April 25, 2005

Women don't know when they ovulate

This will be of particular interest to the proponents of "natural" contraception methods which depend on the woman's knowledge of when she is ovulating to avoid intercourse during the more fertile period of her menstrual cycle.

American Journal of Human Biology
Volume 17, Issue 3 , Pages 310 - 320

Validating signals of ovulation: Do women who think they know, really know?

Lynnette Leidy Sievert et al.


This study was carried out to test whether women who think they know when they ovulate, really know. Fifty-three women of age 18.7 to 46.1 (mean age 28.4 years) participated in initial interviews about ovulation. Criteria for recruitment included perceived ovulation, regular menstrual cycles, and not using hormonal contraception. Women collected and refrigerated urine samples from day 5 until they thought they ovulated. Samples collected within 48 h of the perceived signal were then tested for a pre-ovulatory LH surge. Of the 53 original participants, 36 women provided urine samples for 1-6 cycles, so that 87 cycles were tested. Subjective signals of ovulation varied between women and between cycles but included abdominal pain and changes in cervical discharge, libido, and mood. Of the 87 cycles tested, during which women identified one or multiple signals of ovulation, 37 of the 87 urine specimens tested positive for an LH surge for a concordance rate of 42.5%. Using the first tested cycle from the 36 women who provided urine specimens, 13 of those specimens demonstrated an LH surge, for a concordance rate of 36.1%. That rate dropped to 28% (7/25) when women who used basal body temperature as an ovulatory signal were excluded. Finally, the mean level of accuracy among the 15 women who contributed 3-6 urine specimens for testing was 48.9%. The results of this study demonstrate a low degree of concordance between LH surge and perceived ovulation among women who think they know when they ovulate. The most motivated study participants were right about half of the time. Although there is variation among women in their ability to know when they ovulate, this study suggests that, for most women, ovulation is concealed.


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