Remember your first sex ed class when the video your teacher popped in exclaimed that “a woman’s body is a mysterious, magical thing.”? Well, it’s true. A woman’s body is a mysterious, magical, confusing, frustrating, un/reliable, surprising, beautiful, mind-of-its-own thing. What’s more, every woman’s body has it’s own way of doing what it’s supposed to do. Beyond using hormonal birth control, your cycle can be very tricky to track. But here’s why it’s important to know what your body is doing if you don’t want to get pregnant and can’t afford birth control: knowing your cycle, when you ovulate and when to expect your period, along with barrier methods (condoms, diaphram + spermicide, etc.) gives you a better chance at avoiding an unwanted pregnancy. Here are 3 tips for tracking your cycle:
1.) Keep a calendar! Make a note every time your period begins and ends. A normal cycle is 28 days, but yours may be 34 or 18. If your cycle is regular, knowing your number not only helps you determine when to expect your next period, but when you may be more susceptible to getting pregnant. Ovulation (when your ovary releases an egg) normally occurs 14 days before your next expected period. There’s a 3-5 day window around the time of ovulation when sex is a no-no. Figuring out when your ovulation window is might be a good way to determine when you need to take a ‘leave of absence’ from intercourse. There are ovulation calculators online that can help you get a better idea of when that window might be.
2.) There’s an app for that! Period Tracker and My Days are excellent apps to download to your phone that not only help you keep track of when your period begins/ends, but special algorithms within them take note of your unique cycle and give you a heads up when you may be ovulating. You can also keep note of moods, symptoms and when you’ve had sex so that you can know what to expect, and when.
3.) Cervical mucus. Say it with us: Cer-vi-cal-mu-cus. It’s completely normal and healthy. Cervical mucus is a fluid excreted by the cervix that can especially help you indicate when you might be ovulating. As your ovulation date approaches, the consistency and amount of cervical mucus in your vagina changes. If you’re experiencing cervical mucus that kind of reminds you of egg whites, that’s no coincidence. This means your ovary is releasing an egg and your vagina is prepping itself for fertilization. To have a better chance at avoiding unwanted pregnancy, if you’re experiencing this thick, clear cervical mucus, you may want to take a rain check for another night. (Cervical mucus consistency is also a good thing to keep track of in your calendar or period tracker app.)
Please keep in mind that none of these are fail-safe for preventing pregnancy. Sperm can live inside of your vagina for up to 2 days, so even if you’re not ovulating on the particular day that you have intercourse, you do still have a chance at getting pregnant if you’ve been sexually active. The best way to protect yourself from unwanted pregnancy is to find a reliable method of birth control that works for you. However, keeping track of and learning to love your menstrual cycle can give you a better insight to how your body works, when something may be changing (i.e. a missed period), and when to not wear that white skirt with no back-up tampons in your purse while you’re on a first date.
Our bodies are mysterious, magical things – but with the right tools, apps, notes and birth control method, we can at least try to navigate the crazy waves of our menstrual cycles and find ourselves right where we want to be, when we want to be there.