This week, I encountered an interesting article on a popular news website. It was aimed at women and couples who were trying to conceive and was entitled ‘How to increase your chances of getting pregnant’.
Surprisingly (for a not-so-scientific article) it contained mostly good advice, such as stopping smoking and both partners taking folic acid. However, there was one recommendation that concerned me, and it raised the subject of a rather contentious issue – whether or not you should consciously time sex for your fertile days when trying to get pregnant.
The reason for my concern? In this instance, a simple misunderstanding of the facts resulted in some rather flawed advice – but more on that shortly.
Sex for conception
If you’re trying to conceive you’re most likely taking one of two approaches:
1) The ‘I need to get pregnant now and will do whatever it takes’ approach OR
2) The ‘It’ll happen when it happens, and I’m not going to tie myself in knots about it’ approach
Both strategies have their merits and the way you set about your goal will typically depend on your personality and your personal circumstances.
It’s not uncommon however, for approach number 2 to quickly become approach number 1 after a few months of seeing repeat BFNs (Big Fat Negatives) on your pregnancy tests.
As each month passes without a pregnancy, you may begin to question whether you can actually get pregnant at all! And the growing urgency to conceive can have you questioning the best way to tackle your baby-making sex, to make sure that egg meets sperm, to get that baby on the way!
Advice you’ve probably heard before!
And so the debate begins over the best approach for having intercourse. Doctors and other health professionals tend to offer well-meaning, but not always well-informed advice:
1 ‘Just have sex every day, and you’re bound to hit those fertile days’ (this is likely to have you or your partner either think that all your Christmases have come at once – or conversely, feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and suffer from performance anxiety or exhaustion!) OR
2 ‘Just have sex between days 10 and 17 of the cycle and it’ll happen in no time’ (ok for some, but the fact is, that 70% of women experience some or all of their fertile window outside of these days!) OR
3 ‘Just relax and have regular intercourse – there’s no need to get strategic about it’
This last recommendation is the one that takes me back to the article I referred to earlier. Just how regular is ‘regular’, and is this, in fact, good advice?
‘Don’t plan intercourse’ the aforementioned article advised. Instead, it suggested, it’s better to rely on regular untargeted sex, to avoid creating unnecessary stress.
It wasn’t this that had me concerned, but rather the explanation that followed.
The logic given to explain this advice was that healthy sperm could survive for up to 3 days in a woman’s body (this in itself is not entirely accurate). On this basis the article concluded, ‘a couple having sex twice a week would never miss the fertile window’.
That’s where I disagree.
Is twice-weekly sex enough?
In order for you and your partner to ‘never miss the fertile window’ when having twice-weekly intercourse, two assumptions need to be made:
1) That the 2 episodes of intercourse are spaced evenly across the week
2) That your fertile window is at least 3 days long
Firstly, if you’re like many busy couples, you may find that it’s easy to enjoy an amorous weekend but then struggle to find time for intimacy over the rest of the week. So ‘regular’ sex may end up occurring 5 days apart or more.
Secondly, if you read my earlier article on the best time for having sex, you’ll know that it’s possible for the fertile window (or fertile phase) to be less than 3 days long each menstrual cycle. In fact, in some couples it can be as little as just 1 day or less!
So when you do the maths, you’ll find that there’s actually ample opportunity to miss the fertile window, even with twice-weekly sex. That is of course, unless you’re one of the super-fertile few, blessed with a fertile window length of 5 or 6 days. (In which case, you’re probably less likely to be reading this article!).
Timing sex can dramatically increase pregnancy chances!
Mistiming sex is a common cause behind perfectly fertile couples taking much longer to conceive than necessary. It can also result in much heartache and unnecessary expense when failure to conceive leads couples down the road of fertility investigation – even though neither partner is actually infertile! In contrast, research has shown that by timing sex correctly, you can give your chances of conception a huge boost, and dramatically speed up the time it takes to get pregnant.
When trying-to-conceive couples in one study (1) were given the means to pinpoint their fertile days, almost 50% conceived during the first subsequent menstrual cycle. 92% got pregnant within just 3 menstrual cycles. These couples had not managed to conceive previously and more than 60% had already consulted with a medical professional for help!.
Compare this with only 50% of couples getting pregnant within 3 cycles, when timed intercourse isn’t used (4).
So what’s the best approach?
So what’s the best approach to ensure you have sex on your fertile days each cycle? Let’s look at the options:
Option 1: Regular sex throughout your cycle
While consistent regular sex (every two or three days), should ensure you ‘hit the nail on the head’ most cycles, this rigorous schedule doesn’t suit everyone. And as discussed above, less frequent sex can increase the risk of missing your fertile window and delaying the time it takes to conceive. (Of course if your fertile window is just 1 – 2 days long, it’s still possible to miss it, even with regular sex every two to three days!).
Option 2: Spontaneous sex combined with a bit of guesswork
You may decide to take it easy and enjoy spontaneous sex for most of your cycle but ‘amp it up’ a bit around the time you think you’re fertile. This can work a treat – so long as you guess your fertile days correctly!
One study found that only 12.7% of trying-to-conceive women actually estimated their day of ovulation correctly and only 27% predicted it for a day within their actual fertile window! (5).
Option 3: Spontaneous sex combined with fertility awareness
Learning fertility awareness and charting your fertility is a great way to ensure you’ve got your bases covered! Fertility awareness ensures that you can accurately identify your fertile window each and every cycle, regardless of whether your cycles are regular or not.
All you need to do is make sure you have sex at least once or twice during this time and you can enjoy relaxed, spontaneous sex for the rest of your cycle.
So, no surprises here – this is my recommendation if you want a sure-fire way to boost your chances of conception each cycle. The Fast Track to Pregnancy Program™ is designed to make learning fertility awareness easy so that you can get pregnant as soon as possible.
But does timing intercourse cause stress?
I remember debating this with a gynaecologist colleague one day. He told me he didn’t advise couples to chart their fertility, because he felt the daily monitoring of fertility signs could cause undue stress on the couple.
This, in fact, is the exact opposite to what I have witnessed over the years. Almost all the couples I’ve worked with report a sense of relief once they start learning the fertility awareness method.
The female partner particularly will often comment on the sense of control she now feels and that charting her fertility has greatly helped to reduce stress levels.
In fact once couples have charted their fertility for 3 menstrual cycles (my recommended minimum) and we have the information we need, many opt to continue charting due to the sense of control and positivity it gives them.
My colleague’s advice to couples instead? Just have sex every day! Not exactly a recipe for stress-free baby making itself – especially if you’re several months into trying!
While regular, untargeted sex is often recommended to couples that are trying to conceive, exactly what constitutes ‘regular’ is not always clarified. There is a high risk of missing the fertile window if intercourse occurs less than every 2 – 3 days, especially for those with a short fertile window.
Research has clearly shown that timing intercourse for the most fertile days each cycle dramatically improves your chances of a quick conception. But identifying your fertile window correctly is key!
Learning fertility awareness and charting your fertility will ensure you get it right. You can then time sex for those precious few days – and enjoy spontaneity for the rest of your cycle. Less pressure, less stress.
At the end of the day, however, you have to do what works best for you and your partner. Keep those lines of communication open and try to keep it fun!