My Experience with Contraceptives, and How I Found the Fertility Awareness Method

My Experience with Contraceptives, and How I Found the Fertility Awareness Method

I want to start this post by saying everyone’s body is different. What may work well for one of us might be the wrong choice for another. That goes for so many aspects of our health and our lives, and it continues to be true about birth control methods. It’s important to educate yourself and/or talk with a trained professional to help figure out which contraceptive method is right for you. And if you’re like me, the right method for you today might not be the right method for you 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 or 10 years from now. We’re ever changing, both physically and in how we want to live our lives, so its important to remember that we often need to adjust how we care for ourselves. Today I’m sharing my experience using contraceptives throughout my life from the time I lost my virginity up until present day. Please keep in mind that this is a personal narrative. Having safe sex and protecting against pregnancy sometimes means taking hormonal birth control and wearing condoms. Sometimes it means abstaining from sex all together. THERE IS NO SHAME IN YOUR CHOICE. I stand by all people and their right to choose what is right for them.

I lost my virginity when I was 15. To my boyfriend at the time. We were together for a year or so. Immediately following the first time, I told my mom I wanted to go on birth control pills. I didn’t tell her I had become sexually active, and though I’ve always felt loved completely and never judged by my mom, we never really openly talked about sex and different contraceptive methods. I assume she knew I had become sexually active, and she made an appointment for me with the nurse midwives where she went and the same group of midwives who delivered both my brother and me. Talk about full circle.

At the young age of 15, I started taking Ortho Tri-cyclen. What would be the start of about 10 years of daily hormonal birth control. I bounced around to different pills and back to the same ones again over the years. Some pills caused me to not get my period for months at a time, which when you’re a sexually active college student is absolutely frightening. As some of you may know, I’ve struggled with digestive issues for most of my life. Starting at a young age when my parents figured out I was lactose intolerant. It will probably always be somewhat of a mystery, but my guess is that many of my digestive issues come from a combination of chronic antibiotic use from age 2 all the way up into my twenties (I was born with 60% hearing loss and had surgery on my ears 3 times before the age of 6 then I suffered about 15 UTIs and a kidney infection starting at the time of becoming sexually active into my mid-twenties) and then long-term hormonal birth control use from age 15 to 24. Hormonal birth control pills essentially act like antibiotics in your gut, destroying the essential microbiome balance, depleting all the good bacteria needed for proper digestion. Some other negative side effects from hormonal birth control include mood swings, headaches, acne, bloating and weight gain, irregular spotting and low libido.

The number one reason I decided at 24 that I was going to finally go off the pill was because I strongly believed it was giving me anxiety, mood swings and depressive thoughts. I finally woke up to the fact that I was putting hormones in my body that were negatively effecting my life. I wanted to take a clean break from all hormonal forms of birth control, so I did. It took my body a little while to adjust back, but after about a year, I felt way better overall. Less anxious feelings and depressive thoughts, higher libido and a greater connection to my body and my natural cycle.

Though in many ways I was feeling better health wise being off the pill, it still left the question of what birth control method I should use now. The first year I relied mostly on using condoms. I always used condoms with any new partner before both being tested for STDs. However, condoms really bother my vagina and make sex burn and hurt for me. I found myself uninterested in sex and disappointed that there weren’t better options for people like me.

So after about a year of using condoms, a friend mentioned an IUD, and I was intrigued. I honestly don’t remember hearing much about the IUD before that time. That’s likely because “comparing 2006–2010 with 2011–2013, IUD use increased 83% (from 3.5% to 6.4%)…” It seemed like every woman I knew was getting an IUD around that time. Sticking with my plan of not using hormonal birth control, I decided to get the copper Paraguard IUD in December of 2011. I never really had heavy periods or bad cramping, so I wasn’t so concern about the side effects associated with the Paraguard IUD, which include heavier and more painful periods and cramping/back pain associated with menstruation.

