Juan F. StecherListening to the body and its signals allows a strengthening of the couple".

Juan Francisco Stecher, a Chilean obstetrician-gynecologist and specialist in natural methods of fertility regulation, was one of the participants of the Congress "The 'Billings Revolution' 70 years later", the WOOMB (World Organization of Ovulation Method Billings) International Congress, which took place on April 28th and 29th in Rome.

Pablo Aguilera-May 19, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes
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Photo credit: Kenny Eliason /Unsplash

Gathered under the theme "The 'Billings Revolution' 70 years later", the WOOMB International Congress (World Organization of Ovulation Method Billings), held on April 28-29 in Rome, recalled the legacy of Dr. and Mrs. John and Mrs. Evelyn Billings. At the same time, it hosted a series of medical and scientific reflections and evaluated the challenges of the low birth rate in the world.

The research of this fertility regulation method was initiated in Australia in 1953, by Dr. John Billings with the contribution of Dr. Evelyn Billings, his wife. They did a great job, confirmed by the scientific studies of eminent researchers. Today, the Method is widespread in all continents, used by people of different languages, cultures and religions.

This method is a precious instrument to know one's own fertility, enhancing the dignity of the person, the beauty of conjugal love and the value of human life.

Pope Francis sent a letter to Message to Congressmenin which he recalled the "careful scientific research" carried out by the Australian husband and wife and doctors, which led them to develop "a simple method, accessible to women and couples, for the natural knowledge of fertility", known as the Billings Method.

We interviewed Dr. Juan Francisco Stecher, a Chilean obstetrician-gynecologist and specialist in natural methods of fertility regulation, who participated in this Congress.

What would you highlight from the recent Congress in which you participated?

- The awareness and vision of St. Paul VI regarding the effects of contraception on our lives. The serious work of John and Evelyn Billings, who strove to help people to live their married life respecting their bodies. And how this has developed over the last 70 years, reaching from Australia to 5 continents. Such a diverse presence, from different countries and even a panel with users of the method from different denominations, including Muslims, was very enriching. 

Moreover, at this very moment, Italy is experiencing a demographic winter, where in 2022 there were about 300,000 fewer Italians, because deaths were more than births. The Minister of Family and a representative of the Council of Europe invited the participants to continue studying and working to spread an effective method to avoid pregnancy, but which does not impose a contraceptive mentality and generates an empowerment of women.

For those who have little knowledge of these methods, could you give a brief explanation of natural methods?

- They are based on the biological fact that the woman is fertile only during a moment within the menstrual cycle (given by ovulation, which is the release of the egg from the ovary and the previous days in which there is a fertile mucus), unlike the male, who since puberty, is fertile every day. In each menstrual cycle the woman ovulates at a precise moment.

The possibility of pregnancy only occurs during the so-called fertility window, which corresponds to the moment of ovulation and the previous days in which there is a fertile mucus. Outside this time, there is no possibility of pregnancy.

Natural methods are based on teaching people to recognize the periods of fertility and infertility. Formerly this was known through mathematical methods and using a calendar; today modern methods, describe these periods day by day, giving greater efficiency and effectiveness to know the cycle, avoid pregnancy or seek a pregnancy, in any condition of the woman, even with irregular cycles. These methods require sexual abstinence during the fertile period.

In your clinical experience, what are the main obstacles for married couples to use natural methods?

- Lack of information, lack of updating within the health teams who do not know about other alternatives and do not offer them. Also, many have remained with the efficacy of old methods, which had a lower efficacy.

Also, I think it is important not to mix all natural methods, as they can have very different efficacies. In my team we use the Billings Ovulation Method, which has ample scientific support for its efficacy.

A common question is that natural methods have low efficacy compared to contraceptive methods. What is true about this?

- It is important to understand one concept when talking about effectiveness of pregnancy avoidance strategies: perfect use and common use. For example, perfect use of the contraceptive pill used in the laboratory is 99 to 98% effective under very strict conditions, no pill forgetting, no concurrent illnesses, no drug interactions, etc. But the real-world effectiveness of the pills is 93%.

In the ovulation method, perfect use is 97 to 98% effective in avoiding pregnancy; however, since it is based on sexual abstinence, if people have sex during the fertile period, they have at least a 25 % chance of pregnancy, but I think it is not a fault of the method, it is the conscious use of the information given by the method.

In summary, perfect use 98 to 97 %; in contrast, use by skipping the rules, a pregnancy probability of 25 to 35%.

In the Message sent by Pope Francis to the Congress, he states: "After the so-called sexual revolution that has broken down taboos, there is a need for a new revolution in mentality: to discover the beauty of human sexuality by leafing through the great book of nature". How can natural methods help to "discover the beauty of human sexuality"?

- Many people have discovered the beauty of the biology of the menstrual cycle, its complexity and its order, its cyclicity. This has led them to admire and respect their body.

But also abstinence, which could be seen as something bad, often allows us to discover other ways of giving, other ways of showing affection and communicating in a different way. Listening to the body and its signals, abstaining together for a common good, allows a strengthening of the couple. But a method only allows an approximation.

The big change is, as he points out Familiaris Consortio, a remote, mediate and immediate preparation for married life, to prepare ourselves to be a gift to others; this is the great vocation of man: to love, to be a gift to others. In family and married life this gift is through the body; it is not possible to give in marriage without the body.

Therefore, the great revolution will take place when we become aware of our corporeality and how we can be a gift and welcome others through our bodies. This is what St. John Paul II taught us in his "Theology of the Body," which, as one of his biographers says, is a time bomb that will explode at some point in this millennium.

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