Background: The efficacy of fertility awareness based (FAB) methods of family planning is critically reviewed. The objective was to investigate the efficacy and the acceptability of the symptothermal method (STM), an FAB method that uses two indicators of fertility, temperature and cervical secretions observation. This paper will recommend a more suitable approach to measure the efficacy.
Methods: Since 1985, an ongoing prospective observational longitudinal cohort study has been conducted in Germany. Women are asked to submit their menstrual cycle charts that record daily basal body temperature, cervical secretion observations and sexual behaviour. A cohort of 900 women contributed 17,638 cycles that met the inclusion criteria for the effectiveness study. The overall rates of unintended pregnancies and dropout rates have been estimated with survival curves according to the Kaplan-Meier method. In order to estimate the true method effectiveness, the pregnancy rates have been calculated in relation to sexual behaviour using the 'perfect/imperfect-use' model of Trussell and Grummer-Strawn.
Results: After 13 cycles, 1.8 per 100 women of the cohort experienced an unintended pregnancy; 9.2 per 100 women dropped out because of dissatisfaction with the method; the pregnancy rate was 0.6 per 100 women and per 13 cycles when there was no unprotected intercourse in the fertile time.
Conclusions: The STM is a highly effective family planning method, provided the appropriate guidelines are consistently adhered to.