For at least the last five years, and probably longer, Alexandra and I have used an unbelievably inefficient system for tracking our fertility: We send each other text messages when our cycles start. That way, our fuzzy logic goes, we a) Always know how the other person is feeling; b) Can see if we’re still in sync, even though we’re on opposite coasts; and, most important, c) Have a dated record of our last period, lest we forget, which we always do.* It’s a ridiculous system. But until recently, it suited us both just fine.
Then Alexandra discovered the greatest app ever created: It’s called iPeriod, it’s free, and it’s amazing. Here’s why:
It’s an idiot-proof way to track not just your period and/or spotting, but also your mood, your skin, your cramps, your stress level, your sex life, and when you’re ovulating, which is important if you aren’t keen on getting pregnant right now. The app also predicts, with startling accuracy, the date of your next cycle, even if you’re irregular. What more could you want?
There’s also a note-taking section, which I find particularly useful. If you use it as a sort of shorthand diary, you may be able to detect patterns in your own life that sync up with your cycle. For instance, maybe your sleep get better when progesterone spikes, or maybe your skin freaks out right before your cycle, or maybe, just maybe, you have a tendency to pick big stupid fights with your partner in the days leading up to ovulation. This can all be very useful information!
We’ve spoken before about different methods of birth control on the site, and you guys almost broke our commenting record with all your thoughts. And so for those of you who aren’t on the pill, who are interested in tracking their own cycle, we cannot recommend this app highly enough. Of course you still need to use common sense: Having condomless sex if you are anywhere near ovulation is a terrible idea! And you should still educate yourself on the basics. For reasons that are beyond me, this stuff isn’t taught—or at least not taught properly—to young women, which is why it’s hardly surprising that so many women I know think ovulation happens two weeks after their period ends. Not so! In any case, this isn’t sex ed class, and everyone has to take responsibility for their own stuff, but this app takes out a lot of the guesswork.
How do you keep track of your cycle?
Let’s talk about sex, shall we? Ever since the fascinating and instructive conversation we had here on No More Dirty Looks a few weeks ago about going off the pill and the perils therein, there’s been a raging conversation going among some of my girlfriends about what to do about not getting pregnant unless you’re ready.
Some are still on the pill. One is ready to come off it but doesn’t know what to do. Some just use condoms. Some do the pull-out thing. Some track their cycle and are super careful around ovulation but loose the rest of the month. There’s some variety, but not much.
I recently read the new Jeffrey Eugenides book The Marriage Plot (thumbs up, for the most part) and was amused that the lead female is in college and uses a diaphragm. Maybe people still use these, I don’t know, but I certainly don’t know anyone who does, and I get why. There’s a scene in the book where she has to go put it in after they start making out and, well, they’re both sort of bummed about that and they stop. Admittedly, the book was written by a man, and I find it annoying when men complain about the inconvenience of birth control—not that he was complaining! it’s a novel! and her boyfriend was on Lithium!—unless he’s a real prince about using condoms. But there’s no getting around the fact that the diaphragm does seem to me like an especially unpleasant option, requiring either foresight or a “wait right here” moment, both of which can kill the mood. (The book, to be fair, is set in the 1980s.) At the same time, it’s a non-hormonal option, so it’s got that going for it.*
These days, there’s a buffet of safety** options (“I’m a safety girl!”) … right? I know I’m not breaking news when I say they’re all rather imperfect. I mean, no one loves condoms, and most of you who were on the pill had some complaints. Which is why we want to hear from you guys. We were taught about “family planning” in high school, which was a while ago now, and I have to assume there are people out there who have come up with semi-satisfactory systems for themselves, right? I keep hearing amazing things about the non-hormonal IUD, for instance, but then I hear sometimes it makes you spot every day. Point being, we’re curious!
