Frequently Asked Questions About FAM
What is FAM?
FAM (the Fertility Awareness Method) is a simple daily practice of checking 1-3 physical signs that your own body freely gives you. These are called primary fertility signs: cervical fluid, waking temperature, and, optionally, cervical changes. You observe these signs each day and then record your observations on a special chart. Charting your signs allows you to see many things about your cycles you wouldn't know otherwise. There are actually several different types of Fertility Awareness-based methods (what you're reading about on this site specifically refers to the "symptothermal method," which tracks all 3 fertility signs, plus uses an optional calculation rule).
How do we make these fertility signs?
Our fertility signs are in direct correlation to our hormone levels. Under the influence of estrogen leading up to ovulation, the cervix begin to produce cervical fluid, the cervix changes in height and texture, and our body temperature stays in a low range. Under the influence of progesterone after ovulation, the cervix stops producing cervical fluid, the cervix closes, and our body temperature rises to a high range. Pretty amazing how your body talks to you in the form of fertility signs, isn't it?
What is cervical fluid? Is that the same as discharge?
Cervical fluid is a very special and remarkable substance produced inside the cervix that allows sperm to survive for up to 5 days. Without cervical fluid, sperm will die within a few hours! Cervical fluid is made only within the fertile window of our cycle (about 7 - 10 days of each cycle). "Discharge" refers to unhealthy and abnormal secretions, such as a yeast infection.
Every morning, before getting out of bed, you take your temperature (1 minute). Throughout the day, you check your cervical fluid (10 seconds). Optionally, you can check your cervix (10 seconds). Recording your signs on a special FAM chart takes another 20-30 seconds and can be done at the end of the day.
How much does it cost to use?
Learning FAM requires an initial investment (somewhere between $50-$500 depending on the teacher) but once you know it, you have the information for the rest of your life. After learning, all you need to do is print paper charts (or you can use a FAM app to chart) and buy a thermometer. Then you're all set. Your body provides fertility signs each and every day for FREE.!
Isn't this the Rhythm Method?
No, not at all. FAM and the Rhythm Method are completely different. Rhythm is based on rudimentary knowledge about the menstrual cycle from the 1930s and relies on trying to calculate when your fertile phase will occur each cycle. It doesn't require you to look at the signs your body is actually giving you. FAM is based in modern science and relies on looking at your physical fertility signs to tell you each day if you are fertile or infertile.
I've heard that sperm can survive for several days inside the vagina, and that we can ovulate multiple times at any time in the cycle. Does this mean FAM doesn't work for birth control?
Yes, sperm can survive several days. A core concept of FAM is understanding sperm survival within the vagina and cervix, and there are specific rules that take this into consideration so sperm and egg never meet. We observe cervical fluid to know exactly when sperm could survive (no cervical fluid = no sperm survival; cervical fluid = sperm can survive up to 5 days). Regarding ovulation, we can only ovulate once per cycle - not at any random time - and again, there are specific rules that allow for the possibility of 2 eggs released during ovulation.
Can I use FAM if I have irregular cycles?
Yes! Regularity and predictability is not an important part of this method. Instead, you check in with your own body daily to see what's going on. If you want to use FAM for birth control, know that irregular cycles may have more days that are unsafe for unprotected intercourse - meaning more days that you will need to abstain, use a barrier method or withdrawal, or have non-penetrative sex - but you are still covered by the 4 FAM Rules. A great benefit of practicing FAM is you may even see the cause of your irregular cycles on your charts, and take steps to smooth things out for better cycle health.
Is it hard to use?
Most people agree that once you learn it, FAM is as easy as tying your shoes. Like any other skill in life, such as learning to ride a bike or drive a car, FAM requires an investment of time and energy to master. Checking your fertility signs every day is a habit that takes a bit of time to establish, but it's really just a matter of adding on to things you already do every day: taking your temperature when you're already laying in bed in the morning, and checking cervical fluid when you use the bathroom.
How do I know this is for real?
FAM is the most scientifically advanced, modern technique to know what's happening in your cycle. Our fertility signs have been studied for nearly 150 years. We know that:
The absence of cervical fluid means that sperm cannot survive more than a few hours, and that ovulation is not impending
The presence of cervical fluid indicates increasing levels of estrogen and that ovulation is getting close
Ovulation is an event that occurs once per cycle (with two eggs occasionally released within 24 hours of each other)
A sustained shift in temperature means that progesterone is present, indicating that ovulation has passed
We are unable to get pregnant once we confirm, via the temperature shift and change in cervical fluid, that the fertile window is closed and no more fertility will occur this cycle
Why haven't I heard about this before?
Fertility Awareness is not a new thing. Amazingly, temperature and cervical fluid were verified by scientists in the 1950s-60s at the exact time that the Pill made its world debut! Guess which method got more recognition? There are a few different reasons that FAM is still relatively unknown:
This method has been taught and practiced largely in a Catholic context since the 1960s, leading to the perception that FAM is only for those who have large families, who don't mind an unplanned pregnancy, or who have certain morals
Since FAM does not offer much profit to pharmaceutical companies, it has never found the same footing as hormonal and device methods of contraception
The public, the medical community, and large health institutions still believe FAM to be the ineffective Rhythm Method
Is this the same as an app?
Certain apps, such as Kindara, Sympto, LilyPro (and others) are legitimate Fertility Awareness Method programs. However, most apps that call themselves "fertility trackers" or "period trackers" are nothing more than the Rhythm Method since they don't require you to check what is actually going on in your body from day to day. Ditch the trackers and come learn with me!
Who can use FAM?
Anyone from menarche to menopause can use FAM and can benefit from knowing how to understand their cycles and fertility. Unlike NFP, the non-secular branch of this method, you don't have to be heterosexual, engaged, married, in a traditional relationship, or adhere to a specific gender role to use FAM.