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Let's Dial Down Some (Maybe) Ovulation Freakouts

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Submitted by Heather Corinna on Tue, 2013-12-03 13:04

"AND OMFG I WAS OVULATING, TOO!!!!!!!" This sentence is becoming familiar to us.

We have had some new readers coming in freaking out about a possible pregnancy, often having decided doom is certainly upon them because an app told them they were ovulating the same day they were doing whatever sex-thing they were doing, often things which were non-risks in the first place.

More young people seem to be developing some new knowledge about fertility cycles. I think that's great. Well, kind of great. Thing is, lots of the information you're getting, or think you have, is often dodgy, only half the picture, or just flat-out wrong.

For instance, people have expressed that they think anytime they have thinner vaginal discharge, or a discharge they've not noticed before, it must be ovulation, thinking ovulation happens for everyone on day 14, or smack in the middle of a cycle, or that an app that only tracks periods can give truly accurate estimates of their fertile times. We're also having a number of users coming in who seem to think ovulation creates some kind of pregnancy magic (Shazam!) where people are able to become pregnant without being any part of the things that create a real possibility of pregnancy in the first place.

You all have enough to worry about already! Worrying about things that either aren't sound or realistic, or may be either but still don't = The End of the World? You just don't need that extra, typically needless, stress. Nobody does.

There's a LOT of information online that talks about reproduction and conception -- though the majority of fertility information is based on older people, and also intended for people having trouble conceiving who are trying to make that happen. There is also a lot of social or cultural scare-makers focusing on teen pregnancy. It's not surprising some users arrive here terrified about a possible pregnancy, even when no one's done the things that can cause a pregnancy, or has been doing so without contraception. Of course, it is a big deal to actually become pregnant, a big deal to make the myriad of choices involved, and a big deal to think that might be a reality for you. But even when that is for real, please know the endlessly constructed and loudly broadcast catastrophic teen pregnancy scenarios are only one way that goes: there are many, many people who have done just fine with an unplanned pregnancy, including during their teens.

Being scared of things that are actually happening, and are real or sound is one thing: being scared of things that either are not real, or could be, but are not for you right now or probably aren't? Not so much.

Charting fertility well, where the information you are gathering and interpreting is highly likely to be accurate isn't hard, but it involves doing more than just tracking the dates of menstrual periods. A lot of people are using apps for tracking periods, which also say they can predict fertility, but almost none of which ask for the information needed to do that very accurately.

To clue you in, what the majority of those apps do is use "The Rhythm Method" or the "Standard Days Method."

The Rhythm Method basically figures everyone ovulates 14 days before their next period (they don't). The Standard Days Method, done with or without an app, is also based on averages of everyone's cycles (trouble is, many people just are not average). Someone doing this by scratch would mark the day their period first begins on a calendar as Day 1 and circle it. Then, they'd mark the same day of the week one week later as Day 8 and circle it; forward to Day 19 and circle that one. Then they would draw a line through days 8 through 19. That line is the DO NOT HAVE SEX DURING THESE DAYS OR ELSE barricade. For those twelve days that are crossed out, someone using that method would be considered most likely to be fertile somewhere in there. Someone who didn't want to become pregnant would stay on the absolutely-no-intercourse side of that barricade during that time. Both methods also presume ovulation only happens once in a cycle (which is usually true, but sometimes people do so twice).

These methods can and do work for some people as contraception or a tool to conceive with, but they are considerably less accurate than other ways of charting fertility with additional, and more relevant, information to work with.

You can read all about those more accurate ways to predict fertility right here. The difference in perfect use effectiveness between fertility "charting" that is only about periods (95%) and FAM (98%) -- which additionally involves daily charting for cycles of cervical mucus, basal temperatures, or both, and then analyzing that information -- is about the same as there is in perfect use effectiveness between a birth control pill, patch or ring and withdrawal ("pulling out"), to give you a sense of the difference.

All and any of these methods also require specific things, things that younger people often don't have: like a very, very regular cycle, one which has been regular for quite some time, not just for a few months, and both a menstrual and fertility cycle that is approximately average. Without that kind of regularity, no method of fertility "tracking" can accurately predict ovulation. And without taking your cervical mucus and basal temperature changes daily, a person can't know just how off that less accurate kind of fertility tracking even is.

Unless you are also charting cervical mucus, basal temperatures or both, and have been doing so for a few months of regular cycles without major deviations AND interpreting the data you get from that correctly? I think there's little sense in giving any weight to ideas about when you may be most and least fertile because you just don't have enough information to do that with. It's information which is just as likely to be accurate as inaccurate, so is effectively just useless. Plus, more times than not, the folks we get freaking out about ovulation and when they feel they may have been ovulating aren't a) engaging in the kinds of sex where pregnancy can even happen, or b) are, but are not doing so without at least one form of reliable contraception already. Sound like you? Okay, seriously, ovulation or no ovulation, stop sweating this.

