Written by Jennifer Barton
When a couple decides they want to try to conceive, they understandably want to give themselves the best chance of making it happen. That’s why one of the most common questions from hopeful parents is whether more frequent sex can actually increase your chances of getting pregnant.
So, is having sex everyday bad when trying to conceive? Or is it a case of “the more you try, the higher your chances”? We chat to experts and look at the science to find out how often you should really have sex if you want to get pregnant.
If you’re having sex to conceive, getting to know the timing of your cycle is a helpful place to start. Not only will that give you a better understanding of when pregnancy is most likely to happen, it can also help pinpoint the days you may want to aim to have sex.
Experts agree that the best time to conceive is during the most fertile time in your cycle: the lead-up to ovulation and ovulation itself. This is the time in the menstrual cycle when a mature egg is released from one of your ovaries into your uterine tube. But since sperm can live inside a reproductive tract and wait for an egg for up to five days, you can get pregnant from sex pre-ovulation, too.
“Let’s say it’s a textbook 28-day cycle. Usually, you ovulate around day 14, which is halfway through. So the best time to have sex would be the few days before ovulation,” explains Dr. Charlsie Celestine, MD, OB-GYN (obstetrician and gynecologist) and creator of the “For Vaginas Only” podcast.
A 1995 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that nearly all pregnancies occurred during the six-day period ending in ovulation, and reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Tiffanny Jones confirms there’s a good reason to have lots of sex during those few days. “The benefit of frequent intercourse during that window is to replenish the supply of sperm in the reproductive tract that have the ability to fertilize the egg when it’s released,” she explains.
There is one important caveat to remember, however. While ovulation does tend to happen midway through a cycle, this isn’t always the case. Various factors can change the timing of when you ovulate, from stress and illness to irregular cycles as a result of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
This is why experts recommend tracking a couple of cycles to understand when you’re likely to be ovulating. A period tracker like Flo can show how your cycles look from one month to the next and help you identify when your fertile window might be. There are also ways your body can alert you to the fact that it’s at peak fertility. A change in discharge is common: When the cervical mucus becomes clear, slippery, and similar in consistency to raw egg whites, ovulation is likely to occur soon after. Alternatively, you could use an ovulation predictor kit to measure hormone levels, which enables it to predict when you’re most likely to ovulate.
We’ve established that the fertile window can last around 6 days, so now you have a rough idea of when you should be having sex. But how frequently should you be doing it during that time period? Daily? Multiple times a day? Just once?
There isn’t a clear-cut answer, it seems. There’s no evidence that having intercourse multiple times a day during the fertile window does anything to increase your chances of getting pregnant. “The more often a person with a penis ejaculates, the fewer sperm the ejaculate contains, so more frequent ejaculations will not contain more semen nor increase your chances of getting pregnant,” explains OB-GYN Dr. Rixt Luikenaar. “You can have sex three times a day, but it doesn’t increase the chances of getting pregnant [by three times].” On the other hand, there’s also no evidence to suggest that frequent sex can do anything to harm your chances.
Generally, expert advice suggests having sex either once a day during your fertile window or every other day if you want to get pregnant. “Semen analysis studies have shown that sperm are often ‘the best’ in terms of number and in how well they move when a man or person with a penis has had a break of 2 to 3 days before ejaculation,” notes Dr. Jennifer Boyle, clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School. “However, it’s all about balance. If you wait 2 to 3 days for sperm to be perfect, you may miss your fertile window.”
So rest assured; whether you decide to have sex everyday during your fertile window or every other day, it probably won’t make a huge difference to your likelihood of conceiving. Of the 221 women who took part in the 1995 study in the New England Journal of Medicine mentioned previously, those who had sex every other day had a 22% chance of getting pregnant, compared to 25% for those having sex daily.
The bottom line? Sex shouldn’t feel like a chore, so just decide what works best for you, and go with that.
If you and your partner have upped the sexual antics in the hopes of getting pregnant, you may be surprised to find it doesn’t happen right away. “I tell people not to stress it when it comes to trying to conceive, especially if they’re younger (under 35 years old),” says Dr. Celestine. “Just have sex most days of the week and have fun with it.”
For couples hoping to get pregnant, Dr. Luikenaar says the chances of conceiving each month are about 20% for overall healthy couples who have unprotected intercourse.
If you’re under 35, it’s recommended that you see a specialist after a year of trying. If you have any concerns about your cycle at any point, you can also schedule an appointment sooner. For people 35 and up or with risk factors for infertility (including anovulation or a history of certain types of chemotherapy or radiotherapy), Dr. Boyle suggests seeking specialist advice after six months with no luck, or sooner if advised.
“This is so we can make sure everything is OK and possibly optimize for success with treatments knowing that our biology is naturally limited,” she explains. “Some experts even recommend seeking care after three months of trying when a woman is 40 or older.”
We’ve all heard the jokes about upping the frequency of “sexy time” when trying to conceive, but the reality of planning and scheduling sex can feel more like work and less like … fun.
“It is common sense and cultural wisdom that stress is not good for our health in general, and this applies to becoming pregnant as well,” says Dr. Boyle. “Forcing yourself to have sex when you are really tired, really don’t want to, etc. is not a good idea and not likely to be worth it. It’s better to recharge, relax, and be aware of your body.”
“Sex isn’t just for conception; sex is also for connection and pleasure”
Sex therapist Jordan Rullo, PhD, says it’s important to remember that sex is about more than conception, even if you have babies on your mind. In fact, keeping your sex life active throughout the month can help take some of the strain away from focusing solely on trying to get pregnant.
“If you’re limiting your sexual experiences to only that window of ovulation, that puts a lot of pressure on that brief period of time,” says Rullo. “However, if sex and physical connection are happening throughout the entire month, that takes away the pressure of sex during that window of ovulation. It also reinforces that sex isn’t just for conception; sex is also for connection and pleasure.”
And if you’re not used to a higher level of sexual activity and want to avoid it feeling repetitive, Rullo recommends taking turns with your partner in proposing something new during each sexual experience. “Novelty could be introduced with role play, sharing a fantasy, watching erotica together, trying a new sexual position, talking dirty, or adding in some romance with candles and music,” she suggests.
There’s no firm scientific schedule to follow if you want to get pregnant. The best thing you can do is take note of your menstrual cycle, figure out when you’re ovulating, and then have sex (either every day or every other day, whichever you prefer) in the week leading up to it. And remember, sex is for pleasure, too; it’s not just about the baby making!