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Natural birth control is an option for people who cannot or do not want to use hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy. There are various natural birth control methods, but some of these are not as effective as hormonal contraception.

Birth control or contraception includes methods, medicines, and devices to help prevent unintended pregnancy. People seeking birth control can choose from a variety of options.

Barrier forms of contraception block sperm from reaching the female’s egg to inhibit pregnancy. Hormonal birth control disrupts the production of hormones that can lead to conception.

A person who uses natural birth control, such as monitoring the time of ovulation and taking basal temperature readings, may also use barrier contraception.

This article discusses the different natural birth control methods, how they work, and their effectiveness.

This article talks about perfect and typical use of birth control. Perfect use describes how effective a form of birth control is if everyone uses it exactly as instructed every time they have sex. Typical use describes how effective a form of birth control is if a person sometimes uses it as instructed but may also use it irregularly or imperfectly.

Even with perfect use, contraception is not 100% effective. People should discuss birth control options with a healthcare professional to find the right option for them.

Natural birth control, or fertility awareness, methods do not involve devices or hormone manipulation to prevent pregnancy. Instead, people track factors such as menstruation, cervical mucus, and basal temperature to predict ovulation.

Ovulation is a hormone-driven process where the ovary releases an egg. If sperm does not fertilize this egg or if pregnancy does not occur, the person then menstruates.

A person’s fertile window begins 5 days before ovulation. People who are using any form of contraception should be aware that sperm can survive in the female reproductive tract for 2–5 days.

During the ovulation period or fertile window, a person may abstain from sex or choose to use barrier contraception, such as a condom. Barrier birth control does not contain hormones and can help prevent unintentional pregnancy during a person’s most fertile period.

People can track their ovulation cycles using a calendar or an online calculator, such as the Office on Women’s Health ovulation calculator.

However, people who use fertility awareness methods may have a higher chance of unintentional pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that the typical use of fertility awareness methods has a 2–23% fail rate. This means that up to 23 people out of 100 become pregnant each year while using this method.

Before deciding to use natural birth control methods, a person may wish to consider the advantages and disadvantages.

Pros

  • Most methods of natural birth control are free.
  • People can purchase devices that calculate ovulation windows.
  • Natural birth control does not change the amount of hormones the body produces.
  • People do not need a doctor’s appointment for birth control devices or prescriptions.
  • Natural birth control does not cause side effects that people may experience with hormonal contraception, such as headaches and nausea.

Cons

  • Natural birth control can have up to a 23% failure rate.
  • The effectiveness of this method relies in part on a person’s commitment and ability to accurately track their menstrual cycles to work out an estimated ovulation window.
  • People with irregular or absent periods will have difficulty tracking their fertility and may wish to use another method of contraception.
  • People will either have to abstain from vaginal sex or use another form of birth control during their ovulation window.
  • Natural birth control cannot protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

There are several forms of natural birth control options a person may choose. Additionally, some companies may sell products that can aid a person in tracking their fertility.

However, the CDC states that typical use of natural birth control options may only be 77% effective at preventing unintentional pregnancy. People may wish to consider using additional methods of birth control, such as condoms, to increase the effectiveness of this form of contraception.

Basal body temperature method

This method requires a person to use a basal thermometer to take their temperature every day when they first wake up. An oral or digital thermometer can measure basal body temperature, but people should check it measures in tenths of a degree Fahrenheit (°F).

A sustained increase of temperature of about 0.5°F is a marker of ovulation. Ovulation usually happens around day 14 of a 28-day cycle, although a person with a longer or shorter cycle may experience the temperature increase on different days.

Individuals should use another form of contraception or abstain from vaginal sex during ovulation to decrease the chance of unintentional pregnancy.

However, several factors that can influence a person’s basal body temperature apart from ovulation, such as:

  • smoking
  • drinking alcohol
  • jet lag
  • stress
  • illness

People can also purchase kits from companies that offer ovulation tracking and charting. Companies such as Natural Cycles offer a fertility tracking smart app that people can use to input data such as basal body temperature. Additionally, people can purchase a basal thermometer from the company to input more accurate data.

Learn more about Natural Cycles.

Ovulation prediction kits

These kits detect the presence of luteinizing hormone (LH) in the urine to discover whether a person is ovulating.

Most ovulation prediction kits detect an LH surge to determine when a person is most likely ovulating. Others also measure estrogen levels, which increase just before ovulation.

Learn more about the best ovulation kits to purchase online.

