Many women choose to chart their monthly cycles in order to determine the days or weeks when they are most fertile. This can be helpful for couples struggling with infertility, but may also be used to avoid pregnancy without the use of hormonal contraceptives or barrier methods.
There are a wide variety of charting techniques, and the method discussed in this article will be the general sympto-thermal method, which is not associated with any particular health or religious group. A full explanation of the method is beyond the scope of this piece, but I intend to provide you with a knowledge of the basics.
The sympto-thermal method is based on two components: body temperature and the amount of cervical mucous (CM) produced by the vagina. (In fact, while recording your temperature is helpful, you really only need to be aware of your mucous in order to chart effectively.)
When a woman is fertile, she produces a vaginal discharge which safely harbors sperm cells and allows them to flow into the cervix through "channels." Without this mucous, a sperm cell has no way of getting to an egg. When a woman is infertile, her vagina is dry and absent of any feelings of wetness.
To chart your fertility, day one will be the first day of your period. You are considered to be fertile during these five to seven days, as it is impossible to check your mucous due to the bleeding. Simply record whether you are bleeding or spotting each day.
After your period ends, you should have four days of dryness during which you should abstain from sex if you want to avoid pregnancy. Only after the evening of the fourth day of dryness can you assume you are infertile. Until you begin to produce CM, you can only have sex every other day if you're avoiding pregnancy. This is so that the results of your CM charting aren’t thrown off by vaginal lubricant or male ejaculate.
The beginning of ovulation will mark your next fertile period, and this is when you will begin to feel CM. To record your CM, simply run your fingers from your urethra down toward your anus before going to the bathroom. You should feel a slippery wetness that is separate from urine or spotting. Record the consistency of your CM in your fertility chart (slippery, pasty, sticky, egg white, etc.).
You will continue to produce CM until the day after you actually ovulate (usually about six days). If you want to get pregnant, this is the time to have intercourse! You will continue to be fertile until roughly two days after you ovulate.
For those attempting to avoid pregnancy, you will obviously need to abstain from intercourse during the time of ovulation. You can begin having sex again once you experience two full dry days, and then may have sex daily until the start of your period.
Many women experience a spike in their body temperature when they begin to ovulate, which is why it can be helpful to chart your body temperature each morning as well (immediately upon awakening).
If you are interested in learning more about charting, consider reading the book Your Fertility Signals: Using Them to Achieve or Avoid Pregnancy Naturally by Merryl Winstein.
Shaina Gaul is a feminist and freelance writer living in Iowa. View more of her writing at http://www.couchSpud.net.