SOPHIA, A Device to Indicate the Fertile Days of a Cycle

Anthony Zimmerman
Address at Human Life International
18th World Conference
Toronto April 7-11, 1999
Reproduced with Permission

Mother Teresa spoke golden words about natural family planning to 20 million Japanese glued to their TV set during here visit here in 1981. Her words are for all, but especially the young. She said: "We are teaching the young people NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING so that the future will become simple for them. And the poor people told me that from the time we are practicing this way of life our family has remained united, our family is healthy, and we can have a baby whenever we like."

Today over a million couples in Japan practice natural family planning without contraceptives. Most of them are not Christians. Good people close to nature sense that this is nature's way and God's way. One out of six young couples use the temperature method now, and others use the Billings Method, but among them some still use contraceptives.

Japan's Dr. Ogino was the first to discover the basis for intelligent natural family planning in 1923. More recently my good friend Mr. Kinji Nishimura invented a smart thermometer to identify the fertile days of the cycle. Father Paul Marx, OSB, who visited Mr. Nishimura in Japan, asked me to explain the invention to you at this convention.

Over 200,000 couples in Japan now use Mr. Nishimura's smart thermometers. Their trade name is Sophia. They use a sophisticated chip to record and calculate manifold cycle events. The devices have spread to Brazil, Mexico, and Switzerland. People in Canada and the USA can order them directly from Japan.

Mr. Nishimura invented the device to indicate the fertile days of the cycle. He does not guarantee infertile days of the cycle. Despite this, most couples use the device to find the infertile days anyway. They reason that if Sophia shows only fertile days, the others must be infertile. There are no complaints about performance, but Mr. Nishimura refuses to guarantee infertile days. He does not want to be sued for failures. Therefore he files for government permits to sell devices which indicate the fertile days of the cycle.

The basic electronic chip is the same in all Sophia models, but the Mini Sophia model is now the best seller. The great advantage of this device is highly accurate temperature recordings. Measurement is oral, and takes only 2-3 minutes. Mr. Nishimura, knowing that women may tend to take short cuts, designed the devices to be "hurry proof." They do not record the temperature into the memory until a buzzer sounds, which guarantees that it was taken properly. The buzzer sounds only after the reading has held steady for 20 seconds, within a narrow range of less than nine hundredths of a degree Fahrenheit (0.09F), or five hundredths of a degree Celsius. That's very accurate and guarantees good cycle calculations. It takes only two or three minutes because the probe has thin resinous walls for rapid heat transfer. and the thermistor material inside the probe is of high quality. The micro-processor is close to the probe to avoid distortions of data over long wires.

The dotted line through the middle of the liquid crystal window, with temperatures below it and above it, is a special feature. The shift from below that line to above it makes the time of ovulation highly visible, almost like fireworks. While watching the temperature and observing the shift women can easily learn to monitor their mucus signs. Recording mucus signs is optional. On day 4 of high-phase temperatures and day 4 past Peak Day mucus, whichever is later, the sign of the fertile days turns off and stays off until the end of the cycle.

The fertile sign pops on again in the new cycle 6-7 days before the expected ovulation day. The expected ovulation day is calculated from previous cycles in the memory, especially the temperature shift. The Ogino rule is also built into the calculations. A couple would be wise to mark on the device their earliest ever fertile day, as precaution for earlier onset of fertility in shorter than usual cycles. Experienced couples can monitor the mucus carefully to decide about early days..

The mucus sign is inputted manually by pressing buttons to indicate its quality and to locate Peak Day. By observing the mucus signs couples can override the automatic calculations of the device if they so wish.

Mr. Nishimura built into the devices other convenient indications. When women see a drop in the temperature toward the end of the high-phase they can prepare for menstruation which will follow soon. But if the high-phase temperature lasts 21 days, they should look for a pregnancy. A heart sign appears to remind them. They can already look forward to the approximate due day. Due day will appear on the window when the check button is pressed. When temperatures indicate a health problem, a sign comes on that it's time to see a doctor. Finally, if you buy a Madonna Interface and soft ware you can transfer all the data from Mini Sophia to a home computer for permanent records and for printouts for your doctor. You might even send the data to your doctor by e-mail if he has the interface and soft ware. This is a handy electronic notebook which keeps a record of your cycle events: the dates and temperatures, plus other signs you have entered for intercourse, mucus, bleeding, fever, cramps, and medication. The computer display and printout will retrieve all the data of recorded cycles.

Use Mini Sophia For Teaching the Cycle

Pope Paul II was all smiles when Mr. Nishimura presented him with a device and showed how the entire cycle appears on the liquid crystal window. When still in Poland, the future Pope insisted that couples preparing for marriage had to learn about NFP. He used to pour coffee at lunch time on Sundays for new doctor graduates and others who were learning to be qualified teachers at the Archbishop's house. You and I probably can't teach him much about NFP that he doesn't already know. So, as I said, he was all smiles when he saw the device. It would be out of character for him to endorse a market product while he is Pope, but I like to think that he might take a good look at it if he were a lay teacher.