What if you really are or were ovulating? You still have to engage in the kind of sexual contact that even has a chance of creating a pregnancy to have any chance of a pregnancy. Ovulating, or being in a most fertile part of your cycle does NOT mean that suddenly people can become pregnant in ways that pregnancy just does not happen. Ovulation is not a magic babymaking unicorn. If and when someone is ovulating, that doesn't make them any more likely to become pregnant from dry humping (rubbing genitals together with clothes on), for example, than when they are not: fertile or not, that's just not how pregnancy happens.

I am a huge fan of charting, for the record: viva la charting! If and when you are someone who has a fertility cycle, charting is a great way to learn about your body and reproductive system. Charting properly, with all the information possible to glean about your fertility, can actually help you to freak out less instead of more. FAM methods can also be reliable methods of contraception when used properly, once someone does have very regular cycles, and great companion methods to a barrier method like a condom or cervical barrier.

If you have been charting properly, know your patterns, likely or absolutely were ovulating, and DID engage in the kinds of sex that can create a pregnancy? If you did so while using a reliable method of contraception -- like a condom -- properly, even then, know what? Pregnancy is STILL not likely.

If you have all that going on but did not use any method of pregnancy prevention whatsoever, or the one you used failed? Okay: if a pregnancy isn't something you want (or it is, and you're just overwhelmed), then freaking out makes sense, because this fear is about something truly possible. If you do not want to become pregnant, then going and getting a method of emergency contraception while freaking out makes more sense than just plain freaking out, but yes, in this case there likely has been a big risk of pregnancy, and that's real.

So:

When it makes no sense to worry?
• You aren't even using an app or method that asks you for all the info needed to predict fertility well in the first place.
• You are charting with all the information possible, but just started doing that in the last few months, or are doing that without any help or education to do it right.
• You have very good reason to be sure you (or a partner) may have been ovulating, but nobody was naked putting their genitals into, around or right unto your naked genitals.
• You did have that kind of contact but were using one or more reliable forms of contraception (which can include emergency contraception) properly.

When a freakout may be warranted -- and then perhaps a visit to pick up emergency contraception?
• You were part of the kind of sexual activities that present a real risk of pregnancy and were NOT using any method of contraception properly (including any kind of charting).
• The above equals a possible risk for anyone with a fertility cycle, pretty much anytime, but all the more if you also have sound reason to believe you were ovulating at the time of that risk.
• You don't have access to or choose not to use emergency contraception.

We have some pieces here at Scarleteen to fill you in some more about this:
Get With the Flow: All About FAM
On the Rag: A Guide to Menstruation
Birth Control Bingo: Fertility Awareness (FAM)

There are also some great books out there about fertility and how to chart it accurately yourself:
Cycle Savvy, by Toni Weschler: specifically written for young people, if you are new to all this, this is a fantastic primer. By the way, Weschler makes clear in this book that any form of natural family planning -- despite being such a strong, vocal advocate for these methods -- is generally a poor choice for younger people.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility, also by Toni Weschler. This was Weschler's first book, intended for adults. If the first one didn't give you all the info you wanted or needed, or felt too young for you, this may be the ticket.
The Garden of Fertility and Honoring Our Cycles: A Natural Family Planning Workbook, both by Katie Singer

If you want apps or software which DO ask you for the information needed to chart and predict fertility as accurately as possible, you can check out:
Kindara
Fertility Friend

And of course, if you have access to sexual or reproductive healthcare, including from a general doctor, you can always ask them for information about your body and how it works, including your reproductive system. If and when you're sexually active in ways that pose possible risks of pregnancy, if you are flipping out all the time, but feel you still want to engage in sex, you are probably also due for a conversation with a healthcare provider about reliable, effective and user-friendly forms of contraception. Having and using reliable methods of birth control, whichever you choose, is likely to make a whopper of a difference in any kind of pregnancy possibility freakout. You can also look into connecting with a midwife or doula in your area for this kind of education. They're highly informed about fertility, and very dedicated to giving people, especially younger people, sound information about it.

Remember that just because an app or tech tool is available for something and it opens up on your phone or computer fine, and looks all shiny? That doesn't mean it does what it says it does, does it right, or gives you sound information. Would that it were that easy! Machines -- and the things that work via machines -- and bodies are very different things. Bodies are way more variable and change things up much more unpredictably.

Freaking yourself out with this stuff isn't sound. If and when you are actually engaging in, or going to engage in, the kinds of sex that can result in a pregnancy -- in reality, not in Super Scary Neverneverland -- and you do not want to become pregnant? Using one, and ideally, two, methods of reliable contraception properly is going to have you covered. Dual contraception like that is the very, very best way to prevent pregnancy, as any sound health organization will tell you. If you do want to use FAM as a method, or as part of dual contraception, do some good research first and find out about how it works in depth: it's not a method for non-geeky folks, for sure, reading is totally required. Read one of the books up there to get started. You'll find out from reading that you're going to have to be charting daily for several cycles before you can even try to make accurate predictions, so it's not like you won't have plenty of time to try it while reading more and more first so you can get a good idea of if it's a method you like, can actually use, and want to stick with or not.

Oh, and calm down. Seriously, everything is going to be okay.

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