arcane puritanism to make the [valid] point that abstinence-only sex ed is backward. I’m also disheartened [and vindicated] to see my assertion that mucus is either left out of sex education or inadequately taught being demonstrated once again.

In this story, though, my concern is not for the un-informed teens I champion in the blog linked here — but for the many adults who worked with Collins on her book and with Maddow on her show who let that reference get by them. Are we to assume that none of them ever learned to chart their cycles? Could there be no one on either staff trying to get pregnant? How can not a single one of the likely dozens of professional writers, fact checkers, and other staff members not have noticed that the reference they chose to hold up to ridicule is actually valid information about sperm survival in mucus?

A “Strange Bedfellows moment” for me as a Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) teacher is when what we teach is lumped in with what abstinence-only courses teach.  Another example would be finding oneself in favor or opposed to something like hormone pills for entirely different reasons.  As a Justisse Method teacher for 20 years, I’ve watched how charting is portrayed as some sort of Vatican roulette and how mucus is hidden away even more than menstrual blood is. I wince when I see perfectly good educational opportunities go by the wayside like that. How do the biological facts of fertility (sperm need mucus to survive) become invalidated simply by being taught from an authoritarian religious perspective?  I usually see the humor in a strange bedfellows moment, but hearing an evangelical Texan being mocked for teaching kids some mystical version of what I teach — this one stings a bit.

Lisa Leger is a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research and a Justisse Fertility Awareness teacher on Vancouver Island.

 

Sex Ed for Teens: Where’s the Mucus?

February 24th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

Guest Post by Lisa Leger

Teen girls are getting pregnant, in part, because they don’t understand their menstrual cycles. It’s time for sexual health educators to step up and teach girls the primary sign of fertility.

A recent report by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on teen pregnancy in the U.S., based on a survey of close to 5,000 young mothers who got pregnant unintentionally, found that half of them had not used birth control.  When questioned further, a third of those said that they didn’t think they could get pregnant. Their reasoning ties in with previous research findings that girls who get pregnant in their teens have misconceptions about their menstrual cycles. They don’t seem to understand how ovulation works and are failing to correctly identify the fertile days in their monthly cycles.

Photo by Acaparadora // CC-BY-SA-2.5

My colleagues in sexual and reproductive health education should take notice. These findings reveal a knowledge gap in sex education: Teens don’t know about the easy-to-spot sign of fertility that precedes ovulation – cervical mucus secretions. Let’s fix it by adding one simple phrase to our sex ed classes: “When you have mucus, you can get pregnant.”

We would also need to explain the ovarian cycle, how estrogen promotes cervical mucus production, the role of mucus in sperm survival and how to check for it. This is arguably among the most useful information young women and men could receive before leaving high school.

If girls had this knowledge then I believe that at least some of them would more accurately identify fertile days in their cycles and at least some unintended pregnancies would be prevented. When a girl knows that mucus on the toilet tissue means she is fertile and able to get pregnant, she may be empowered to avoid intercourse, insist on a condom if she has sex, or know if she needs to seek out emergency contraception. Or she may decide to just hang out with her girl friends. I’m not saying that fertility awareness is a magic wand. Of course, many factors influence our decision-making. But teens are capable of making wise choices when they have accurate information on which to base them.

I’ve talked to many public health nurses throughout my 20-year career as a fertility awareness instructor. They usually quibble about the effectiveness of fertility awareness as a birth control method and seem reluctant to mention the existence of cervical mucus for fear that “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” They worry that some students, if taught fertility awareness, might screw it up, thinking they were “safe” when they were not. But the CDC report tells us that garbled understanding about how ovulation works is doing more harm than good.

I hasten to reassure my public health colleagues that I am not proposing we teach teenagers natural birth control. What I’m proposing is the awareness part, that we correct this critical gap in teenagers’ knowledge by explaining that mucus is an obvious sign of fertility.

I won over my local sex educator to this idea by showing her the evidence-based Justisse Method of Fertility Awareness User’s Guide. She now teaches the meaning of mucus in her ovulation lessons.I predict her students will benefit. When they feel that slippery wetness when wiping, they will remember that it has something to do with being fertile. When they see clear, stretchy mucus on the tissue, they will know it’s a fertile day. It seems obvious that reducing confusion about the fertile phase would result in fewer unplanned pregnancies among girls who are currently confused about when they’re safe and when they’re fertile.

Instead of withholding useful information about what cervical mucus means, let’s tell teens that avoiding sex when they observe mucus can prevent pregnancy.

SMCR member Lisa Leger teaches the Justisse Method of Fertility Awareness & Body Literacy and is a Natural Health Consultant on Vancouver Island.

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