The age of the Pill has apparently passed its peak in the USA, dropping from 15 million users some years ago, to 10.4 million at latest count. All birth control pills, including the minipill, are a nuisance for women users. The misery index of users is high, simulating perpetual pregnancy, a condition which the hormonal content brings about. John Kippley writes that "birth control people tell us that contraceptors change their methods about every two years, indicating unhappiness with whatever they have been using. Add to that natural discontent the knowledge of the abortifacient properties of the Pill and the IUD" (article in Defending the Family, Tan Publishers, 1998, p. 64). It is said that in the USA and Canada 85% of fertile couples go through methods like pills and condoms and IUD's and Norplant and Depo Provera, and then most of them end the hassle with sterilization. A whopping 52.9% of women in the USA are sterilized for contraceptive purposes if they are 35-44 years old and have one or more children (NCHS, 4 June 1997).

I can believe John Kippley when he predicts that if you hold NFP cases in preparation for marriage today, 60% to 65% of the couples who attended class will not be using contraception or sterilization ten yeas from now (ibid.). Marriage preparation courses should not just teach theory about NFP, which goes in one ear and out the other. Courses should require actual monitoring of the cycle for six months before marriage. A professional teacher should check. Giving the class options to learn one method or another respects their freedom. I suggest that Sophia be included among the options, with proper teaching.

There may be differences of opinion whether health teachers in schools should have the girls use Sophia devices to learn about their cycles. It certainly is an easy way to teach without offending sensibilities. I know that some mothers in Japan buy a device for their daughters to coach them when they reach menarche. They may even compare their own cycle records with those of the daughter which may be quite erratic at first. Some may worry that the daughter who knows all this may be tempted to use infertile days. Opinions will differ. I tend to agree with experienced personalities that young people have a right to know about their bodies, and that parents and teachers should encourage them to be responsible. After all, nature brings about the sexual changes in the bodies of adolescents, and that is the time when they need help to learn about new responsibilities. I think Sophia is exactly the kind of device that teachers in schools can use for good abstinence courses, and mothers at home can use them to introduce their daughters to womanhood.

I don't consider the device as completion with the professional teaching of NFP. Quite to the contrary, the device provides an outreach into the secular world, where contraception is a monopoly. In Switzerland Mini Sophia is now available in drug stores for everybody. In Japan they sell at electronic goods stores and by catalogue. All that trouble with contraceptives and sterilization would be unnecessary if people would buy this device at drug stores, and if they teach themselves NFP or attend NFP courses open to the public. You and I are resolved to make a better world by driving out bad marital habits with good NFP services. NFP is nature's way and is God's way, and people have a right to know about it.

Addition: Testimonies by Sophia Users in Japan


Age 40; 2 children; housewife.

Because my children are already growing up I use Sophia for birth control to avoid pregnancy, and to keep an eye on my day-to-day condition of health. When my daughter was coming to that age, I kept thinking about what to tell her when she reaches menarche; before long it happened. Putting my own experience with Sophia to good use, I gave one to my daughter too, who learned without trouble. Now we can look at her temperature curve and speak factually about things female; it's a very natural way to provide sex education.


Mother age 26; married.

I tried taking my basal body temperature (BBT) with an ordinary women's thermometer, but quit. Then I learned about Sophia.

My cycles were extremely irregular, so I was worried. When I married I decided to measure the BBT. But I didn't continue very long. I was using an ordinary woman's thermometer, was not regular about times, and had to chart by hand. When the BBT curve didn't turn out to be anywhere near standard, I just gave up. That's when I heard about Sophia from a friend.

Sophia has an alarm clock of its own, so you don't need another; you set it to begin temperature taking at a regular time; a buzzer sounds after a few minutes to tell you when the measuring is finished; that's all. No more work to do. You can put everything away because Sophia does the rest automatically. It records the temperature in the memory, and displays it on the graph. If you need a printed chart, it is possible to get one with a printer. Sophia made temperature taking so convenient that it is now my regular morning habit. [Editor: It is possible to display the memory contents on a home computer by means of the interface Madonna and software.]

Also, I'm a home-maker and hold a job, so stress can be a problem. When I look at the graph, I can see exactly where temperature changes mark stress and overwork. Irregularities are probably tied in with that, so now I keep a sharp eye on the graph of Sophia and take control of myself.

Finally, both of us are working, so the display for the birth control days on Sophia's viewing window is very meaningful for us, to help plan and control our pregnancies.


Mother age 29; company employee

For a long time I suffered from irregularity. I was constantly worried about when the bleeding would start. Sophia gave me a pleasant surprise by changing that; now I know where I'm at. When the temperature has been in the high phase for some time, and then drops one morning, I know that's usually the day when the bleeding will start; so I stopped carrying around preparations for bleeding long before it happens; knowing when it will start puts me at ease.