Before we open the floor to you, another disclaimer: We are not doctors or family-planning experts; we’re just women and men chatting about what works, or doesn’t work, for us. You should consult your doctor or health care practitioner before making any changes. Nothing we’ve said here constitutes medical or family-planning advice, and nothing said in the comments should be taken as such either.
Now go ahead and post—anonymously if you want, by all means, and we want to hear from the men around here too: What method, device, drug or strategy do you use to prevent pregnancy?
* Whoever guesses the movie reference without googling will have our undying love.
Quick disclaimer and then we’re going to get right into it and talk about the birth control pill (Happy Monday!): Nothing I say in this post constitutes medical advice, and you should never stop or start taking prescription drugs without talking with your doctor. (Especially the starting part; pretty sure that would be illegal, right?) Also:
There’s no judgment—implicit or explicit—on anyone who is on or has been on birth control pills. Some people love them, some people have to take them for medical reasons, some people abhor them. Here, we want to talk candidly about what happens when you go off them. Because, whoa. That can be hectic.
Feeling like an overshare, so here, I’ll start: I got on the pill for the first time pretty late, comparatively speaking. I was 22 or 23, I got on Ortho, and almost instantly became the girl who cries at commercials (OK, still am, always have been, but this was extreme!) and one time I even broke a plate when my loving boyfriend at the time did basically nothing. This was not normal for me! I was being nuts! I quickly got off it, quickly went back to normal, and then didn’t start it again for another several years.
I was 26 or so when I went back on the pill, Mircette this time, thinking it would add convenience to my personal life, and clear up my skin—after all, that’s what my dermatologist told me would happen. I stayed on it for two years. During that time I didn’t cry a lot or break stuff. My skin was OK but not perfect. My libido was OK—which seems better than most, according to this new research, but “OK” does not equal amazing. I didn’t have major mood swings or anything. But something never felt quite right. The best way I can put it is, I sort of felt like a prisoner in my own body. I’m not sure why, and no, I can’t elaborate, but something never felt quite right. It was FINE. But FINE has never been all that appealing to me, and so I talked it over with my GYN and we decided it was time to stop. It wanted to let nature run its course. And by nature I mean, like, ovulation and stuff.
After I went off the pill, my skin freaked out. It was erratic for a few months, throughout which I tried everything: Products, lasers, facials…products. Not clean ones, either. (This was pre- everything I now know.)
My take, in retrospect, is that you shouldn’t try a million things at once, nor should you spazz out. If I were doing it all over again, here’s what I would do: Coach my body, with the help of a doctor or acupuncturist or both, to get my hormones in balance. I would stay away from, or at least limit, eating hormone-pumped meat and dairy, take folic acid and omegas daily, get plenty of sleep and keep a routine, and use a gentle, organic skincare regimen.
I emphasize hormone balancing because what’s happening in your skin is a reflection of what’s happening inside your body—not on the surface of your skin. Also, because the other thing that happened when I went off the pill: my period went away for the better part of a year. I have many explanations for this, both medical and completely esoteric, but suffice to say it was really disconcerting. To be in your late 20s and have it…missing, for months at a time, feels indescribably bad. On the PLUS side (there’s always a plus side, you guys): Now that I’m regular again, I’m so very thankful every single month when my period comes. And no, I will never, ever go on the pill again.
Anyway, because we understand the challenges that come with such a major decision, we were moved by a recent reader letter from Paris. She’s gone off the pill and, yes, ugh, skin woes. She really wants NMDL readers to help! In her words:
“I accept that my body is going to go on a roller coaster ride. I’m ready for the acne this time. Last time I thought I could just stop taking the pill and my skin wouldn’t talk to me. How oily my scalp got and the abundance of acne caught me by surprise. I froze up and caved in and took the pill again. This time, I will be ready for them, and hope to have better ways to deal with them or even prevent them.
Are you guys all in love with her now, too? We thought so. Now let’s help a girl out. Who’s tried what? And even if you don’t have advice for Paris Girl, have you gone off the pill ever? What happened? Share, yes? Please and thank you.