Timing of sex for pregnancy

Having regular, unprotected sex will give you the best chance of getting pregnant but knowing when you are most fertile also helps.

When to have sex

You’re most likely to get pregnant if you have sex in the days around ovulation (when an egg is realised from the ovary), with the day before and day after being the most fertile.  

  • An egg lives for about 12-24 hours after being released. The egg must be fertilised by a sperm during this time for you to get pregnant.
  • Sperm can live for around 5 days inside a woman’s body, so if you’ve had sex in the few days before ovulation, the sperm can ‘wait’ for the egg to be released. 

This is called your 'fertile window'. We can help you calculate this with our ovulation calculator tool.

If I only have sex during my fertile window am I more likely to get pregnant?

Although there are a number of days in the month when you are more fertile, there has not been a lot of high-quality research into whether timing sex around the 'fertility window' increases your chances of pregnancy.  A review of the research that has been done found that some studies showed that it did help, but it concluded that more research is needed.

Having regular, unprotected sex (every 2 to 3 days without contraception) will give you the best chance of success. 8 out of 10 couples where the woman is under 40 years old will get pregnant within one year if they have regular, unprotected sex. More than 9 out of 10 couples will get pregnant within two years.

If you find that regular sex is too stressful or if you are unable to do it for other reasons, working out the time you are most likely to be fertile in the month makes sense. This is sometimes referred to as your 'fertile window' and there are various ways that you can work out when it happens for you.

Find out more about ovulation and fertility and apps and tools for conception.

Is there a best position to have sex in?

It doesn’t matter what position you have sex in when you’re trying to get pregnant. As long as the man ejaculates into the vagina, sperm can travel through the cervix and womb to the fallopian tubes where it can fertilise the egg.

Sexual positions that allow for deep penetration are likely to be the best for conception as they allow the sperm to be deposited as close to the cervix as possible. The missionary position (lying down, woman underneath the man, face to face) is often recommended for this reason.

After you’ve had sex you might also like to place a pillow under your hips to tilt the pelvis and help the sperm to ‘travel’.

There is no science or research that proves or disproves either of these suggestions above. It is completely up to you whether you wish to try these ideas out.

Sex and stress

Trying for a baby can be stressful, especially if it’s taking longer than expected. Whether it’s pressure to perform, feeling like you’re having sex on a schedule or anxiety around infertility, your sex life can end up causing stress when it becomes all about the babies. This can put strain on your relationship with your partner and lower your sex drive, so you may end up having less sex instead of more.

Try to remember that it’s normal for sex to start feeling a little mechanical when you’re trying for a baby. This is something a lot of couples experience and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your relationship.

Tips for stress-free sex

You can’t always prevent stress, but there are things you can do to manage stress better. Spending time focusing on each other and your relationship, rather than worrying about conceiving, can help.

Here are a few suggestions for putting the joy back into trying to make a baby.

  • Take time to rekindle the romance. Have a candle-lit dinner at home, invite your partner on a date or start sending sexy text messages to each other.
  • Once you have worked out your cycle, book a holiday around the next time you may be ovulating. A break may help you relax and you may find sex enjoyable again.
  • Have sex for fun as well as for baby-making.
  • If all the sex is proving too much, try to work out the few days around ovulation to reduce the amount of sex you have on days you are very unlikely to get pregnant.
  • Some women may feel like a failure if conception doesn’t happen quickly. Even if pregnancy takes longer than you expected there should be no blame attached to it. Infertility, if it occurs, can be male or female and is a treatable physical condition like any other. Take the time to reassure each other about this.
  • Try not to get anxious about sex and fertility too soon. Most couples conceive within a year of trying.

It’s also important to remember that you and your partner were a couple first, so try to spend time together doing other things that are important to you both. This may even help you put things into perspective and remind you why you wanted to start a family in the first place.

A note about mental health

If you are taking medication for a mental health condition, don’t stop taking it without speaking to your doctor first. Stopping it suddenly could make your symptoms come back or get worse.

Find out more about planning a pregnancy with a mental health condition.

When to ask for help

If you or your partner are feeling stressed or anxious about trying for a baby for whatever reason, try to give each other time to talk about it. It can help both of your wellbeing to approach making a baby as a couple, so it’s important to talk about it and support each other through the process.

It can sometimes help to get professional support. Relate can offer you a space to talk about your worries together confidentially with a trained counsellor.

If you’ve been feeling extra stressed or anxious and it doesn’t go away or your anxiety is affecting your daily life, it’s a good idea to see your GP. Some people can find it difficult to talk about their feelings, but mental health problems can be treated with the right care and support.

Find out more about planning a pregnancy and managing your mental health.

Other things to do when trying for a baby

If you are trying for a baby there are things you can do to improve your fertility, reduce your risks of problems during your pregnancy and protect your baby’s future health.

Once you start having unprotected sex you won’t know you’re pregnant for the first few weeks. Trying to make some lifestyle changes now will give you peace of mind when you get pregnant.

Find out more about things to do when trying for a baby.

If you’re worried about fertility

If you’ve been having regular, unprotected sex (every 2 to 3 days) for a year and you’re not pregnant yet, it doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant but it’s a good idea to go and see your GP. Make an appointment sooner if:

Your GP will talk to you about your lifestyle, general health and medical history. They can advise you about the things you can do to improve your chances of getting pregnant and how your partner can improve their fertility. 

Find out more about fertility and causes of infertility.

NHS Choices. Trying to get pregnant. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stopped-or-missed-periods/ (Page last reviewed: 23/01/2018. Next review due: 23/01/2021)

NICE Guideline (2013) Fertility problems: assessment and treatment National Institute for Health and Care Excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg156

Chapman, S (2015) Time intercourse: will it help you conceive? http://www.evidentlycochrane.net/timed-intercourse-will-help-conceive/

Grace, B et al (2018) You did not turn up. I did not realise I was invited...: Understanding male attitudes towards fertility awareness and poor engagement. Human reproduction (Vol 33 pp. 86-86) Oxford University Press

NHS Choices. Moodzone. www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/ (Page last reviewed: 20/01/2017 Next review due: 20/01/2020)

Review dates
Reviewed: 01 March 2019
Next review: 01 March 2022

This content is currently being reviewed by our team. Updated information will be coming soon.