Written by Lily, RSEI Educator | Published May 13th, 2021

You might have seen the sponsored posts on social media promoting fertility awareness methods. This could be partially due to the increase of social media influencers who have posted ads for a fertility awareness app over the past few months, with a combined reach of millions of followers. But what are fertility awareness methods, and how can it influence young people who are susceptible to this marketing?   

Fertility awareness methods (FAMs), also known as the rhythm method, involves a person tracking their menstrual cycle or other indicators to help identify when they’re most likely to get pregnant, which is right before and after ovulation.  It can be used as a method for family planning, either to achieve or to prevent pregnancy.  In addition to keeping a calendar to track the menstrual cycle, it can also involve observing changes to the cervical mucus and recording basal body temperature to determine ovulation. Using multiple methods together can make it more effective to prevent pregnancy. 

While there is recent attention on social media, FAMs are not necessarily new. For centuries, philosophers and scientists have hypothesized about fertility. While andetoctal accounts about reproduction and fertility have been passed through generations, the scientific identification of the fertile period started in the 1930s. This was when it was observed that ovulation occurred at an interval of approximately 14 days before the next menstruation, which formed the basis of the calendar method. In the 1950s, new methods of fertility tracking were developed based on the physiological signs of ovulation, including the method based on changes in cervical mucus secretion and the basal temperature method. FAMs are getting more attention now, possibly because a popular fertility tracking app received FDA clearance in 2018 to market itself as a contraceptive method. This new social media attention could potentially be misleading to youth who may not yet understand ovulation or all of their options for birth control. 

FAMs are not as effective as other types of contraceptive methods because they require daily monitoring, which can be difficult for some people. Additionally, it relies on a predictable menstrual cycle, and this may not be a good option for people with irregular cycles. It requires that the cycle be consistently tracked for at least six months before it can be reliable,and the user will need to abstain from sex or use backup contraception during the fertile days. FAMs are about 76-88% effective, that means 12-24 out of 100 people who use FAMs will get pregnant each year, depending on which method(s) are used. Combining two or more FAMs may result in a greater effectiveness. However, it still remains a valid contraceptive choice that is available to people who can use it consistently and correctly. Benefits of FAMs include that they are low to no cost, it is safe to use, requires no medication and produces no side effects. 

As youth serving adults, we have an opportunity to talk with youth about how social media marketing can influence our understanding of contraceptive methods. While it is not new for a reality TV influencer to promote products on social media, these posts can create an incomplete picture of how effective FAMs are at preventing pregnancy. In fact, most posts do not disclose the effectiveness of FAMs nor the requirements to use it correctly. As with other moments in pop culture, this topic presents an opportunity to educate youth about health literacy and provide context of the motives for these ads. Truth is, influencer marketing is prevalent, and may continue in the reproductive health space. This would be a great time to educate youth on how to find accurate and reliable health information and emphasize that each person gets to choose the contraceptive method that is best for them.