If you’ve spent time on the internet looking for tips on how to get pregnant, you were likely met with a great deal of conflicting information. Some sources may tell you to have sex every other day, while others claim that you should “save up sperm” as long periods of abstinence increase sperm count. It is the case that having sex every other day is a good strategy for many couples, but this advice is still subject to individual differences (1).
So, what factors can influence how often you have sex when TTC?
The Fertile Window
During every woman’s monthly cycle is a length of time called the fertile window. It is typically two to three days before ovulation and averages about 6.6 days long, though this number is strongly influenced by cycle length (2). When the egg is released during ovulation it is only viable for 12 to 24 hours, whereas sperm can live for up to 5 days in the vaginal canal (3). This is why it is important to have sex before ovulation, rather than afterwards.
While it is typically thought that women ovulate on day 14 of their cycles, this is not accurate for everyone. Many women have irregular cycles in which ovulation can occur as early as day 10, or as late as day 20 (2). There are many ways to track your ovulation, such as checking basal body temperature, using ovulation test kits, and checking cervical mucus (4). If you choose not to track when you ovulate, a good option is to just have sex every other day for your entire cycle.
Frequency of Sex
Some couples may feel that sex becomes tedious or draining when they are trying to conceive. While there is a miniscule (2%) drop in chance of conception between having sex daily versus once every two days, it is good to adapt sex frequency to sex drive (1). If your partner’s or your sex drive is low, there is very low risk in opting to have sex once every two days instead of daily.
If your partner’s sperm count is on the lower end of the spectrum, it is advisable to have sex every other day. This gives the sperm count a chance to replenish in between ejaculation (5). However, even among men that have low sperm count, it is not advisable to “save up” sperm for more than 1 day by abstaining from ejaculation. While sperm count per ejaculation may increase during abstinence, the sperm are not able to move as effectively and may have poorer health (6). It has been shown that ejaculating a minimum of three to four times a week significantly elevates sperm quality and motility, and leads to higher rates of conception (5; 6).
Sex Outside of the Fertile Window
Surprisingly, having sex outside of the fertile window improves your chances at conception as well! Sexually active women see maximal cycle-related shift in humoral immunity, which is the aspect of the immune system that involves molecules found in bodily fluids. These shifts are associated with changes in the body that help prepare it for pregnancy (7). In additional to immune benefits, sex outside of the fertile window provides a chance to enjoy intimacy without the added stress of trying to get pregnant. Trying to conceive may become all-consuming, but enjoying sex may make the journey even more positive.
What does all of this information conclude?
While there are still some unanswered questions, having sex every day or every other day is a good option when trying to conceive. If your partner has low sperm count, abstaining for too long isn’t an effective strategy to increase chances of conception. It is always best to consult your doctor if you have any questions regarding fertility, and if you want additional support, there are some great online groups, as well as in-person meetings organized on websites such as RESOLVE.org.