When (and How Often) to Have Sex to Get Pregnant

The Ready-Aim-Fire Method vs Spread-the-Wealth Method

Couple sitting up in bed together
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How often should you have sex when trying to conceive? And when should you have sex if you want to get pregnant? These are common questions couples have when they decide they want to have a baby. While getting pregnant isn't as easy as you may have been told as a teenager (sex education classes tend to teach teens that you'll conceive just by looking at a boy), it's also not that complicated either.

Timing sex to get pregnant is the focus of most couples who are trying to conceive. If you don't have sex during your fertile window, you can't get pregnant. (Your fertile window is the two to three days before you ovulate.)

However, if you have sex often enough, timing sex for ovulation may not be necessary. (Though it will still help!)

When Is the Best Time to Have Sex to Get Pregnant?

The best time to get pregnant is the two to three days right before ovulation. (Yes, you must have sex before you ovulate—not after!) On average, this occurs sometime around days 12 and 13 of your cycle, but it varies from woman to woman. It's possible to have your most fertile window as early as day 8 and 9, or as late as days 19 and 20.

While the three days before you ovulate are your most fertile, you're also able to get pregnant if you have sex up to five days before you ovulate. This is because sperm can live up to five days in the female reproductive tract. The egg that ovulates is only able to be fertilized for 12 to 24 hours after it's released from the ovary. But if you've had sex within the past five days, some sperm should be already waiting and ready to fertilize the egg.

You've got one week every month when sex can lead to pregnancy. Your high school sex ed teacher lied to you. Sex doesn't lead to pregnancy every time.

Is Day 14 Your Most Fertile Day?

You may have heard that Day 14 of your cycle is when you ovulate.

Many women who believe this have sex on Day 11, 12, and 13, thinking this will give them the best chance at conception. But they may be wrong!  Many women don't ovulate on Day 14 of their cycle.

Normal ovulation can occur as early as Day 10 and as late as Day 20. If your cycles are irregular, ovulation can occur even later.

How Can You Know the Best Time to Get Pregnant?

Thankfully, your ovulation day doesn't need to remain a mystery. There are many methods of ovulation detection available, but here are the four most popular.

  • Ovulation predictor tests: These work a lot like pregnancy tests, except they tell you when you're ovulating (and not when you're pregnant.) They come as test sticks (like a pregnancy test) and test strips (where you need to pee into a cup and then dip the test strip into the collected urine.) There are also digital ovulation predictor tests.
    • At-home ovulation tests detect the hormone LH in your urine. LH surges just before you ovulate, so when the test reads positive, this indicates your body is attempting to trigger the egg to be released from the ovary. When LH is surging, this is the best time to get pregnant.
  • Basal body temperature charting: This requires taking your temperature every morning before you get up in the morning. Your basal body temperature is your body's temperature at complete rest. Your hormone levels affect your body temperature.
    • In particular, the hormone progesterone raises your body temperature. Progesterone increases after ovulation, so when your basal body temperature rises and remains high for at least a few days, you know that you ovulated the day before the rise.
  • Tracking your cervical mucus: Your vaginal discharge changes when you're approaching ovulation. It becomes stretchy and more mucus like. When it resembles raw egg whites, you're very, very fertile!
  • Fertility calendar apps: There are many online and smartphone apps that track your cycles. The more accurate ones require you to input your basal body temperature or cervical mucus changes, but even a simple app can help you pinpoint your most fertile days (if your periods are regular.)

All you need to do is tell the app when you get your period. Over a few months, the app will learn your cycle, and tell you when you're most likely to be ovulating. Have sex during the indicated days, and as long as everything is healthy fertility wise, you're likely to conceive within a few months.

When You Have Fertile Cervical Mucus

Research says that the best day for sexual intercourse is the day you notice the most fertile cervical mucus.

As mentioned above, fertile cervical mucus is vaginal discharge that resembles raw egg white. It typically appears on the days prior before ovulation. Once you know what to look for, it's easy to detect. This kind of discharge is healthy and normal. (If you have discharge that has a pungent smell or causes itchiness, you may have an infection. You should see your doctor.)

A research study done at the University of North Carolina looked at which was a better predictor of conception success: sex based on basal body temperature charting results or changes in cervical mucus.

What they discovered was that, regardless of what day ovulation occurred, pregnancy was more likely to happen if the couple had sex on a day when fertile cervical mucus was present. This may be because cervical mucus helps the sperm survive and swim along.

The more sperm that survive and make it to their destination, the more sperm that will be waiting in your fallopian tubes waiting for the ovulated egg!

When You're in the Mood

Have you ever noticed that your libido is stronger at certain times of the month? This is no coincidence.

The same hormones that increase just before ovulation also boost your desire for sex. This makes sense. Biology wants you to have sex when you're most likely to conceive.

