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Conception and Contraception

Fertility Control


Great moments in education, number 62:
While giving a talk on vitamins at a local college, I mentioned British Captain James Cook, who was unusually dedicated in employing nutrition to wipe out scurvy on his ships. I mentioned that, on a long voyage, Captain Cook did experiments with his seamen. 

Boy, did that break the ice. 

 Of course I get a lot of questions about natural birth control. (Pretty funny, that is. I've got a question for you: Would you like to know how many of my kids were unplanned?) I'm also asked, What options are there to drug or barrier methods? Can a safe, natural form of contraception really cost nothing, and be over 99% effective? As a former school sex-education coordinator and author of a Master's thesis on the subject, I offer the following excerpt if you are interested.


 Even if it is granted that birth control education should begin very early, and that fertility awareness is a desirable inclusion, some objections may remain.  One such objection is that there is no reliable indicator of fertility. This erroneous idea is widely held but false. A woman's cervical mucus secretion is a most reliable indicator of fertility (Clift, 1945; Billings, 1981). Using this fact to prevent conception is the basis for the ovulation method of birth control.

 The Billings Method is named after Drs. John and Evelyn Billings of Melbourne, Australia. They were instrumental in developing, testing and promoting this natural birth control method since the early 1950's. It is similar to the Ovulation Method or the Mucus Method. It is not the Rhythm Method. In fact, the reason the Billingses began their investigation of natural birth control in the first place is because the Rhythm Method was not reliable.

 "Natural birth control" often conjures up images of ineffectiveness, complexity and Catholicism. This is unfortunate and inaccurate.  Natural birth control methods are at the very least better than no contraception at all. Even the Rhythm Method, when carefully and consistently employed, may be as high as 80% effective in preventing pregnancy (Billings, 1978).  Rhythm has been widely used since1930.  Kantner and Zelnik (1972) said that 

 "Those who have heard about the Rhythm Method, however, generally know more than those who have not about the time of risk within the menstrual cycle.  About 47 percent of those who have heard about rhythm know when the period of greatest risk is, compared to 24 percent of those   who have not heard about rhythm." (p. 17)

Learning rhythm, then, seems to increase fertility awareness.

 Because the failure rate with rhythm is still too high, there have been attempts to improve on it. The temperature method is perhaps one of the best known refinements on rhythm. It is based on an observed temperature rise at the time of a woman's ovulation each month. Three days after this temperature rise, she is infertile until at least the next menstrual period. While temperature indicates ovulation, it fails to predict it. Intercourse before the thermal shift, then, again becomes a matter of rhythm-style calendar estimation. Another drawback is that "Not all temperature curves have a temperature rise which is easily recognizable.  Often it is difficult to correctly determine the beginning of the hyperthermic phase" (Doring, 1973, p. 173).  A significant temperature rise may be as low as 0.1 degree centigrade, making this quite reliable method demanding to use.

 The Billings Method refines and simplifies natural birth control greatly. Its refinements are that it requires no equipment (no thermometer, no calendar), no guesswork, and that it will predict ovulation.  It is simple enough that "At least 80% of women learn the ovulation (Billings) method at the initial instruction" (Billings, 1973, p. 167).  "Experience has shown that an overwhelming majority of women, probably nine out of ten, can immediately interpret their own mucus system... The remainder can also be taught to do so" (Billings & Billings, 1974).

 The ovulation/mucus method is a one-step reading of a woman's cervical mucus.  It is performed by the woman herself in a moment and without internal examination. Every day, she gently wipes the labia with clean, dry, white toilet paper. She looks at the paper to see if there is any mucus on it.  If there is, she is likely to be fertile. If the mucus is wet and slippery, and can be easily stretched, then she is very fertile. If the paper stays dry, she is likely to be infertile that day. On the day of the most wet, slippery, clear mucus she is most fertile of all. This day is called the peak day, and is often the very day she ovulates. She will also feel wettest on this day.  She remains fertile for three days after the peak.