I’m not going to lie the first 2-3 years of having the Paraguard IUD were rough. My periods were next level. I would soak through a super tampon every 3 hours during the first 3-4 days of my period. Looking back now, I’m honestly shocked I stuck with it. I remember telling myself that it would get better. That it wasn’t THAT bad. I’ve always had a high threshold for pain and always seem to forget it once it pasts, so each month once my period was over, I’d just keep going along until another insanely painful period hit me the next month. A few years in, I started to notice my PMS symptoms were the worse they’ve ever been. Luckily I was introduced to evening primrose oil and that definitely was a game charger for the intense feelings of loneliness that would always strike a week before I started menstruating. Overall, I think I put up with the negative side effects of the IUD because I didn’t want to use the hormonal IUD or go back on the pill, and I really trusted the effectiveness of the IUD (99.2% to 99.4%). I had settled down and gotten married, and the IUD seemed like the best method for me at the time.

A couple years ago, I started to grow wary of the IUD. Mainly because of the insane amount of inflammation it caused in my body. My womb space literally felt swollen, not just when I was having my period, but at various other times throughout my cycle. I started to consider getting it taken out. I began looking into different options, and this time the one that came up and stuck with me was the fertility awareness method. Essentially this is when you track your cycle (using various methods) so you know when you are ovulating (fertile). Then you either abstain from sex or use a barrier method on the days of your cycle that you’re at risk for pregnancy. About a year ago I got my IUD removed. I’ve been using the fertility awareness method ever since.

I started using Daysy in June to help me track my cycle with better accuracy. Daysy is a basal body temperature thermometer fertility tracker that works using the fertility awareness method by learning and tracking your cycle over time. Each morning right when I wake up, before getting out of bed, I pop Daysy under my tongue to get my temperature reading. The easy-to-read color coded system on Daysy will illuminate either red (fertile), green (not fertile) or yellow (not enough information to determine status – the “learning” phase when you first start using Daysy). When I’m in the red (fertile) or the yellow, we use condoms when having sex. With over 30 years of data collection, Daysy predicts your cycle with 99.4% accuracy. Every few days, I sync Daysy to the DaysyView app where I can view findings and see my cycle at a glance. I’m not planning a pregnancy in the foreseeable future, but if/when I do someday, I love that Daysy is also a reliable method for women trying to get pregnant. It’s important to note that Daysy does not protect against STDs. And its only recommended for women with cycles 19-40 days in length. For where I’m at in my life right now, using Daysy to help me track my cycle works really well for me. It’s empowering to feel connected to my body and its natural rhythms in a way I’ve never felt before.

When I first became sexually active, I never really considered any other form of birth control besides the pill because the options seemed so limited to me at the time. Nowadays, it seems like the sex conversation is way more mainstream. It’s less taboo to talk about because, duh, safe sex education is SO important. There’s even great resources like Bedsider that educate you on all birth control methods and help you find which method is right for you. As always, I’m here to support you on your journey. I’m happy to answer any questions as they pertain to my personal experience with contraceptives.

[This post is sponsored by Daysy, however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.]

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32 comments

Danielle September 19, 2018 - 4:55 pm

I used to use daysy and thought it was a great. Awesome you are making more women aware of this method! I’ve been using the Creighton Charting Method for the past three years and have found it to be so informative about learning even more about my body and cycle. Our bodies can tell us so much if we pay attention. Maybe something to look into if you’re interested.

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:55 am

Hi Danielle! I hadn’t heard of that method. I will definitely look into it. Thank you for the recommendation! XO

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Nati Fung September 19, 2018 - 5:00 pm

Love this post! I have really wanted to stop taking birth control because I feel it gives me tons of anxiety and side effects, like the ones you mentioned. BUT I have PCOS and my gynecologist basically told me the pills is all I have. Do you know any other cases of success of people who stopped taking birth control pills and treated PCOS differently?

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Nichole September 19, 2018 - 5:11 pm

I haven’t taken hormonal birth control in 10 years and manage mine with seed cycling, daily inositol supplement, vaginal steaming, and womb massage with castor oil. It’s always different though depending on where I’m at in the month! ❤️

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:54 am

Yes! That’s amazing! Love all those practices. XO

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Hannah September 19, 2018 - 6:04 pm

leefromamerica.com has written about her success getting off of hormonal birth control with PCOS, if you haven’t already looked into her blog/Instagram!