I didn't know much about the BBT before, and had not tried to measure it. Sophia, the first woman's thermometer I ever used, made me understand how pregnancy fits into the cycle. I wish I could have known that before marriage.


Mother age 31; 2 children; insurance agent

I was on the pill; my pulse would race, and my body was disturbed, so I had to quit the pill. I bought Sophia. Besides the pill, I had been swallowing lots of medicines. Now I could reduce these medicines gradually and I began to feel better. The disorderly temperature graph soon began to pull itself into better shape. To see a nice temperature curve at one glance is a treat. The price of Sophia is not high compared to the money you spend on the pill. Morning temperature taking becomes easy when you get used to it. And the sign displaying the fertile days is priceless.


Mother age 32; 2 children; self employed

I began using Sophia after our first child was born, a baby girl. The graph was not much to see during the first 4-5 months after delivery; but the day came when I could see a temperature shift, and the high phase held steady; when the temperature dropped, I had my period. I was delighted so see with my own eyes that I was back in phase. I take extra good care of my health because I work every day and take care of the child as well; so if I see a fever and feel that a cold is coming, I take medicine right away to head off the cold; and I take it easy at work. The morning temperature tells me something about how I'm going to feel for the rest of the day. The alarm clock of Sophia wakes you up for temperature taking, which is very convenient; if you happen to fall asleep during temperature taking, Sophia gives a buzz to wake you up for starting over again.

For our second child we followed the signs of Sophia for timing the pregnancy; and we tried sex selection. The result is just as we hoped: the baby came on schedule, and it's a boy!


New Mother, age 34

It's six years since my marriage. I had been taking the BBT before, but the old fashioned way before Sophia belongs to the past. Now all I have to do is take the temperature when the alarm sounds; the device does all the rest for me.

I finally achieved a pregnancy, and did it without compromising my lifestyle. The pregnancy is now in the eighth month. The morning the high temperature lasted into the 16th day I suspected a pregnancy. As soon as Sophia indicated the same on day 21 by turning on the heart sign, I sped off to the hospital. As expected, a pregnancy was confirmed. But shortly afterwards I was alarmed by some stained mucus; when I visited the hospital this time they kept me there. They saved me from a miscarriage. I had felt no pain whatsoever, nor any other sign of some illness. If I had not detected the pregnancy by temperature taking, I would most likely have missed it entirely, and that could have led to tragic result. Fortunately everything is proceeding normally now. To keep a close watch, I use Sophia to take the daily temperature even now; after delivery I intend to continue doing so, to check on my post partum recovery.


Age 35; 2 children; housewife

After two baby girls, I hope now for a boy; I decided to try sex selection. This means watching the BBT curve, so I bought a digital thermometer at the drug store and started to measure the temperature. I didn't keep it up very long because it was too much trouble. Not even one temperature curve was completed. Just then a friend recommended Sophia. I thought it's pretty expensive for me, a housewife with limited spending money; but I wanted a baby boy so I bought it anyway. The alarm now reminds me not to forget the fixed time for temperature taking; and the recording is automatic, so the graph shapes up by itself; no real bother anymore. By now the sign of the possibly fertile days appears at the base of the graph, easy to see; paying attention to that I hope to conceive a baby boy. I'm looking forward to the day when the heart sign turns itself on to tell me that I may be pregnant.


Age 36; 2 children; housewife

I visit the hospital regularly for hormone injections. Wanting to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment, I bought Sophia. Taking the morning temperature isn't much work because the device has an alarm clock to remind me; then it records the temperature into its memory automatically. Sometimes I skip a day, but then the graph leaves a blank; to avoid such gaps I want to take it regularly. It's almost fantastic to be able to keep so close a tab on the body's daily condition.


Age 50; company employee

I had a personal experience about what this thermometer can do for you. When my cycles became irregular I decided to monitor the BBT; for this I used an old mercury thermometer for women, the same one that I had used some years ago. Just as the time before, "I was a monk for three days." [Meaning: She gave up very quickly.] Then I heard about Sophia and bought it. At first I was bewildered, but once I got the hang of it, using it now is very easy.

My BBT gave me a shock: it seemed stuck in the low phase. Also, I broke out into sudden sweats, and I tired easily. When I took four temperature cycles in Sophia's memory to the doctor for consultation, he gave me herbal medicine. When I drank it, the temperature shifted into the high phase as though the body had been waiting for this; a period followed. The cycles are still long now, but ovulations occur, and periods follow. Except for Sophia, I might have let things drag on without doing anything about my condition. The doctor made me feel good too, saying, "It is almost a wonder that a woman of your age comes in here with such fine BBT charts. I admire you." Now I feel that I can carry on smoothly while moving toward the menopause.