Your ultimate guide to why timing intercourse matters
If there’s a tried-and-tested way to increase your chances of conception, it’s knowing when to have sex according to your menstrual cycle. However, determining exactly when that is can be a bit confusing, especially if this is your first time trying for a baby – but we’re here to help. Read as we explain why timing matters and how you can approach sex scheduling, with expert advice from Dr Kirsty Wallace-Hor, a GP at Kin Fertility.
What is timed intercourse and how does it work?
Timed intercourse is the process of scheduling the timing of sex with your fertile window, and though it doesn’t sound romantic or sexy, it can increase your odds of conceiving by 14 to 23%.
But why is timing such a big factor when trying to get pregnant?
The truth is that there are only a few days a month when conception is likely to occur, which happen around your ovulation day.
“Once released by an ovary, an egg only survives for about 24 hours – not very long at all,” Dr Kirsty explains. “Because sperm can live up to 5 days, it’s best to time intercourse so that the sperm is where it needs to be for when the egg is released.”
And the research is compelling, with an older, yet often-cited study showing that your chances of conceiving range from 27 to 33% in the 3 days leading up to and including ovulation, versus the day after when it is only up to 12%.
Understanding your menstrual cycle
In order to find the best time to have sex for pregnancy, you need to get familiar with your menstrual cycle which, generally speaking, will have 4 different phases:
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Menstruation (3 to 7 days)
“This is your period, when your uterus sheds the lining that’s built up in the last cycle,” Dr Kirsty explains. Although it is statistically possible to get pregnant while you’re menstruating, the chances are very slim, as this is your least fertile stage.
Follicular phase (10 to 14 days)
“This reflects the time when egg follicles are developing on your ovaries,” she says. “Usually, one follicle becomes dominant and releases the egg for that cycle.” As this happens, your fertility levels increase, especially as you get closer to ovulation day.
“This is when an egg is released from an ovary and travels to your uterus via a fallopian tube,” says Dr Kirsty. It’s also when you’re at your peak fertility!
Luteal phase (12 to 14 days)
During this phase, “there is a big rise in the hormone progesterone and the lining of the uterus thickens to potentially support a pregnancy,” she explains. Your fertility levels drop again and if there’s no pregnancy, the next period begins.
It’s important to remember that not everyone’s cycle is the same. “This is why I encourage people to track these phases in the lead-up to trying for a baby,” Dr Kirsty suggests, “and you can do this manually with a calendar or through an app on your phone.”
How do you know you’re ovulating?
As Dr Kirsty mentioned, an app can make it a lot easier to track your menstrual cycle and know when you’re ovulating, but your body will give you a few hints too.
“Some signs that ovulation is happening include a change in vaginal discharge, which might be more slippery or stretchy, abdominal pain and a small increase in your resting body temperature,” she says.
You may also feel more sexually aroused and yes, that is your body’s way of telling you that this is a good time to make a baby.
Ovulation tests are a great way to check if you are, in fact, in your most fertile window. While results may not always be 100% accurate, these tests are a lot less invasive than other methods, making them an accessible way to know when to time intercourse for pregnancy.
“Ovulation kits help detect an increase in luteinising hormone in your urine,” Dr Kirsty explains, “and a surge in this hormone is a good marker that ovulation will occur in the next 24 to 36 hours.”
“Once you have a rough idea of when you’re ovulating, I recommend having intercourse every couple of days in the lead-up to ovulation,” she adds.
Trying to conceive can be a tricky process, and everyone’s journey is unique, but employing strategies like timed sex can help it along.
And remember, timing your intercourse isn’t an infallible way to get pregnant and you can always get professional help. “If you get irregular periods or have PCOS,” Dr Kirsty says, “or if you have been trying to fall pregnant without success, I recommend seeing your GP.”
One step ahead: Here’s everything you need to know about each phase of your menstrual cycle
Tracking your cycle: Tips for conception, avoiding surprises, and taking control
10 things you should do before falling pregnant
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