Abortion The spontaneous or induced termination of pregnancy.
Abstinence Refraining from sexual intercourse.

To avoid pregnancy, abstinence includes the avoidance of genital contact during the fertile phase of the cycle.

Adhesion Fibrous tissue that abnormally binds organs or other body parts.
It is usually the result of inflammation or abnormal healing of a surgical wound.

Amenorrhoea Absence of menstruation.
  • Primary - Complete absence of menstruation after puberty.
  • Secondary - The absence of menstruation for at least three months in a woman who has previously menstruated and is not pregnant or breast-feeding.

    Other causes include the contraceptive pill, stress, fatigue, psychological disturbance, obesity, weight loss, and anorexia nervosa.

Amniocentesis Puncture of the fluid sac surrounding the fetus to obtain a sample of the amniotic fluid for testing.

The procedure, performed around the sixteenth week of pregnancy, can be used to diagnose neural tube defects such as spina bifida or genetic defects such as Down's Syndrome.

Androgens Male sex hormones, responsible for the development of male secondary sex characteristics including facial hair and a deep voice.

Most androgens, including the principal one, testosterone, are produced in the testes.

Small amounts of androgens are also produced in a woman's ovaries and adrenal glands.

Anovulation The absence of ovulation.
Anovulatory cycle or anovulatory episode A 'cycle' in which there is no ovulation, characterised by a monophasic chart
Antibiotic A drug, for example penicillin, that is used to treat diseases caused by bacteria.
Antibody A specific protein substance produced by the body's immune (defence) system in response to an antigen (foreign substance), for example bacteria which are rendered harmless.
Arousal fluid The colourless, lubricative fluid secreted around the vaginal opening in response to sexual stimulation, in preparation for intercourse.
Artificial insemination The insertion of seminal fluid into the vagina, cervix or uterus by means other than sexual intercourse.

The sperm may be from the husband (AIH) or a donor (AID).

Assisted conception Any procedure where doctors assist with the conception process itself.
Bacteria Microscopic single-celled organisms.
Some types of bacteria, known as commensals, live in or on the body without doing any harm and are beneficial to health, e.g. Doderleins bacillae in the vagina.

Pathogenic bacteria cause disease on entering the body, for example gonococcus causes gonorrhoea.

Barrier methods Any method of contraception which uses a physical barrier to prevent sperm from reaching the ovum, for example the condom or diaphragm used in conjunction with spermicide.
Bartholins glands Small glands which produce the colourless lubricative arousal fluid around the vaginal opening in response to sexual stimulation.
Basal body temperature (BBT) The temperature of the body at rest, taken immediately on waking, before any activity.
Basic infertile pattern (BIP) A positive sensation of dryness with an absence of mucus or the presence of unchanging mucus, (recognised as unchanging for at least two weeks initially).

The BIP indicates relative inactivity of the ovaries and low oestrogen levels and may be recognised during very long cycles, or during long periods of anovulation, such as during breast feeding or pre-menopausally. Billings method -
See Ovulation method

Biopsy Removal of tissue from the body for microscopic examination and diagnosis.
Biphasic chart The two-phase temperature chart which shows a pattern of relatively low temperatures in the pre-ovulatory phase of the cycle, an upward shift of about 0.2C confirming ovulation, and a sustained higher level until the next menstruation.
Breast-feeding The process by which the baby is nourished from the mother's breasts.

This may take the form of full or nearly full breast feeding where the baby is nourished solely from the breasts, partial breastfeeding where supplementary feeds or solids are given and token breast feeding where the breast is used at irregular intervals, primarily for comfort rather than nourishment.

Calendar calculation A technique of calculating the pre-ovulatory relatively infertile phase based on previous cycle lengths

(The S minus 20 rule).

Calendar method See Rhythm method.
Cervical crypts Complex pouches in the mucus-secreting lining of the cervix in which sperm may collect prior to ovulation.
Cervical ectropian (erosion),
also called
cervical eversion
A condition of the cervix in which the mucus membrane lining the cervical canal turns outwards over the lip of the cervix.

This may result in a continuous mucus discharge.

Cervical mucus The secretion from the cells lining the cervix, which changes under the influence of the female sex hormones.

