These portraits are part of a series documenting families using FAM. Below is a conversation between portraitist Rachel Sima Castro and Fertility Awareness Educator and FAM advocate Whitney Miley Price.
What exactly is FAM?
Whitney: FAM is short for the Fertility Awareness Method which is a daily practice of observing and charting your fertility signs throughout the menstrual cycle. You can use this information to avoid pregnancy, achieve one, or gain deeper insight into your hormonal health. I practice and teach an evidence-based set of guidelines for timing sex for highly effective birth control.
So, is this the same as the Rhythm Method?
No, and it also isn’t a cycle charting app or device that predicts (usually incorrectly) when you are ovulating. It’s a physiologically-based practice of attuning to the clear signs your body gives you every single day about what’s happening with your hormones. It’s body literacy.
Who is it appropriate for?
FAM is appropriate for anyone who cycles and has the capacity to make daily observations of their fertility signs (cervical fluid and basal body temperature, specifically), apply a set of guidelines and make responsible decisions on the timing of sex to meet their reproductive goals. Even if pregnancy risk isn’t a concern, FAM can support women in gauging their hormonal and gynecological health, planning their schedule around their cycles and tuning into their cyclical rhythms and changing needs throughout the month.
How does the practice serve your partnership?
My husband and I have used FAM for nearly 8 years, primarily as birth control but also to conceive our two children (one living, one stillborn) and to chart my return of fertility in the postpartum period. The practice has definitely deepened our communication and keeps us clear on our intentions of whether we want more babies or not. Also, it’s made us more creative lovers — the possibilities for pleasure are boundless when you expand your definition of what ‘sex’ looks like.
Perhaps the most profound benefit we’ve experienced is from cycle syncing our relationship, meaning that we plan dates and schedule engagements in a way that’s optimal for my hormonal strengths. Likewise, my partner can quickly make more sense of my needs and love me in the best way each day when he knows where I am in my cycle.
How does portrait photography play a role in documenting this practice?
I feel it’s important to both represent cyclical bodies and to document relationships between people enjoying their sexuality sans fear of unintended pregnancies. Highlighting such people
validates that fertility awareness-based methods are accessible, reliable, and sustainable. I scheduled my shoot for this project around my cycle — I was nearing ovulation, a time that I feel the most open, social, radiant and confident, and I can see that in my photos. With FAM, I’m able to honor my cyclical nature, access my pleasure, communicate more deeply in my partnership, and only have babies when I want them. If that’s not a superpower, I don’t know what is.
Can you tell us more about the work you do and the community you serve?
I’m based in Berkeley, CA, where I provide in-person group classes and private consults for those wanting to learn FAM, as well as for those with an existing charting practice who are looking to troubleshoot a challenge or deepen their understanding of the method. I also work with folks remotely via videoconferencing to ensure that anyone who wants access to this information is able to receive it.
If you’re in the SF Bay Area and would like to connect with other cycle charters, I host monthly Cycle Circle gatherings where we build community, discuss body literacy-related topics, and review our charts together.
What discussion do you hope this project inspires?
We have the ability to understand our cycles on a deep level if we choose. Fertility isn’t as much of a mystery as we’re led to believe, and societal myths around women’s bodies and cycles as being too complicated only serve to further disconnect people in female bodies from their pleasure, their power, and their cyclical nature.
The menstrual cycle is now recognized as the fifth vital sign of health, and rightfully so, but this is about more than just the color of your blood or the heaviness of your flow. The main event of your menstrual cycle is ovulation, not your bleeding time, and a true period only occurs if you ovulate.
I’m not in the camp of people shaming others for choosing methods of hormonal birth control; ultimately, everyone must choose a method that best serves their personal needs and goals, but if you haven’t been given accurate information about how your cycles work, the importance of ovulation, and the risks associated with suppressing your body’s natural hormones, then an informed decision cannot be made. It’s time we make body literacy common knowledge.