How Often is Enough?: Fertile Thoughts

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Q: To maximize the chances of getting pregnant, should you keep sex to just once daily while you’re ovulating or is that an old wives’ tale?

A: Actually, this is not just an old wives’ tale. Rarely can couples be infertile solely because they have sex too often. First, how often is often enough? Normally sperm will live in good mid-cycle cervical mucous for at least forty-eight hours, so if you have intercourse every other day, that should keep you continuously covered. In other words, whenever ovulation occurs, there should be sperm there to fertilize the egg. If a man’s sperm count is high, he may be able to have more than one ejaculation a day and still maintain his fertility very well. However, if a man’s sperm count is normal or below, multiple ejaculations a day may deplete his sperm count and make him less fertile. Some men do better in terms of pregnancy rates if they save up for a few days between ejaculations. Since sperm production is relatively constant, this rest allows time for recovery of the numbers of sperm in the ejaculate.

Q: My mother once told me she got pregnant with each child very easily. By age thirty-four, she had all her children. However, I’m thirty-five and have not had a baby yet. Is a woman’s fertility necessarily related to her mother’s fertility?

A: No, a woman’s fertility is not necessarily related to her mother’s fertility. It’s nice to hear that your mother was very fertile, but that doesn’t say anything about your fertility potential (or your partner’s). I presume from your question, although you didn’t say so, that you are currently trying to conceive. If you have been trying to conceive for six months, you should seek evaluation and treatment. Half of a woman’s fertility potential is lost by age thirty-five. Infertility is a couple problem, so your partner needs to be evaluated as well. You may be perfectly normal and he may have a problem with his sperm count or you both may have issues that need to be addressed at the same time in order to achieve a pregnancy.

Fertile Thoughts is published monthly. Each column features a real question from a reader, and we invite other readers to respond with their thoughts and insights by posting comments. If you have a question for Dr. Carlene Elsner, please send it to her care of the editor at Your question will be kept in the strictest of confidence.

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