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:49 am

Yes!! XO

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Tania September 20, 2018 - 11:22 am

I have PCOS and found out when I went off of birth co tell. My doctor told me the only solution was to go back on birth control, but I knew there had to be another way. I found Alissa Vita’s program and it seriously changed my life. I’m mostly regular now, with a few random 45 day cycles if I don’t treat my body right, but it’s completely doable! I haven’t been on birth control for about 10 years now 🙂
You can download the MyFLO app as a way to get started and learn more about cycle syncing.

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:43 am

Hi Tania! That’s amazing! You should be proud of yourself. That’s no easy feat. I’ve read Alissa’s book, and so many women I know have used the information in Woman Code to transform their lives. So empowering! Thanks for sharing! XO

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Kay September 19, 2018 - 5:00 pm

This resonates so much with my own experience. I’ve been using daysy for about 2 months now and loving it. Feeling super connected to my cycle. Thank you for the honesty, as always!

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:54 am

Yes! So glad you are loving the Daysy, too! XO

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Erica Smith September 19, 2018 - 5:40 pm

Can you say a little more about the changes you noticed after removing your copper IUD?

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:53 am

Hi Erica! Overall my periods are way less painful. Less lower back pain and breast tenderness. Less pain in my womb space in general. Also, I would sometime have pain during intercourse when I had the IUD, and now I don’t. I think the inflammation in my body has been greatly reduced since removing. Hope that helps! XO

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Renee September 19, 2018 - 5:45 pm

Great post! I have been thinking about getting off the pill for a while now. Awkward question but do you have any condom recommendations?

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Madison September 28, 2018 - 4:22 pm

As someone with a pretty sensitive lady garden, the Skyn condoms have been a blessing from heaven. First ones I’ve used that don’t make me feel tight and squeaky. It feels like, well, skin.

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:34 am

Amazing! Thank you for that recommendation, Madison! XO

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:51 am

Hi Renee! Not an awkward question at all. I use Sustain. A couple other people left suggestions on this comment thread that I’m going to check out, too! XO

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Emilie September 19, 2018 - 5:56 pm

Hello! Im from Montreal and i speak french, so i’ll do my best to ask you my question properly and clearly 🙂 I take the birth control for 2 years and a half today and i started having anxiety and anxiety crisis 9-10 months after i started. I never felt that way (anxiety) that much before. At the moment it start, i was sure it was because of my job, problems to solve in my life so I saw a psychologist and it helped a lot. But recently, I just realize that maybe it’s because of the pills. I will stop and look if its the cause… I really like reading your recommandations, i don’t usually leave comments but this topic really touch me at the moment. I think i will try Daysys. I’m pretty regular (28-29 days cycle and period for 5 days).

It is normal to start anxiety that much after starting taking the birth control? If it is, this is so intense and dangerous..! 🙁

Have a good day and you are really inspiring! 🙂

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Anonymous September 19, 2018 - 8:53 pm

I have used Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM) in the past (in various forms, from apps to handheld trackers to paper & pen). While I love these methods, currently what works best for me is hormonal birth control (I have an implant). I found that it was hard to practice safe sex with FAM, since you must have a partner(s) who is committed to always using condoms during fertile days, and must have enough consistency to be able to take your temperature everyday, and at the same time(ish). I also got tired of feeling like communicating about my fertility was always my job in the relationship, and always having a nagging worry about pregnancy, since FAM doesn’t have the best effectiveness rating (comparatively to some other methods).
I love that you open by saying that you respect all choices. Just wanted to chime in and share my experience as someone who is currently using hormonal birth control and is into holistic living–to state the obvious, they are not mutually exclusive.

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:49 am

Yes! Thank you for sharing your experience! It’s so important to hear from people who’ve used the same method and have had different experiences. It’s important that we honor everyone’s choices and not shame others for choosing differently than we do/would. XO

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:51 am

Hi Emilie! Yes, anxiety and mood swings are definitely one of the main side effects of hormonal birth control pills. I noticed a marked difference when I got off them. Definitely research options, but the FAM method might be right for you at this stage in your life. Sending my love! XO

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Shannon September 20, 2018 - 1:34 am

Hi Alison! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and pushing openness on this topic. I stopped hormonal birth control 9 months ago primarily because it affected my libido and my relationship with my husband. I’m now suffering from cystic hormonal acne and it’s killing myself of steam. I eat a clean, low dairy diet without red or white meat. Any supplements/ diet changes you can recommend? I don’t want to compromise my self esteem or sex life.