 It does not matter how old the woman is, nor does it matter how long her menstrual cycles are. Unlike with the Rhythm Method, there is no need for regular menstrual cycles. There is no need to 'fit" into a normal, clockwork-like 28 day model. If a woman has short menstrual cycles, she will ovulate early.  If they are long, she will ovulate late. The mucus is there at ovulation, regardless. If she misses a period, there will simply have been no ovulation, and therefore no fertile, wet mucus that cycle.

 A woman does not even have to know how to read and write to use ovulation methods effectively. Trials in Tonga (Polynesian islands in the south Pacific) between 1970 and 1972 showed high levels of acceptance and success with the Billings Method.

"331 couples opted for the ovulation method. Most women found the mucus symptom immediately recognizable, and were pleased by the simplicity of the method." (Weissmann et al, 1972, p. 813)

Colored stamps, shells, beads and knots in a rope are sufficient for record keeping. Even blind women can be taught to use the method (Billings, 1981; Billings & Billings, 1974).

 Abnormal temperature, such as a low fever, will interfere with the temperature method of birth control. It will not obstruct accurate readings with the ovulation method, however. Abnormal vaginal discharges, also, "do not prevent the woman from recognizing the time of fertility" (Weissmann et al, 1972, p. 814).

 The ovulation mucus symptom is common to all women, including post-menarche girls. Given the knowledge, any woman can use the method for her entire reproductive lifetime without financial cost.  Unlike medical methods of birth control, there are no harmful side effects with the Billings Method.  Since a significant number of adolescent girls avoid birth control because they perceive it as harmful to their bodies (Zabian & Clark. 1987), this is an important positive feature of the method. Indeed, increased self-knowledge has very positive results. Says Billings: "This self-awareness of the natural manifestations of female reproductive physiology... offers warnings against impulsive sexual relationships which might lead to pregnancy" (1981, p.194).

 It is one thing for knowledge to exist and another thing to deliver that knowledge to those who most need it. One of the problems in teaching the ovulation, mucus and/or Billings methods has been a shortage of informed teachers. The National Directory of Billings Ovulation Method Teachers (1988) lists fewer than 400 entries for the entire United States. Few physicians and nurses know of the method's effectiveness, and fewer teach it. Yet Billings (1972) said that "The combined biological failure-rate and user-failure rate of the ovulation (Billings) method in Tonga was 0.69%" (p. 1193). This is a very low failure rate indeed, since Rossman (1967) places the birth control pill at 1.2%. Planned Parenthood says that excellent use of natural birth control can be up to 99% effective. (What's the best method of birth control for me?", 1986). It would not seem that lack of effectiveness explains failure to promote the ovulation/ mucus methods. It is more likely that there is some other reason.

 The simplicity of these methods has already been discussed above, as has the universality of the mucus symptom among women. If it is a simple matter, and if all women experience it, perhaps it has not been taught simply enough, or not taught at all.

 A nurse-midwife taught me and my wife at the time these methods in half an hour. It took another few hours to read the book (Billings, 1978. The Ovulation Method. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press). We subsequently used this method for nearly 15 years and the method, properly used, never resulted in an unplanned pregnancy.  Again and again I say, you are designed to reproduce.  Be certain you are correctly instructed in this, or any other birth control technique, by an experienced instructor. 

Common-sense caution: The Billings Method, and the Mucus and Ovulation Methods, obviously provide no protection whatsoever from sexually transmitted diseases.  This is one of the most important reasons why it is appropriate only for strictly monogamous, long-term relationships.

 Sex is more fun (and maybe even more frequent) if you are confident about the outcome. 

 By the way, you can use the method backwards to assist conception. If a woman knows when she is ovulating, obviously it will greatly increase her chances of becoming pregnant.

 And now to enrage the GYN’s, fertility specialists, and dietitians:

 If you WANT to conceive, try having the man take megadoses of vitamin C for a few weeks prior. At least 6,000 milligrams a day, and as much as 20,000 mg/day virtually guarantees very high sperm production. Divide the dose throughout the day for maximum effect. And that effect is what, exactly? More sperm, stronger sperm, and better swimming sperm all occurred, at even lower daily C doses, in a University of Texas study. Take more C and you'll make vast quantities of super sperm. You think this won't work? Have I shown you my baby pictures?

