01/20/2015 03:50 EST | Updated 01/20/2015 03:59 EST

What Is The Birth Control Method That's Approved By The Catholic Church?

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When you hear the words "natural birth control," your first instinct is probably to picture some kind of awkward and ineffective rhythm method. And your second instinct is probably to shudder.

But just because something is natural doesn't mean it has to be negative.

This week, Pope Francis spoke out about birth control and the Catholic Church's views on the topic, specifically saying, "Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits - but no," reported Reuters.

He went on to add, "God gives you methods to be responsible," noted the Associated Press.

As Reuters put it, the Church doesn't have a problem with natural birth control, such as abstaining from sex during a woman's fertile period. But there are other, less restrictive and more scientific methods that others, including many non-Catholics, have been using instead of contraceptives for years.

Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM) of birth control take into account things like a woman's cervical mucus consistency and her basal body temperature. While it sounds like a fair amount of work — the health website says it takes approximately three to six menstrual cycles to learn it — when done "perfectly," the site says it has a 95 to 98 per cent effectiveness rate. The birth control pill is considered 99.9 per cent effective with perfect use.

Other organizations, like Planned Parenthood, agree FAM can work as effective birth control, but emphasize the importance of being in a committed relationship, as well as having the discipline to track it.

And no, it is not the same thing as the rhythm method. Amy Sedgwick,a holistic reproductive health practitioner who runs a course on FAM, writes on her site, Red Tent Sisters:

"The rhythm method (or similar methods, like the calendar method, standard days method, etc.) are what we call retrospective methods. They use previous cycles to try to predict future cycles. This doesn't work very well (in fact, efficacy rates are down around 70 per cent). The reason being that women's cycles are just not that predictable. Not only will things like stress, illness or travel affect a woman's cycle but many women have cycles much longer or shorter than the standard 28 days that is presumed by popular culture."

Meanwhile, Catholics have embraced a form of FAM as well, though it's generally known as Natural Family Planning (NFP), and the emphasis is on spacing out pregnancies naturally. According to Couple to Couple League, a Catholic non-profit organization that promotes NFP, this method of birth control takes into account cervical mucus and temperature, but also the "moral underpinnings for the NFP decision."

Though not all Catholics agree this is an approved method, many of the less conservatives members are on board. As Father Ryan Erlenbush wrote at New Theological Movement, because NFP is not literally contraceptive, it should be acceptable by the Church.

With birth control pills still being studied for potential effects like clots and even environmental impact, FAM could just offer another option that works. And if it's being promoted — even slightly — by the Pope, all the better.


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