Cervical mucus method

This method involves assessing the amount and quality of cervical mucus to determine ovulation.

People can check their cervical mucus in different ways. One option is to wipe the vagina with white toilet paper before urinating and inspecting the color and texture of the discharge. Another is to examine discharge in underwear or insert clean fingers into the vagina to find out the color and texture.

The following table describes the different types of discharge a person can expect during the month.

ColorTextureMeaning
During menstruationdisguised by blood flownot applicableless likely to be more fertile
Directly after menstruationno mucusno mucusmay be fertile, depending on cycle length
Before ovulationyellow, white, or cloudysticky or tackymay be more fertile
Right before and during ovulationclear or looks like egg whitesslippery and stretchymost likely to be fertile
After ovulationno mucus, or cloudy mucusnone, or stickyless likely to be fertile

Learn more about what the color of vaginal discharge means.

Calendar or rhythm method

This method involves charting the menstrual cycle to estimate the most fertile times of each month. A person can use a calendar or menstrual cycle app, such as Flo, that automatically estimates a person’s ovulation after inputting menstrual data.

Planned Parenthood recommends the following formula to estimate a person’s ovulation window:

  1. Find the shortest tracked cycle.
  2. Subtract 18 days from the total number of days in that cycle.
  3. Use this number to count from the start – including day 1 – of the current cycle and mark that day. This is the start of a person’s ovulation window.

People should track at least 3–6 cycles to gain a better understanding of the time of their ovulation. If a person has cycles that are typically shorter than 27 days, this method is less likely to work.

Withdrawal method

The withdrawal method, or pulling out, involves withdrawing the penis from the vagina before ejaculation.

Perfect use of this method has a 4% failure rate. However, typical use of this method is 78% effective. Around 1 in 5 people will become pregnant in a year using this method. This method has such a high failure rate because pre-ejaculate, the fluid that comes out of the penis right before ejaculation, contains sperm.

Learn more about the withdrawal method.

Breastfeeding or lactation amenorrhea

People who are breastfeeding may rely on this method to prevent unintended pregnancy.

The CDC states that this method is only suitable for people who meet all three of the following criteria:

  1. Those who are not menstruating — amenorrhea.
  2. Those who are exclusively or almost exclusively breastfeeding.
  3. Those who have given birth no more than 6 months previously.

The CDC says this is a short-term form of birth control. A person should use a different method if they do not meet one of the criteria above.

Outercourse

Outercourse involves any sexual activity that does not include vaginal sex or allowing semen into the vagina.

The following are some examples of outercourse:

  • kissing
  • mutual masturbation
  • using sex toys
  • dry humping or grinding

However, this method does not protect against all STIs. Any skin-to-skin contact can transmit an STI to another person.

When choosing a form of birth control, individuals may wish to contact a healthcare professional to discuss the effectiveness and suitability of different options.

The table below describes the difference between natural birth control, male condoms, and the pill, a common form of hormonal birth control.

EffectivenessSide effectsSTI protectionAvailabilityCost
Natural birth control77–98% effectivenonenonewidely availablenone
Male condoms85–98% effectivenonehelps prevent STIswidely availablearound $1 each condom
The pill91–99% effectivemood swings
nausea
breast tenderness
headaches
nonewidely available$0–$50 per month

Learn more about the different types of birth control.

Below are the answers to some common questions about natural birth control.

Who should consider natural and nonhormonal birth control?

Anyone who wants to reduce the chances of unintentional pregnancy without using a hormonal method of contraception may consider using natural birth control.

However, a person may wish to discuss available methods of contraception with a healthcare professional to ensure they are choosing the best option for them.

What are the most effective methods of natural birth control?

The CDC states that all methods of natural birth control, or fertility awareness methods, are between 77–98% effective.

If a person wants to increase the effectiveness of natural birth control, they may wish to consider also using a different method of contraception, such as male or female condoms.

What can I use instead of birth control?

If a person does not want to become pregnant and does not want to use any form of birth control, they may wish to abstain from sexual activity that involves vaginal sex or where semen could enter the vagina.

Natural birth control, or fertility awareness methods, use practices such as basal body temperature, the rhythm method, and the withdrawal method to decrease the chances of unintentional pregnancy. These methods can help predict a person’s ovulation window, which is often when a person is most likely to become pregnant after vaginal sex.

However, natural birth control is not as effective as most hormonal and barrier methods. A person who uses fertility awareness methods may wish to use another nonhormonal form of contraception, such as condoms, to reduce the chances of unintentional pregnancy.