The term cervical secretion can be used synonomously.

Cervical mucus method See ovulation method
Cervical palpation A technique of self-examination of the cervix to determine the fertile and infertile phases of the cycle
Cervix The lower portion of the uterus that projects into the vagina.
Change of life or climacteric The menopausal years during which the reproductive function declines and ceases.
Chromosome One of the 46 microscopic rod-shaped structures in a cell nucleus that carries the genetic information in the form of genes.
Chromosomes, sex The chromosomes in the human cell that determine the sex.

Females have two 'X', chromosomes and males have one 'X' and one 'Y' chromosome.

Climacteric See Change of life.
Clitoris A small knob of very sensitive erectile tissue, situated where the labia unite at the front.

This is the female counterpart of the male glans penis.

Coitus Term used synonomusly with intercourse, indicating complete sexual intercourse leading to ejaculation in the vagina.

  • Coitus interruptus (withdrawal) Incomplete sexual intercourse in which the penis is deliberately withdrawn from the vagina so that ejaculation take places outside the vagina.

  • Coitus reservatus Sexual activity in which the penis is inserted into the vagina but ejaculation is deliberately avoided.
Colostrum The first thick yellow milk secreted by the breasts in the last few weeks of pregnancy and the first two to three days after childbirth, until lactation is established.

Colostrum contains high levels of protein, and antibodies.

Coitus Interuptus See Coitus.
Colposcopy A procedure used to examine the vagina and cervix under magnification through an instrument known as a colposcope.

It is of particular value in the early detection of cancer of the cervix.

Conceive To become pregnant.
Conception Fusion of the sperm and the egg cell.
Condom A sheath of thin rubber worn over the erect penis to prevent conception.
Contraception The prevention of conception.
Contraceptive pill Synthetic hormone(s) taken orally to prevent pregnancy.
Corpus luteum (yellow body) The endocrine gland, formed in the ruptured follicle after ovulation, which produces progesterone.

If the ovum (egg cell) is fertilised, the corpus luteum continues to produce hormones to support the early pregnancy.

If fertilisation does not occur, the corpus luteum degenerates within 12-16 days.

Cover line A technique used for interpreting a temperature shift on the sympto-thermal chart.
Cowper's glands In the male, a pair of small glands which secrete the lubricative pre-ejaculatory fluid.
Curettage A surgical procedure used to scrape out the surface of the endometrium with an instrument called a curette.

The procedure is often known as 'dilatation and curettage' or D and C, as the cervix is gradually opened with instruments called dilators, prior to curettage.

chorionic villus sampling
An antenatal test involving a needle aspiration through the uterus to obtain a sample of the placental tissue.

This test is used to detect genetic or spinal defects, if there are high risk factors present.

Cyst An abnormal sac-like structure containing fluid or semi-solid material, which may present as a lump in various parts of the body.

Most cysts are benign (non-malignant) but some may become cancerous (malignant). All lumps require medical assessment.

Diaphragm A soft rubber device designed to cover the cervix and prevent conception. It is inserted into the vagina prior to intercourse.
Dilatation and curettage
(D and C)
See Curettage.
Doering Rule A calculation to determine the first fertile day of the cycle based on the earliest previous temperature shift.
Douche A cleansing fluid flushed through the vagina as a hygienic measure.

The practice is unnecessary and should be strongly discouraged.

Dysmenorrhoea Painful menstruation - Painful spasmodic contractions of the uterus usually arising just prior to, or for the first few hours of, menstruation, and then gradually subsiding.
Dyspareunia Painful or difficult intercourse.
Ectopic pregnancy The implantation and development of a fertilised ovum outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube.
Ejaculation The release of seminal fluid from the penis during male orgasm.
Embryo The initial stages of development of the unborn child from the fertilised egg, to around eight weeks after conception.
Emergency contraception Post-coital contraception used as an emergency measure in the form of special high-dose hormone pills or insertion of an intra-uterine device, within a specified time following unprotected intercourse.
Endometriosis The growth of endometrial tissue in areas other than the uterus, for example the fallopian tubes or the ovaries.

Endometriosis may contribute to fertility problems.

Endometrium The inner lining of the uterus which is shed during menstruation.

