With so many rumors and anecdotes flying around from women of all generations swearing by different contraceptive methods, it is hard to know what actually works and what doesn’t. But when it comes to trying to not get pregnant, or deciding that you want to conceive, it is important to know the facts. So does the age-old ‘Safe Period’ method work? The simple answer is with only a 75% success rate, it probably isn’t worth the risk.
The Safe Period method is based on a woman’s menstrual cycle using simple math is used to work out on what days a woman is more or less likely to fall pregnant. It is particularly popular among ladies who prefer the stress-free natural method of contraception to plan their family without taking pills, injections, or other invasive methods of contraception.
“The day before ovulation is the precise time of maximum fertility, as the sperm then waits for the egg to arrive.”
The length of a menstrual cycle is calculated as the number of days between the first day of menstrual flow in this cycle and the first day of the next flow.
The so-called ‘unsafe period’ refers to the fertile days in women. If a woman has sex around the time of ovulation (when the egg is released from the ovaries) she is more likely to become pregnant than at any other time of the month. This is based on the fact that the sperm cells are known to survive for between 2-4 days in the female reproductive tract while the female’s egg lives for 1-2 days. In fact, the day before ovulation is the precise time of maximum fertility, as the sperm then waits for the egg to arrive.
“For a whopping 1 in 4 people, this method has not worked!”
With no costs and seemingly the science on side, this method has always been a popular one, with many women claiming an 100% success rate. On average however, a study across many users has shown this method has only a 75% success rate. And whilst this might seem high, this means that for a whopping 1 in 4 people, this method has not worked! So even with accurate calculations, the safe period is considered as an unsafe method of contraception.
The major shortcoming is that the pattern of fertility can suddenly change in the same person over time. That means the calendar method is most reliable if a woman has a regular period cycle. The method is also based on the assumption that ovulation in most ladies takes place at about fourteenth day before the next menstrual flow. But some people’s cycles can alter by a day or two over several years, whilst some of us shift from 30 day cycles one month to 24 day cycles the next. But here is the important thing, even if your cycle usually runs like clockwork, that doesn’t mean it will continue doing so. The length of the cycle can be affected by diet, or stress level amongst other things. As a result, the day you think you are ovulating may not actually be so.
For breastfeeding women in particular, their cycles are often pretty irregular due to the changing hormones in their body, so the Safe Period method is especially unreliable. This is also true of women in the extremes of the reproductive years, that is, in young teenagers and women in their late forties who are closing in on their menopause.
“So if your partner has resilient, long-living sperm, your whole calculations can be thrown off base.”
As well as all this, although sperm usually dies after 2-4 days of being in your body, sometimes they can live up to 5 or even 7 days. So if your partner has resilient, long-living sperm, your whole calculations can be thrown off base.
Therefore although this method might seem easy and cost-free, and whilst many women might swear by it, it is definitely a risky business which cannot be described as foolproof. So if you want to avoid getting pregnant, go to a doctor and find out the best modern birth-control method for you. Such methods include the barrier method, for instance, the use of male or female condoms, or using emergency contraceptive pills, or short term insertion of the IUCD (coil).
Dr. Gasser El Bishry, MBBCh, MSc, MRCOG
Clinics: 19 El-Shahied Mohamed El-Shibany St, Beside Grand Royal Cafe, El Nozha St, Heliopolis.