Hesperian Health Guides

Natural family planning

In this chapter:

Natural family planning costs nothing and has no side effects. But it can be difficult to use. Women do not always know when they are fertile, and if they have one irregular cycle, they can easily get pregnant. These methods work best when your cycles are very regular. This means the time from the first day of your monthly bleeding to the first day of your next monthly bleeding is the same every month, and is at least 26 days and no more than 32 days.

A woman can get pregnant only during her fertile time when an egg comes from her ovary into her tubes and womb—about once a month. To use natural family planning, you must watch your body’s signs to understand when you are fertile. During the fertile time you and your partner must not have sexual intercourse without using some other form of family planning. At these times, you can try other types of sex, such as oral sex or sexual touching. Or you can prevent pregnancy by using condoms or a diaphragm during the fertile time.

a man speaking to a woman who wears dark glasses.
I’m tired of waiting!

Natural family planning does not work well for women who do not have control over when they have sex. During your fertile times, your partner must be willing to use condoms or a diaphragm, or not have sexual intercourse. This method usually works best when couples receive training before using it.

If you recently gave birth or had an abortion, do not use these methods until your cycles are regular for several months.

There are many ways to use natural family planning. In this book we talk about the mucus method and the counting days method. These methods work best when they are both used together. But one method alone is better than nothing.

Natural family planning does not protect against HIV/AIDS or other STIs.

The mucus method

With the mucus method, you have to check the mucus from your vagina every day to see if you are fertile. On your fertile days, the mucus is stretchy and slimy, like raw egg.

To check the mucus, wipe your vagina with a clean finger, paper, or cloth. Then look or feel for mucus.

Clear, wet, slippery mucus comes during the fertile time. Do not have sexual intercourse.
slippery mucus stretched between the thumb and finger of a hand.
dry, sticky mucus on the thumb and finger of a hand.
White, dry, sticky mucus (or no mucus) comes during other times of the month. It is probably OK to have sexual intercourse 2 days after the first dry day.
After 2 or 3 months of practice, you can easily recognize these changes in your mucus.

The counting days method

With the counting days method, a woman does not have sexual intercourse during any time she might be fertile. This method can be used only by women with regular cycles. This means you have nearly the same number of days from one monthly bleeding to the next, and each cycle is at least 26 days, and no more than 32 days.

If you have one cycle of a different length, you can easily get pregnant. It is common for a woman to have a cycle of a different length when she is sick or feeling a lot of stress. During those times, it is best for you to use a different family planning method until you are well and your cycle returns to normal.

How to use the counting days method

a woman thinking while counting on her fingers.
I started my monthly bleeding 7 days ago. So we cannot have sex today, or for the next 11 days.
I better go to my sister’s.

For this method to work, you cannot have sexual intercourse from the 8th day of your cycle through the 19th day of your cycle. If you have sexual intercourse during this time, you must use another method of family planning.

Sex without intercourse

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There are many ways to have sex that do not cause pregnancy. Oral sex (mouth on genitals) and sexual touch (touching the genitals or other parts of the body) are both sexual activities that many couples enjoy. They have very low risk of passing HIV/AIDS and other STIs, and they cannot cause pregnancy. Anal sex also cannot cause pregnancy, although HIV/AIDS and other STIs can pass very easily this way.

Avoiding all sexual intercourse is the most sure way to prevent pregnancy and can be a good way to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS and other STIs. Not having sexual intercourse may be very difficult for couples to practice for a long time.

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Pulling out (withdrawal)

In this method, a man pulls his penis out of the woman's vagina and away from her genitals before he ejaculates. This helps to prevent sperm from getting inside the vagina.

This method can work almost as well as the barrier methods, if the man can pull out in time. But often men leak semen before they ejaculate. A man may not be able to pull out before the semen comes. Or he may not want to. This means the woman may get pregnant. This method is more effective when the man passes urine before sex, and when it is combined with another method like spermicide or a diaphragm.

This page was updated:30 Nov 2023