If conception occurs, the fertilised egg implants in the endometrium.

Fallopian tube One of a pair of tubes through which the ripened ovum is transported from the ovary towards the uterus.

In the fertile phase sperm may pass from the uterus towards the outer end of the fallopian tube where fertilisation normally takes place.

False temperature rise A temperature rise due to causes other than ovulation, such as changes in recording time, disturbed sleep, or fever.
Family planning Methods used by sexually active couples to prevent, space or achieve pregnancy in order to attain the desired family size.
Ferning or
the Fern test
The characteristic ferning pattern shown by highly oestrogenised fertile mucus when dried on a glass slide.
Fertile phase The days of the menstrual cycle during which sexual intercourse may result in pregnancy.
Fertility cycle The fertility cycle can be divided into two phases:
  • the phase before ovulation, the pre-ovulatory or follicular phase; and

  • the phase after ovulation, the post-ovulatory or luteal phase.
For natural family planning purposes, the cycle is often divided into three significant phases.
  • The pre-ovulatory relatively infertile phase (early infertile phase) starts at the onset of menstruation and ends at the onset of the fertile phase.

  • The fertile phase includes the time of ovulation, and the days before and after ovulation when intercourse may result in pregnancy.

  • The post-ovulatory infertile phase (late infertile phase) starts at the completion of the fertile phase and ends at the onset of the next menstruation.
Fertilisation The fusion of a sperm with an ovum, normally in the outer end of the fallopian tube.
Fertility The ability of a couple to reproduce.
Fertility Awareness An essential basic education for understanding fertility throughout reproductive life.
Fetus The unborn child from around eight weeks after conception
(when all major organs are formed and it begins to resemble a human being)
to the time of birth.
Fibroid A benign fibrous and muscular growth of tissue in the muscular wall of the uterus
Follicle A small fluid-filled structure in the ovary which contains the ovum or egg cell.
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) The pituitary hormone that stimulates the ripening of follicles in the ovary, and the production of the ovarian hormone oestrogen.

In the male, FSH regulates the formation of sperm in the testes.

Follicular phase The pre-ovulatory phase characterised by the growth and development of the egg follicles. See menstrual cycle and pre-ovulatory phase.
Genes The basic unit of genetic material which is carried at a particular place on a chromosome.
Genetic Relating to hereditary characteristics.
Genital contact Contact between the penis and the vuIva without penetration.
Genitals or genitalia. The reproductive organs of either the male or female.

The term usually refers to the external parts of the reproductive system - See vulva.

Gonads The primary sex glands - The testes in the male and the ovaries in the female.
Hormone A chemical substance which is produced and secreted by an endocrine (ductless) gland.

The hormone is carried by the blood to a target organ where it exerts its effect.

For example follicle-stimulating hormone is produced in the pituitary gland and travels via the blood to the ovary where it stimulates the growth and maturation of follicles.

Hot flush A sudden flash of heat particularly affecting the face, neck and chest and lasting from a few seconds to several minutes.

It may spread over the upper part of the body and be accompanied by sweating.

Hot flushes are most commonly due to low oestrogen levels related to the pre-menopause.

Human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) One of the main hormones unique to pregnancy.

It is produced by the developing embryo from its earliest days.

Its main action is to maintain the corpus luteum and hence the secretion of oestrogen and progesterone until the placenta has developed sufficiently to take over hormonal production.

See Pregnancy test.

Hysterectomy The surgical removal of the uterus.
Idiopathic infertility Infertility of unknown cause.
Implant, contraceptive A device consisting of small rods containing slow-release progestogen inserted under the skin of the upper arm.

It is designed to prevent pregnancy for up to five years.

Implantation The process by which the fertilised egg embeds in the endometrium.
Infertility The inability of a couple to reproduce.
Injectable contraceptives Long-acting progestogens that are injected deep into muscle.

They prevent pregnancy for two or three months.

Intercourse, See sexual intercourse
Inter-menstrual pain See Mittelschmerz.
Inter-menstrual bleeding The appearance of bleeding, spotting or of a brownish mucus discharge between two menstrual periods.

It indicates the need for medical assessment.

