In all of the furor surrounding the (likely) imminent demise of Roe v. Wade, it has become clear to me that women have been made to fear and resent their biology for far too long. Too many women have bought the lie that they have no options but to rely on hormonal contraceptives and, if that fails, abortion. But the broad dependence on these methods — making women responsible to manage their own and men’s fertility — is actually patriarchal and anti-women.
I truly believe that the more women come to understand and love their bodies and their cycles (instead of being taught to hate, fear, and suppress them), the more they will realize we’ve been sold a bill of goods on contraception and abortion — two things we’re told “liberate” us, while suppressing the very thing that makes us women.
As a fertility awareness educator, I hope more women finally discover the truth that pregnancy isn’t something that simply “happens” to someone, but something that can be avoided with a simple understanding of how their female bodies work. Most importantly, I hope many will discover that the way female fertility functions is truly good, and truly beautiful — and that both parties bear responsibility for the consequences of sex, which is intrinsically tied to babies, even if each act of intercourse doesn’t result in conception.
In other words, there’s hope yet that feminists may discover natural family planning (NFP) — and it will blow them away when they do. Case in point:
Although the tweet is imprecise, I still found it incredibly hopeful, although I am sure that was not the intention of the poster! It’s true: It is a biological fact that there are only a set number of days each month a woman can get pregnant, and it is around the time of ovulation.
But for clarity’s sake, let’s break the numbers down. Women ovulate once per menstrual cycle, and they can monitor the lead-up to ovulation by tracking biomarkers like cervical mucus (which typically increases in amount and changes in type as ovulation approaches). This monitoring-and-tracking process is known as fertility awareness or natural family planning (NFP).
The egg released during ovulation starts to disintegrate after about 24 hours if it has not been fertilized by a sperm. Sperm, on the other hand, can live inside a woman’s reproductive tract for up to 5 days (not just 3!) when fertile cervical mucus is present, and a woman is most likely to conceive if she has sex in the days leading up to ovulation (so that sperm is already ready and waiting in the female reproductive tract when the short-lived egg is released).
All together, when we account for the phenomenon of double ovulation (which gives a potential ovulatory window of 24-48 hours), that’s only about seven consecutive days per month that the average woman is fertile — i.e., that she has the potential to conceive if she has sex during that window of time. However, men are fertile all the time.
When women finally understand this, it tends to blow them away. “Why wasn’t I taught this before?” is the response I hear over and over from the women and couples I educate about fertility awareness and NFP.
There’s also another realization: “If I’m only fertile a few days a month, but my partner is fertile all the time, why am I the one who has to suppress my fertility all month long via contraception?” (And, when that fails, the one who could be encouraged to seek out an abortion, forcing her into a decision that no one ever truly wants to make?)
With knowledge of fertility awareness, it also becomes clear that pregnancy is not something one “catches” (like the flu!), and there are ways to know exactly when you can get pregnant, and avoid that outcome if you desire. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge about your reproductive system, which sadly, no one is taught about as they should be (we’re just pushed onto birth control instead).
Importantly, fertility awareness also hammers home the truth that both the man and the woman bear equal responsibility for the creation of a new life. If a woman is tracking her cycle and knows that she’s fertile, and shares that information with her partner, yet he insists on having sex then anyway, there can be no fingers pointed about missed pills: They both engaged in sex knowing full well the potential consequences.
In other words, fertility awareness forces us to confront the reality that sex and babies go together. That’s lost wisdom in a contraceptive culture that pushes so many young girls onto birth control before they can even drive a car by themselves.
Perhaps most importantly (and to paraphrase Fulton Sheen), women who know their worth will demand men who respect it. In other words, NFP could also help in saving our culture’s crumbling understanding of men, women, and the differences and complements inherent in each of them.
Grace Emily Stark is a freelance writer with published work in multiple outlets, and she is the Editor of Natural Womanhood. Grace is also a current Ramsey Institute Fellow at the Center for Bioethics & Culture, and a former Novak Alumni Fund Journalism fellowship recipient. Follow her writing at GraceEmilyStark.com.