Most of the sex education we received when we were younger was all about how to practice safe sex and prevent unwanted pregnancy. But now that you are actually trying to conceive, you may be realizing that there is more to getting pregnant than just having unprotected sex. There are so many misconceptions and old wives’ tales about sex and fertility. In this blog, I’m sharing 7 things that are important for you to know about sex and getting pregnant that you likely never learned in Sex Ed class.
1. Sexual Position Does NOT Improve Your Chances of Conceiving
Even though it might seem that in order to get the sperm as close to the cervix as possible, certain sexual positions may be better than others, but this is not actually the case. There is no scientific evidence that sexual position affects your chances of getting pregnant. In fact, sperm can actually make it to the cervical canal in just seconds after ejaculation, regardless of sexual position. The best sexual position for pregnancy is honestly your favorite position or the one that is most comfortable for you and your partner.
2. Your Choice of Lubricant Can Affect the Sperm
Believe it or not, some vaginal lubricants can actually decrease fertility by having adverse affects on the sperm. Over-the-counter water-based lubricants like Astroglide, K-Y Jelly, and K-Y Touch can decrease sperm motility by as much as 60-100%. Even very dilute amounts of saliva can affect sperm motility and velocity, interfere with your cervical mucus, and alter your vaginal pH so you may want to exclude oral sex from foreplay if you are trying to conceive.
Hydroxyethylcellulose-based lubricants like Pre-Seed and ConceivEase do not have any significant adverse effects on semen parameters and are preferred lubricants for couples trying to get pregnant. Mineral oil and canola oil are also considered safe to use when needed. It’s important to remember that using lubricants will not necessarily improve the chance your partner’s sperm reaches the egg. Your cervical mucus during your fertile window should suffice, but if you need a little extra lubrication during intercourse, consider the safe options listed above.
3. Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Sex?
While it may seem obvious that having more sex should improve your chances of getting pregnant, you don’t have to have sex multiple times a day or even every day in order to conceive. Having sex daily gives you a slight advantage, but data also shows that having sex every other day gives you a comparable pregnancy rate per cycle. One common misconception is that frequent ejaculations can decrease male fertility, but this isn’t actually the case. Abstinence intervals as short as 2 days are associated with normal sperm levels and even daily ejaculation doesn’t significantly change sperm parameters. In men with low sperm counts, we see the highest sperm concentration and motility with daily ejaculation.
Not having enough sex can also be a problem. Abstinence intervals longer than 5 days may adversely affect sperm counts and intervals of 10 days or more can affect sperm morphology. The likelihood of success drops significantly when sex happens only once a week. Pregnancy success is highest when intercourse happens every 1 to 2 days, especially during the fertile window. Each couple should decide the optimal frequency of sex based on their own preferences, recognizing that the frequency may cause unnecessary stress, which can affect satisfaction.
4. When It Comes to Getting Pregnant, the Timing of Sex is Important
When you ovulate and an egg is released from the ovary, the egg has about 12-24 hours to be fertilized by sperm before it dies. So, when it comes to sex and getting pregnant, timing is super important. Sperm can survive in the female reproductive tract for 2-5 days, which provides a little buffer of time. The “fertile window” is defined as the 6-day interval ending on the day of ovulation. Data suggests that sex is most likely to lead to a pregnancy when it happens within the 3-day interval ending on the day of ovulation. You can also start increasing the frequency of sex after you stop bleeding. Look for changes in your cervical mucus (a slippery and clear consistency is associated with ovulation) and symptoms like abdominal bloating or one-sided pelvic pain to clue you in about when you are likely ovulating.
Ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) can detect levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) in the urine, which is the hormone that triggers ovulation. These tests can be used to figure out your “peak fertile time” in order to time intercourse. Even though LH detection kits are accurate, they are not perfect and false-positive results occur in about 7% of cycles.
5. Does Having an Orgasm Really Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant?
You certainly don’t need to have an orgasm in order to get pregnant but having one definitely doesn’t hurt your chances and it might even help. Orgasm can stimulate uterine contractions, which may help to promote sperm transport through the reproductive tract. It can also make you feel more relaxed, it alleviates stress, and it increases intimacy with your partner, which are all important too. There’s no need to put any unnecessary pressure on yourself to climax in order to conceive.
6. To Cuddle or Not to Cuddle: What to Do After Sex
There are so many old wives’ tales about what you should do after sex to improve your chances of getting pregnant. A lot of women think that they have to stay lying down or elevate their hips or legs after sex to help the sperm find that egg. Women also worry about leakage of semen or that all the sperm are going to fall out of the vagina. But don’t worry because there is no evidence to support any of these concerns. Studies have actually found that sperm can travel from the vagina or cervix to the fallopian tubes in as little as 2 minutes! So if cuddling with your partner or just relaxing for a few minutes after sex feels good, go for it, but know that you don’t have to do anything special afterward to increase your chances of getting pregnant.
7. The Secret to Influencing the Sex of Your Baby
From certain sexual positions to strict diets of certain foods, to having sex at certain times in your menstrual cycle, there are so many opinions about how to increase your chances of having a male or female baby. The truth is that there is no connection between any of these practices and the sex of your baby. The only way to have any control over the sex of your baby is through in vitro fertilization (IVF) and preimplantation genetic testing (PGT). This technology allows you to test your embryos and screen their chromosomes, which gives us valuable information about the health and viability of your embryos. The test also screens the sex chromosomes so you will know which embryos are male and which ones are female. You can then choose to transfer the embryo of the desired sex. Outside of IVF with PGT, your chances of having a boy or a girl are 50/50 regardless of what you do around the time of conception.
Getting pregnant isn’t always as straightforward as just having sex. Some couples have an easy time conceiving, while other couples may need a bit more help. If you or your partner are having problems with sex whether it’s pain with intercourse, erectile dysfunction, low libido, or trouble timing intercourse, consider talking to a fertility specialist. Sometimes these things can be signs of other issues that need to be addressed or corrected in order for you to conceive.
Dr. Ghazal is a double board certified Fertility Specialist, a Southern California native, and an award-winning Top Doctor and Rising Star in the field. She specializes in all aspects of female and male infertility, IVF, egg freezing, LGBTQ+ family building, miscarriage & pregnancy loss, PCOS, ovulatory disorders, intrauterine insemination, fertility preservation for cancer patients, endometriosis, and preimplantation genetic testing. Her research has covered a wide variety of topics in the field of reproductive medicine including assisted reproductive techniques, embryo culture, fertility preservation, endometriosis, implantation, and IVF outcomes. She has authored numerous book chapters and articles that have been published in top journals and she has been invited to present her research at national meetings.