Intra-uterine device (IUD) A small copper-coated plastic device inserted into the uterine cavity to prevent pregnancy.
Intra-uterine system (IUS) A T-shaped progestogen-releasing plastic device inserted into the uterine cavity to prevent pregnancy.
In-vitro Fertilisation (IVF) A method of assisted conception in which fertilisation takes place in a glass dish (vitro=glass).

Sometimes referred to as the 'test-tube baby' technique.

Labia The folds of skin which form the inner lips (labia minora) and outer lips (labia majora) on both sides of the vaginal opening.

They form part of the female external genitals

Lactation The production and secretion of milk by the breasts.
Lactational Amenorrhoea Method (LAM) A natural method of family planning for breast-feeding mothers.

It recognises that breast-feeding suppresses fertility during the first six months post-partum, provided that the mother is fully breast-feeding and is amenorrhoeic.

Laparoscopy A surgical procedure used to view the abdominal organs through an illuminated instrument known as a laparoscope.

It may be used for examination of the ovaries and fallopian tubes in infertility investigations,

It is also used for other gynaecological operations including female sterilisation.

Libido Sexual drive. Libido frequently refers to the intensity of sexual desires.
Lochia Blood-stained discharges from the uterus for the first few weeks after childbirth.
Luteal phase The post-ovulatory phase characterised by the growth and development of the corpus luteum.

See menstrual cycle and post-ovulatory phase.

Luteinising hormone (LH) A hormone from the pituitary gland that stimulates ovulation and the development of the corpus luteum.
Menarche The first menstrual period a girl experiences at the start of reproductive life.
Menopause The last menstrual period a woman experiences at the end of reproductive life.
Menstrual cycle The cycle of physiological changes in the ovaries, cervix and endometrium under the influence of the female sex hormones.

The length of the menstrual cycle is calculated from the first day of menstrual bleeding to the day before the following menstruation.

The term fertility cycle may be used in place of menstrual cycle, emphasising the fertility aspect - see 'Fertility Cycle'

Menstruation, menses, menstrual period The cyclic shedding of the endometrium, consisting of blood, mucus and cellular debris.

Menstruation normally occurs about two weeks after ovulation.

Method effectiveness The effectiveness of a family planning method under ideal conditions, when used according to the instructions.

This may also be referred to as the theoretical or biological effectiveness.

Minor indicators of fertility Physical and emotional changes which may provide further signs of fertility.

Minor indicators include Mittelschmerz pain, breast tenderness and mood changes.

Miscarriage or spontaneous abortion The premature and spontaneous expulsion of the embryo or fetus from the uterus.
Mittelschmerz, or ovulation pain. One-sided sharp pain or dull ache in the lower abdomen occurring around the time of ovulation.
Mixed method use The combined use of barrier methods and fertility awareness.

To avoid pregnancy barrier methods are used during the fertile phase.

Monophasic chart A temperature chart which does not show the typical biphasic pattern.

The temperature readings will be on one level indicating an absence of ovulation.

Mucothermic method A natural method combining cervical mucus and temperature recordings.
Double-check method A method of natural family planning using the temperature, cervical mucus cervical palpation and calendar calculation to ensure a check of at least two indicators.

The double check need not include temperature readings.

For example a woman may rely on mucus and cervical symptoms as a double check.

Mucus See Cervical mucus.
Natural family planning (NFP) Methods for planning or preventing pregnancy by observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of the menstrual cycle.

To avoid pregnancy, couples using natural family planning methods abstain from intercourse during the fertile phase of the woman's menstrual cycle. (WHO definition).

Lactational Amenorrhoea Method (LAM) is included as a natural method, even though it does not require abstinence from intercourse.

(Natural methods do not include coitus interruptus or the use of drugs, devices or surgical procedures to avoid pregnancy. Couples who combine barrier methods with fertility awareness are generally referred to as mixed method users)

Oestrogen A hormone, produced mainly by the ovaries, responsible for female sexual development and female secondary sex characteristics.

Increasing oestrogen levels in the follicular phase (pre-ovulatory phase) of the cycle stimulates significant changes in the cervix, cervical mucus, and the endometrium.

Orgasm The climax of sexual excitement in the male or female.

Ejaculation usually accompanies male orgasm.

