I've heard it said often "we live in a soundbite world." Technology, and how we process information, is changing at a break-neck pace. Do we truly live in a soundbite world? And is that term even still relevant? Who even listens to soundbites anymore? Maybe we should think of it more like a headline culture. Or, perhaps, an Instagram or TwitX culture. According to Gallup, fewer books are being read with a more pronounced drop being seen amongst college graduates. Maybe its just information overload - too much coming at us too fast. Whatever the cause(s), evidence has shown that Americans have shrinking attention spans. Given that, we in the Natural Family Planning (NFP) world wonder how we can teach people to use NFP effectively - the way they intend to use it - when people are less likely to invest the time they need to in learning a method.
I've seen an increase in the past decade of women who want to use NFP to plan their family size or even just track their menstrual cycle - which is great! But, I've also simultaneously seen a dramatic increase in women who don't want to learn a formal method. Rather, they want to use a free app or learn from a Social Media group. But that is a recipe for disaster. You cannot learn an NFP method in 280 characters or less. I once had a very good friend of mine, angry she was pregnant, declare "my Creighton chart didn't show my Basal Body Temperature (BBT) shift! So I got pregnant!" For those of you familiar with Creighton and Sympt0-thermal NFP methods, you will quickly note that Creighton doesn't use BBT. After further investigation I found out that she Googled how to use NFP and concocted an interesting version of NFP all on her own. In fact, during my day job I have troubleshooted more DIY unintended pregnancy NFP charts than I care to discuss. That's not to say that I haven't seen some legitimate charts with unintended pregnancies where the couple actually learned an NFP method in its entirety (more on that below). But I can count those on one hand. The overwhelming majority of unintended pregnancies are DIY methods or only going to one or two NFP training sessions. Interestingly, I often here the same DIYers proclaim that "NFP doesn't work." But is it that NFP doesn't work or that NFP wasn't learned? I would argue it's the latter. And while I'd be happy to discuss all the reasons for unintended pregnancies at length, that's beyond the scope of this blog so I'll stick to the fact that the vast majority that I see are due to this issue.
So what's a busy girl supposed to do? I guess it depends on what you want from tracking your cycle. If you don't want to spend time learning a method, you're fine with some basic cycle knowledge, and you don't really care if you get pregnant or not, then download that free app and chart away. On a side note, if your app predicts your ovulation date or period then it's using some form of the Calendar Rhythm Method which has a notorious 30% unintended pregnancy rate. But if you're serious about avoiding pregnancy or achieving pregnancy, then you're going to have to go through the hard work of learning a method in its entirety. When you hear that a method has a real use effectiveness of 96.7% (or whatever the method claims) at avoiding pregnancy, those numbers are based on learning the method in its entirety. Not one, two, or even four follow-ups. The whole method. And this is true for any method you choose. "Is there any way to learn it faster," you might ask? No. The teaching schedule is designed to help you learn to make observations, chart, and utilize the instructions in the best possible way. Could I crash course you in Creighton in 3 weeks? Sure. I've done it before (I'm looking at you engaged couple who waited to learn a method until a month before the wedding). But it doesn't have the same effectiveness. For starters, I won't even have a full cycle of charting to review with you. Second, that's a ton of information in a very short period of time.
The reality is that each method has been developed over time and the teaching schedule has been tweaked and updated to achieve the best possible effectiveness rates. Additionally, each method has a very specific way in which their teachers are trained. Creighton practitioners, in particular, go through an extensive training program so that you learn CrMS well. While it's tempting to believe that you can get all the information you need to know by posting some questions in a Social Media group or by downloading an app, just remember that your friends in that group and the app developers aren't the ones getting up in the middle of the night to feed your baby. There are some things that are simply worth the extra time. Learning a full method of NFP is one of those.