While your mood for sex isn't a guaranteed ovulation sign, it is an easy one to pay attention to. After all, you can't go wrong having sex when you feel like having sex.

Should You Have Sex Every Day?

Some couples will pull out all the stops and try to have sex every day. They just don't want the chance of missing ovulation. While this works for some, if it takes you longer than a month or two to get pregnant, this sex regimen can get tiresome quickly. Plus, it's not necessary.

There are two methods for timing sex for pregnancy: there's the "spread the wealth" method, and the "ready, aim, fire" approach. 

How often you should have sex depends on which method you prefer to use, and whether or not there are any male factor infertility issues, such as sperm count problems.

Spread the Wealth Method

Trying to detect and track ovulation can be stressful for many women.

Whatever method of ovulation you choose—checking your temperature every morning, peeing on ovulation detection strips, examining your spit for ferning patterns, or checking your cervical mucus for fertile signs—paying close attention to your cycles and ovulation signs can be exhausting over the weeks and months.

While some women feel empowered by tracking ovulation, others just feel anxious and overwhelmed by it all. For the stressed women, the spread the wealth method is probably best.

Instead of timing sex for ovulation, you should have sex frequently every week. You're bound to have sex at least once during your fertile window with this method.

If this sounds like the plan for you, you should aim to have sex at least three to four times a week, throughout your cycle. That's about every other day or so.

The Ready, Aim, Fire Method

If you're happy to spend time tracking and detecting ovulation, and you'd like to focus your sexual efforts on your most fertile time, the ready, aim, fire method is for you.

If sperm counts are normal or healthy, as far as you are aware, then it's best to have sex every day that...

  • you have fertile cervical mucus, or
  • a positive ovulation detecting test, or
  • a positive saliva ferning test.

What if you chart your basal body temperature? If your cycles are regular, this means you know the approximate day you ovulate each month. In this case, you should have sex for the three days before you expect to ovulate and possibly on the day you expect to ovulate, too. 

However, you should still have sex throughout your cycle, just to keep the sperm quality in tip-top shape. You also need to provide time to enjoy sex without a baby-making mission attached.

And here's something you may not have known: there is a theory that semen may be helpful to the developing embryo. This means that sex after ovulation, and after you've conceived in fact, may help your pregnancy "stick." Another good reason for more sex.

Low or Borderline Sperm Counts

If sperm counts are borderline normal or on the lower side, the general recommendation is to have sex every other day during the fertile window.

For example, if on Monday you get your first positive ovulation predictor test result, or you see fertile cervical mucus, you should have sex on Monday, skip Tuesday, and then again on Wednesday, skip Thursday and once more on Friday (for good measure).

The day in between will help replenish the sperm supply, possibly increasing your chances. 

Whatever you do, don't have sex twice a day. This goes for men with normal sperm counts, too. It may seem that more sex would equal a better chance of pregnancy, but actually, having sex too frequently may decrease the number of healthy sperm.

Does How You Have Sex Matter?

With all this discussion on when and how often to have sex to get pregnant, you may also be wondering if how you have sex matters.

For example, does sexual position matter? Should you lie on your back after ejaculation occurs for several minutes? The answer is probably not. Some research on fertility treatment found a slight increase in pregnancy rates when women remained on their backs after artificial insemination. However, we can't generalize this to sexual intercourse.

Does sexual pleasure matter? Yes! But not so much that you need to be concerned that every time you have sex it's the hottest sex ever. (What a life that would be...) Studies have found that sexual pleasure can improve sperm counts, and there is a theory that female orgasm might help boost the odds of conception. That said, it's not required to get pregnant. You can have terrible sex and still conceive.

One thing you should pay attention to is the lubricant you use (if you use any.) Be sure to choose a sperm-friendly lube, because many of the regular lubricants can damage sperm. (Not enough to prevent pregnancy, but enough that you wouldn't want to use them if you were trying to conceive.)

A Word From Verywell

When you're eager to get pregnant, it's easy to over-complicate things. It's true that you're more likely to conceive quickly if you have sex during your fertile window, but it's also true that if you have sex frequently all month, you're likely to get pregnant eventually.

There is a lot of pressure online in fertility support groups to use as many ovulation tracking methods as possible. It can be helpful and even fun to track your cycles, but it can also become stressful. Do what works best for you and your partner. But if you don't get pregnant after trying for one year (or after six months, if you're over 35), see your doctor.  

View Article Sources
  • Joseph B. Stanford and David B. Dunson. "Effects of Sexual Intercourse Patterns in Time to Pregnancy Studies." American Journal of Epidemiology. February 8, 2007. 165:1088-1095, 2007.
  • Agarwal A, Gupta S, Du Plessis S, et al. "Abstinence Time and Its Impact on Basic and Advanced Semen Parameters" Urology. 2016 Aug;94:102-10.
  • Ovulation Frequently Asked Questions. American Pregnancy Association. http://americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/ovulation-faq/