The occurence of female orgasm is more variable dependent upon both physiological and psychological factors.

Ovary One of a pair of female sex glands which produce ova and the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

These hormones control the menstrual cycle and female secondary sex characteristics

Ovulation The release of a mature ovum or egg cell from the ovarian follicle.
Ovulation method. A technique of natural fertility control in which days of infertility, possible fertility, and maximal fertility are identified by a woman's observations of mucus at the vulva.

This method was developed by Drs John and Evelyn Billings.

The method is sometimes referred to as the cervical mucus or cervical secretion method.

Creighton Model is a variaton of the ovulation method using a scoring system to grade types of mucus.

Ovulatory cycle A cycle in which ovulation occurs, characterised by a bi-phasic temperature chart.
(plural: ova)
The mature female sex cell, or egg
Peak mucus day The last day when highly fertile mucus characteristics are either seen or felt.

It coincides closely with ovulation.

Pearl Index A statistical measurement of contraceptive effectiveness, showing the number of pregnancies per 100 women-years of use.

i.e. how may women would get pregnant if 100 women used a given method of family planning for one year.

Pelvic inflammatory disease Infection involving inflammation of female reproductive organs, particularly the fallopian tubes and ovaries.

Pelvic infection resulting in tubal damage may be a cause of infertility.

Penis The external male reproductive organ through which seminal fluid and urine can pass.
Perineum The area of tissue between the vulva and the anus.

The procedure of cutting the perineal tissue to enlarge the vaginal opening and facilitate childbirth is known as episiotomy.

Period See Menstruation.
Periodic abstinence Method(s) of family planning based on voluntary avoidance of intercourse by a couple during the fertile phase of the cycle in order to avoid pregnancy.
Pill See Contraceptive pill.
Pituitary gland The 'master' endocrine (ductless) gland at the base of the brain which produces many important hormones, some of which trigger other glands into making their own hormones.

The pituitary functions include hormonal control of the sex glands (ovaries and testes)

Planned pregnancy A pregnancy which is consciously desired and planned by a couple.
Post-coital contraception See Emergency Contraception
Post-ovulatory phase (luteal phase) The phase from ovulation to the onset of the next menstruation.

It has a relatively constant length, usually lasting from 12-16 days.

Pre-ejaculatory fluid A small amount of lubricating fluid which is discharged involuntarily from the penis during sexual excitement, prior to ejaculation.

This fluid may contain viable sperm.

Pregnancy The condition of nurturing the embryo or fetus within the woman's body, lasting from conception to birth.

The normal duration is 265 days from conception to birth, or the more usual calculation of 280 days (40 weeks) from the first day of the last menstrual period.

Pregnancy test An early-morning urine sample is tested for the presence of human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG), the pregnancy hormone.

A positive result, indicating pregnancy, may be seen within several days of the missed period.

Pre-menopause The period of months or years preceding the menopause during which time there may be physical and emotional changes, including irregularities in the menstrual cycle, as a result of decreasing oestrogen and progesterone levels.
Pre-menstrual syndrome A collection of physical and emotional signs and symptoms which appear during the post-ovulatory phase and disappear at the onset of menstruation.
Pre-ovulatory phase The variable-length phase from the onset of menstruation to ovulation.
Progesterone A hormone produced mainly by the corpus luteum in the ovary following ovulation.

It prepares the endometrium for a possible pregnancy.

It is also responsible for the rise in basal body temperature, for changing the cervix to its infertile state and for changing the cervical mucus to form an impenetrable barrier to sperm.

Prolactin A pituitary hormone which stimulates the production of breast milk and inhibits the ovarian production of oestrogen.
Prostate gland A gland situated at the base of the male bladder. Its nutritive secretions add volume to make up the seminal fluid.
Puberty The time of life in boys and girls when the reproductive organs become functional and the secondary sexual characteristics appear.
Rhythm method A method of family planning in which the fertile phase of the cycle is calculated according to the length of at least six previous menstrual cycles.
Scrotum Pouch of skin containing the testes. It helps to regulate the temperature of the testes.
Secondary sex characteristics Features of masculinity or femininity that develop at puberty, under hormonal control.
  • Male- The deep voice, growth of beard, under-arm and pubic hair is influenced by androgens.

