What really works during and after sex to get pregnant: Science vs. Urban Legend

With so many ideas out there about what works best to get pregnant, it can be hard to tell fact from fiction. You may wonder — does what you do after sex increase your chances of pregnancy? 

You may have heard lying on your back after sex gives sperm a better shot at reaching the egg. In fact, about 40% of women surveyed said they believe “women should lie on their back after intercourse with their pelvis elevated” to maximize the likelihood of conception (1).

But the latest research has picked apart this myth. We’ll explain — and share the science (or lack of) behind the most popular fertility hacks to get pregnant.


Can an orgasm increase the chance of pregnancy by helping sperm?

You may have heard that contractions from an orgasm can help sperm successfully travel to the egg. The one paper that explored this notion concluded that it’s “unlikely” (10). So no need to stress if you orgasm before or after your partner does or if reaching an orgasm during intercourse is difficult for you to do. 

However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention there’s a scientific basis to this notion. Uterine contractions do help propel sperm, but the contractions aren’t from your orgasm or even under your direct control (3). Instead, these uterine contractions — which are believed to be regulated by your hormones — happen continually throughout the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle (3). The contractions even increase right before ovulation to give sperm an extra push in the right direction (3). 

Does lying down after sex give sperm a boost?

This question is a biggie in the trying to conceive (TTC) community, which is why it’s a bit frustrating that scientists came up with mixed results when they explored this question among women undergoing intrauterine insemination (IUI) in fertility clinics. We explain...

In 2000, a Canadian research team evaluated the potential fertility-boosting effects of lying down by randomly assigned 95 women with unexplained infertility to one of two groups: The first group rested in bed for 10 minutes after their IUI procedure, while the second group moved around normally immediately after insemination (4). 

Resting appeared to make a dramatic difference. Almost 30% of those who rested got pregnant, compared with 10% of those who didn’t rest (4). A larger randomized study in 2009 also showed higher pregnancy rates among the 391 women who remained on their backs for 15 minutes after IUI, compared to women who got up and moved around right away (5). 

However, critics have taken issue with these studies, and recent research hasn’t been able to replicate the results (6). A 2017 study published in Human Reproduction found no benefit in resting after sex (6). Again, researchers randomly assigned a total of 498 women into two groups: one group stayed on their backs for 15 minutes after IUI and one didn’t. Only 32.2% of women who rested became pregnant, compared to 40% of women who got up immediately after IUI (6). 

The takeaway: resting provides “no positive benefit,” per the authors of the 2017 paper (6). And since science shows sperm may reach your Fallopian tubes in just one minute anyway (3), experts generally believe the swimmers don’t need post-coital help fighting gravity.

Still, if you undergo IUI, your doctor may recommend resting briefly after insemination, if only for a potential (but unproven) psychological benefit (2). 


Does putting my legs up after sex increase my chances of pregnancy?

While this notion is related to the idea of lying in bed after sex, we don’t have any data on whether hoisting your legs in the air after sex increases your chances of conception. 

Still, this myth is a popular one in the TTC community. Searching for its origin led to a research rabbit hole. One possible explanation for why the legs-up idea has gained traction is the position kind of mirrors the Trendelenburg position, which is common in medicine. In the Trendelenburg position, you lie on your back with your feet elevated. 

If you’ve ever been on bed rest, you may have been instructed to lie in Trendelenburg position. This position is sometimes used to prevent preterm birth with a weakened cervix (7). But again, science doesn’t show that this position conveys any conception benefits following sex.


Can a specific sex position help me get pregnant?

It might seem like common sense that certain sex positions, like missionary style, would boost your chances of pregnancy. After all, penetration is deeper in the missionary position (and doggy style) than others. In reality, we don’t know if there’s an ideal position to have sex to get pregnant since scientists haven't weighed in on this precise question.

That said, we do know that sperm are naturally programmed to swim to the egg, no matter who’s on top, bottom, sideways, or even upside down. The best answer right now is to choose sexy-time positions that feel great for you and your partner. 


Should I pee after sex if I’m trying to get pregnant?

If you usually get up to pee after sex to avoid getting a urinary tract infection, the good news is the habit won’t prevent you from conceiving. Ejaculation releases millions of sperm, and science suggests only a portion — a median of about 35% of sperm by one estimate — may be lost in the flowback (the stuff that slides out of you) after sex (8). The majority are already well on the way to the egg by the time you get up to pee.

And since sperm may reach your Fallopian tubes in one minute (3), the fastest sperm may already be in a prime position for fertilization before you’ve even reached the bathroom. 


Does a menstrual cup keep sperm in after sex?

Despite the increasing popularity of  menstrual cups as a more environmentally conscious alternative to disposables, inserting a cup after sex isn’t a DIY hack for your fertility. Even though anecdotal reports claim this method works to get pregnant (9), there’s no science proving that using a menstrual cup increases your chances of conception.

If this trend is new to you, here’s the gist of it: You insert a menstrual cup, a flexible silicone bell-shaped device, against your cervix immediately after ejaculation to limit flowback (9). Another option is filling the menstrual cup with fresh semen and then inserting it in your vagina (9). 

Doctors have dismissed this method — and some even consider it potentially harmful (9). They note that sperm will die quickly inside the cup, and some physicians warn of higher risks of vaginal infections (which may harm your fertility) from using menstrual cups this way (9). 

Bottom line: Menstrual cups are a good solution for your flow if you’d like to use this option, but definitely talk with your doctor before using one as a fertility hack.


If you’re looking to explore what actually may increase your chances of conception, science backs the effectiveness of natural Fertility-awareness Based Methods. Start here to learn more about these methods. 


Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

References

  1. https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(13)03425-0/fulltext#sec2.3
  2. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/procedure-for-intrauterine-insemination-iui-using-processed-sperm?search=iui&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~48&usage_type=default&display_rank=1#H61118149
  3. https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/11/3/627/582632
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=10973647
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19875843
  6. https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/32/11/2218/4508786
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000293780300718X
  8. https://academic.oup.com/humupd/article/12/1/23/607817
  9. https://www.sheknows.com/health-and-wellness/articles/1995794/menstrual-cups-getting-pregnant/
  10. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347213002121

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