When one man’s food is another man’s posion
The ‘safe period’ method in birth control is a concept used to describe the calendar method of contraception vis-à-vis when a woman is safe to have sexual intercourse during her menstrual cycle without the fear of an unwanted pregnancy.
It is particularly popular among ladies who prefer the stress-free natural method of contraception to plan their family and is devoid of taking pills, injections, or other invasive methods of contraception.
The converse is also true for those who desire a pregnancy, where sexual intercourse is aimed at occurring during the ‘unsafe period’ of the menstrual cycle. For those not desiring a pregnancy, all the other days outside the ‘unsafe period’ are regarded as the ‘safe’.
In other words, it is a case of one man’s food being another man’s poison. The so-called unsafe period is actually the fertile days in women. It is the calculated period in a woman’s menstrual cycle, which is closest to ovulation.
“The so-called unsafe period is actually the fertile days in women. It is the calculated period in a woman’s menstrual cycle, which is closest to ovulation.”
How to calculate the safe period?
There are a number of ways to determine when a woman ovulates. The calendar method (also known as the rhythm method) is one of such methods. Ovulation is when the egg is released from the ovaries from where it travels along the fallopian tube where it is fertilized by the sperm. The point here is that if a woman knows when she ovulates, it is easier to estimate the time of potential conception, the so called danger period. To use the calendar method, as the name implies, a calendar and writing materials are the only required materials.
The idea is to have a graphic view of the history of a lady’s menstrual cycle in the calendar. With this, it will be possible to know the pattern of her menstrual cycle by calculating the length of the each cycle over some months, say for three to six months.
The length of a? 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. So, a woman must first record the first day of her period on the calendar and calculate how many days to your next period.
For example, if a lady sees her period on the 1st of July, 2012, this is noted on the calendar as the first day of flow; regardless of the number of days that the period lasts, the counting starts from 1st of July and continues until the first day of the next flow.
If the next flow starts on the 1st of August, 2012, then the length of the cycle is calculated as the number of days between 1-07-12 and 1-08-12, which is 31 days. If one does this for a number of months a pattern may occur. A pattern is said to occur when there is a regular period cycle with an allowance of plus or minus two days. If no pattern is established, it is referred to as an irregular period cycle.
“To use the calendar method, as the name implies, a calendar and writing materials are the only required materials.”
The calendar method is most reliable if a woman has a regular period cycle. It is also based on the assumption that ovulation in most ladies takes place at about fourteenth day before the next menstrual flow.
The implication of the above is that in a regular period cycle, it can be assumed that ovulation will take place on the fourteenth day before the next period.
Accordingly, if a woman has intercourse around the time of ovulation she is more likely to become pregnant than at any other time of the month. In fact, the day before ovulation is the precise time, as the sperm then waits for the egg to arrive.
This postulation is based on the fact that the sperm cells are known to survive for between two to four days in the female reproductive tract while the female’s egg lives for one to two days.
Avoiding the Unsafe or Fertile Period
As mentioned above, the scientific basis of this method relies on the fact we know that after ejaculation of the semen, the sperm cells, ordinarily do not survive in the female reproductive tracts for more than four days. As indicated above also, the egg that is produced at ovulation will not live beyond one to two days at the most.
Hence, any sperm that is shed into the reproductive tract earlier than four days before ovulation will not be viable enough to fertilize the egg and thus can not result in pregnancy.
“This is in keeping with the fact that intercourse that occurs beyond two days after ovulation will also not result in conception.”
The argument on the flip side is also correct. This is in keeping with the fact that intercourse that occurs beyond two days after ovulation will also not ?result in conception.
With the above in mind, for a lady with a regular menstrual cycle, the ‘unsafe period or days’ is taken to be four days before the day of ovulation plus the day of ovulation and two days after ovulation. To be on the safer side, since in the same person over some time it is normal for the pattern to change slightly, one may add two days to both ends of the unsafe days that is making it six days to the estimated day of ovulation and four days after the calculated ovulation date on the calendar.
Suffice is to say that in the example given above, the calculated day of ovulation will fall on the 17th of July 2012, making the period 11th of July to 21st of October, 2012, as the unsafe days to have sex, for those who do not desire a baby, while every other days in the cycle will fall on the safe or infertile period.
Advantages as contraceptive
It is inferred from above that the major advantage here is that the calendar method for family planning is almost cost-free. All that is required is the calendar and two pens – a red and blue pen. The red pen is used to mark by asterisk (*) the ovulation day and the preceding ‘unsafe’ six days and the next four days are also underlined in red. For clarity, the blue pen can be used to underline the other days as the ‘safe days’.
The calendar method is also free of all the potential side effects associated with other methods of contraception like the pill and It also promotes cordiality and harmony in a relationship,?injections since both partners can readily serve as monitors of the calendar and the charting on it.
This is bound to promote intimate discussion in the relationship particularly with regards to the reproductive pattern of the wife and other related matters.
The major shortcoming is that the calendar method could be quite tricky, since the pattern of fertility can suddenly change appreciably in the same person over time. Like some ladies would have realized that sometime ago their cycles might have hovered around 28 days and later came down to say 24 days or more – that is stretching ?to say 33 days. This is common and may be normal.
The above situation is more common in ladies that have had previous ‘disruptions’ in their hitherto regular cycles, e.g., after pregnancy and breastfeeding. As a matter of fact, the calendar method is not advisable for breast feeders. This is because the earliest menstrual flow pattern in women that are breast feeding, shortly after delivery, ?may not be so reliable.
The above is also correct of ladies 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. In the latter, menstruation is noted to be irregular in pattern, since the menstrual flow is just appearing or preparing to stop altogether ?respectively.
In all, across a series of studies of users of the calendar method, the efficiency of the calendar method is about 75 percent accurate. Notwithstanding this success rate, however, there are number of ladies that have a success story of close to 100 percent to tell all through ?the time they have used this method.
“What matters most is the self-discipline that users of the calendar method need to adhere to doggedly – when it is not safe on ‘your calendar’ do not rationalize the temptation of having unprotected sex by making yourself safe through other methods that can come in handy under the circumstances.”
In the final analysis, what matters most is the self-discipline that users of the calendar method need to adhere to doggedly – when it is not safe on ‘your calendar’ do not rationalize the temptation of having unprotected sex by making yourself safe through other methods that can come in handy under the circumstances. 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). Even with accurate calculations, the safe period is considered as an unsafe method of contraception. This is due to the fact that sperms can live up to 5 or even 7 days in the female reproductive tract. In addition to the irregularities of the menstrual cycle that can suddenly occur, this would ruin all calculations.
Dr. Gasser El Bishry
MBBCh, MSc, MRCOG
Clinics: 19 El-Shahied Mohamed El-Shibany St, Beside Grand Royal Cafe, El Nozha St, Heliopolis.