  • Female- The rounding of the breasts, waist and hips, growth of under-arm and pubic hair is influenced by oestrogens.
Seminal fluid or semen The fluid ejaculated from the penis at orgasm.

The viscous fluid contains sperm and secretions from the seminal vesicles and prostate gland.

Seminal vesicles Two sacs which open into the top of the male urethra.

The secretions from these vesicles form part of the seminal fluid.

Sexual intercourse Sexual activity during which the erect penis is inserted into the vagina where ejaculation takes place.

The term coitus may be used synonomously.

Sexually transmitted disease Any infection that is transmitted by sexual contact or intercourse.
The mature male sex cell (plural: spermatozoa). Sperm survive for 3-5 days in fertile cervical mucus.
Spermicide Creams, jellies,foams or pessaries, that contain contain chemicals which immobilise or destroy sperm.

Spermicides are placed in the vagina to prevent conception.

They are often used in conjunction with barrier methods.

Spinnbarkeit The elasticity or stretchiness characteristic of highly fertile mucus.
Spotting Small amounts of red or brownish discharge occurring during the menstrual cycle at times other than the true menstrual period.

See Inter-menstrual bleeding.

Sterilisation A procedure which renders an individual permanently sterile.
Subfertility A state of reduced fertility.
Sympto-thermal method (Symptoms plus temperature) A natural method of family planning combining cervical mucus symptoms, a calendar calculation, optional cervical palpation and minor indicators of fertility, with the temperature readings.

Where temperature readings are not available, a double check method can be used.

Temperature chart A graph showing variation in daily basal body temperature. See Biphasic and Monophasic chart.
Temperature method A method of natural family planning in which the post-ovulatory infertile phase of the menstrual cycle is identified by a sustained rise in basal body temperature.
Temperature shift The rise in basal body temperature (of around 0.2C) which divides the early low phase temperatures from the later higher phase temperatures on a biphasic chart.
Testicle (testis)
(plural: testes)
One of a pair of male sex glands which produces sperm and the male sex hormones or androgens including testosterone.
Testosterone A hormone produced by the testes, responsible for the development of male secondary sex characteristics and functioning of the male reproductive organs.
Ultrasound A diagnostic technique which uses sound waves to produce an image of internal body structures.
Unplanned or unintended pregnancy. A pregnancy that the couple did not intend and which occurred despite the use of a family planning method to avoid pregnancy.
Urethra The tube which conveys urine from the bladder to the outside.

The female urethra is very short, extending from the bladder to the urinary opening at the vulva.

The male urethra is longer, extending along the length of the penis.

It also conveys the seminal fluid.

Use effectiveness A measure of the effectiveness of a method of family planning under real-life conditions.

This is often referred to as the practical or behavioral effectiveness.

Uterus (womb) The pear-shaped muscular organ in which the fertilised ovum implants and grows for the duration of pregnancy.

Muscular contractions of the uterus push the infant out through the birth canal at the time of birth.

If implantation does not occur, the uterine lining (endometrium) is shed at menstruation.

Vagina The muscular canal extending from the cervix to the opening at the vulva.

Sperm are deposited in the vagina during intercourse.

It is also through this canal, that the baby is delivered (birth canal).

Vaginal discharge Any secretion which comes from the vagina, apart from menstrual bleeding (which originates in the uterus).

The discharge may be normal (physiological) or abnormal (pathological)

  • Physiological discharges include mucus from the cervix and clear fluid secreted by the vaginal walls and Bartholin's glands during sexual excitement.
  • Pathological discharges are distinguished by their unusual colour and unpleasant odour.

    They may cause itching, irritation, soreness or burning of the vagina and vulva.

Vas deferens One of a pair of tubes which conveys the seminal fluid from the testis to the urethra.
Vasectomy Male sterilisation operation in which each vas deferens is cut and the ends separated to prevent the passage of sperm.
Vulva The external female genitals comprising the two sets of labia (outer and inner lips) and the clitoris.

(Coitus Interuptus).

See Coitus.
Zygote The fertilised ovum. A single fertilised cell resulting from fusion of the sperm and the egg cell.

After further cell division the zygote is known as the embryo.

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