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:46 am

Hi Shannon! I’m so sorry to hear that. Have you read Alisa Vitti’s book Woman Code? There’s a TON of great information in it for balancing hormones, including dietary changes you can make. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend it. XO

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Lise September 20, 2018 - 9:49 am

Just for information, another method which may be good for some women is the nuvaring. It’s a ring containing hormones that is placed inside the vagina. It still contains hormones, but only 1/10 gets into the bloodstream so it could be a good alternative for people using oral contraceptives. And you only have to think about it after 3 weeks instead of everyday 🙂
I used it because I have chronic migraines and I didn’t want to influence my hormones too much but still wanted to use double protection. For me it worked good in the beginning but after a while I experienced more emotional symptoms and low libido, so I recently stopped and currently trying to track my cycle. Another advantage of the nuvaring is also that its faster out if the system, I was only 2 weeks late for my period.

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:44 am

Hi Lise! Thank you for sharing! I don’t know too much about the NuvaRing, but it’s always great to hear from people with different experiences. XO

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Georgia September 21, 2018 - 3:18 am

Thank you for this post ~ I’m coming up on 6 six years aka time to get my hormonal IUD removed/replaced and I’ve been considering other methods which is a surprise (to me). I never felt that my IUD effected me negatively (at least compared to the pill) but my lower back has been killlling me for months. My acupuncturist finally helped me make the connection that it could be the IUD. I have a consistent stable male partner boo thang and finally feel a little more responsible at age 28 to keep track and try a different method! I appreciate your honesty and recommendations.

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:41 am

Hi Georgia! That’s great that you are considering the FAM method. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it sounds like you might be at the right place in your life to give it a try. It’s been really empowering for me to reconnect with my body in that way after relying on the IUD or hormonal bc for so many years. Sending my love! XO

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Jill September 22, 2018 - 11:31 pm

Thanks for sharing this, Alison! I’ve always been so fearful of getting on the pill and have been happy with tracking my ovulation cycles, too! I’m intrigued by the simplicity of this tool and will definitely check it out. Also, my partner and I LOVE these condoms that they carry at Good Vibrations. They’re the secret I tell all my lady friends about and worth every penny. https://www.goodvibes.com/s/sex-toys/p/GV14294/okamoto/okamoto-004-almost-nothing-condoms. 🙂

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:39 am

Amazing!! Thanks so much for the recommendation, Jill! Good condoms are so hard to find. I will check these out. XO

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Taryn September 23, 2018 - 6:04 am

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I very recently decided to quit taking hormonal birth control because the side effects were making my anxiety worse and it took away my periods. I really struggled making the choice to go off, my doctor always said that pregnancy was worse than feeling anxious or sad as if there was no other option other than hormonal forms. And only offered anxiety meds to deal with the side effects. Taking a pill to combat the side effects of another pill is not the answer for my body. Going natural is what I want at this point and my life and it is so hard to get support on it. Reading this has reassured me that the FAM method is a good option and I am so excited to get to know my body’s natural cycle again 🙂

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alison wu October 3, 2018 - 3:38 am

Hi Taryn! I can totally relate. Most western doctors are quick to jump to prescribing meds. It’s sad. The FAM method definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you feel called to it, I would definitely recommend doing some more research and trying it out. Sending my love! XO

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Sarah December 6, 2018 - 4:28 pm

Hi Alison, thanks for this post! I have been on hormonal birth control pills since 2006 and I am toying with the idea of going off of them.. I have a supportive partner but we are not ready for a baby. I noticed that you said you have sex with condoms when you are fertile – is the inverse true – do you have sex without condoms on the ‘not fertile’ days? I feel like this would give me anxiety about being pregnant every month! This is something I am trying to avoid but really want to go off the pill. Sorry to ask such a prying question! Thank you xo!

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