 Here’s more: zinc and plenty of it helps the prostate and increases seminal fluid production. There is a scientific literature a mile long about zinc and male fertility. About five to ten times the RDA will do it.  That is approximately 50 to 100 mg of zinc daily. For best absorption and best results, divide the dose into two, or better yet, four doses. Zinc gluconate is well absorbed, and zinc monomethionine better still. These are available at any health food store without a prescription.

 A lot of wussy nutritionists will tell you that such levels of zinc are harmful. Truth is, most men don't even get the puny RDA of zinc, set laughingly at 10 or 12 milligrams. Zinc lozenges for the common cold are many times higher than this. Up to 550 mg of zinc has been safely given daily for a few weeks.

 Continued high doses of zinc can produce a copper deficiency, and sometimes a copper deficiency anemia. This is very easy to compensate for. To begin with, most Americans have copper water pipes in their homes. Drink a glass or two of cold water first out of the tap every morning and you'll get copper. Secondly, eat more raisins and other copper-high foods.  Third, take a multiple vitamin (as you should be doing anyway) with copper in it. Finally, do what people in India have been doing for thousands of years. Buy a copper metal cup, fill it with cold water at bedtime, and drink it first thing the next morning. 

 I have worked with supposedly "infertile" people who have tried "everything" to conceive a child. Nutrition, especially the vitamin C part, is not even mentioned in any fertility textbook I've ever seen. I've received some nice postcards from couples who have taken an odd idea or two of mine and gotten pregnant within a month or two. It is a wonderful feeling, by the way, to have helped them bring a soul to the Earth.


Billings, J. (1972).  Ovulation method of family planning.  The Lancet. 2:1193-l194

Billings, J. (1973). Discussion, pp. 164-170.  In M. Zelnik, J. Kantner, & K. Ford (Ed.) Sex and Pregnancy in Adolescence. Beverly Hills: Sage

Billings, J. (1978). The Ovulation Method. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press

Billings, J. (1981). Cervical mucus: the biological marker of fertility and infertility. International Journal of Fertility. 26:182-195.

Billings, J. & Billings, E. (1974). Teaching the safe period based on the mucus symptom.  Linacre Quarterly. 41: 41-51.

Clift, A.F. (1945). Observations on certain rheological properties of human cervical secretion .   Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine. 39:1-9.

Doring, G.K. (1973).  Detection of ovulation by the basal body temperature method. In M. Zelnik, J. Kantner, & K. Ford (Ed.), Sex and Pregnancy in Adolescence.  Beverly Hills, CA: Sage

Klaus, H. (1984). Valuing the precreative capacity: a new approach to teens. International Review of Natural Family Planning, 8: 206-213.

Klaus, H. et al. (1987)  Fertility awareness-natural family planning for adolescents and their families: Report of multisite pilot project.  International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health.  3:101-119.

Klaus, H., Labbok, M., & Barker, D. (1988). Characteristics of ovulation method acceptors: a cross-cultural assessment.  Studies in Family Planning. 19: 299-304.

National Directory of Billings Ovulation Method Teachers (1988). Washington, D.C.: Natural Family Planning Center of Washington, D.C.

"Teen STAR program" pamphlet. (1986)  Bethesda, MD: Natural Family Planning Center of Washington, D.C.

Weissman, M.C., Foliaki, L., Billings, E., & Billings, J. (1972). A trial of the ovulation method of family planning in Tonga. The Lancet. 2: 813-816.

"What's the best method of birth control for me?" (1986)  Rochester, NY: Planned parenthood of Rochester and the Genesee Valley.

Zabin, L.S., & Clark, S.D. (1981). Why they delay: a study of teenage family planning clinic patients. Family Planning Perspectives 13: 205-217.

Zabin, L.S., Kantner, J.F., and Zelnik, M. (1979). The risk of adolescent pregnancy in the first months of intercourse.  Family Planning Perspectives. 11: 215-222.

Zelnik, M., Kantner, J.F., & Ford, K. (1981).  Sex and pregnancy in adolescence. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

(Excerpted in part from A Programmed Introduction to the Ovulation Method of Birth Control. Copyright 1989 Andrew W. Saul. This article is also in his book DOCTOR YOURSELF, copyright 2005.  



Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )

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Andrew W. Saul


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