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Investigations on the Physiological Basis for Fertility Awareness

Written by Erik Odeblad
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At the National Conference organized by the Ovulation Method Research and Reference Centre of Australia in Melbourne in October 2001, the following paper was contributed by Erik Odeblad, Emeritus Professor of Medical BioPhysics in the University of Umeå, Sweden.
The paper was read at the Conference by Drs John and Lyn Billings in combination.

Professor Odeblad has won international distinction for his superlative investigations into the activity of the woman’s cervix during the menstrual cycle, particularly the secretion of different types of mucus, the pattern of their secretion being regulated by the hormonal control
of the cycle and therefore defining the various phases of infertility and fertility.

The title of this presentation contains two words which we must discuss a little, namely Fertility and Awareness. In the present context the word Fertility means the capacity to produce offspring. This capacity is, as we know, different for women and men. In a broad sense women have a cyclically varying fertility from puberty to menopause, while men are fertile from puberty onwards for the rest of their lives. The Fertility which is the subject for this presentation is mainly the normal cyclically varying capacity to conceive in women. To be fertile a woman has to have a mature egg cell available for conception and implantation, and hopefully carry the offspring until delivery. The other word, Awareness, means that a woman can know when she possesses this capacity. Human beings have existed for a long time, and we may speculate that  perhaps people have once had some natural feelings about the fertile periods in women. We know nothing about this in prehistoric and early historical time, and when people started to write in early times, this was probably restricted to men only. Who has heard about a woman  Hippocrata or a woman Aristotela?

Even as late as in the sixteenth century there hardly existed any female authors, and it might have been forbidden to write about these things if a women had tried. So, compared with all other knowledge we have, this subject cannot rely on any traditions, like many other fields such as chemistry, housekeeping, warfare, geometry etc. So we have to develop this field, the history of which is less than a century.

Parameters we can study

There are several parameters we can do research on, e.g., body temperature, vaginal discharge, urinary samples, blood samples, subjective feelings, ultrasound etc. This presentation will be limited to some work on the vaginal discharge of the cervical mucus and the sensations women experience when observing and keeping records of her observations, that is, practising the Ovulation Method. Many of these women became very interested in understanding what is going on in their bodies, they want to see the cervical mucus under the microscope, they want
to convey their knowledge and interest to other women and help to develop scientific knowledge in this area, and understand the relationships between the objective measurements and their subjective sensations of mucus and other manifestations of the cycle. Even after many years of my own work, actually more than 50 years, there are more problems to solve than are already solved. I will subdivide this presentation into three parts;

  1. the stimulation of mucus secretion,
  2. the properties of mucus and
  3. how the perception and awareness of the fertile period occurs.


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