She’s Not Going to Get Pregnant if We Just Do It This Once

She’s Not Going to Get Pregnant if We Just Do It This Once. Let us start this one by saying that we’ve heard it all — from the pseudo-scientific to the clearly ridiculous. “She can’t get pregnant the first time.” “She can’t get pregnant if we do it in a hot tub (the heat kills the sperm).” “She can’t get pregnant if I drink a lot of Mountain Dew (it kills sperm).” “She can’t get pregnant if she douches right afterwards.” “She can’t get pregnant if she douches with Mountain Dew right afterwards (it kills sperm).” “She can’t get pregnant if we do it sideways while bouncing on one foot.” You get the idea.

She’s Not Going to Get Pregnant if We Just Do It This Once
She’s Not Going to Get Pregnant if We Just Do It This Once

In truth, we’re not sure these are myths because we would be surprised if a lot of people really believe them. We think of them more like excuses. They are things that people hear and then repeat in order to explain away what they did or are about to do, in order to justify having unprotected sex.

So our job here is pretty much to remind you that unless you are actively trying to conceive there is no excuse for unprotected sex, because no matter when, where, or how you do it there is a risk (sometimes large, sometimes small) of getting pregnant.

She’s Not Going to Get Pregnant if We Just Do It This Once

First, Biology
In order to understand the real risks involved in unprotected intercourse, you have to understand exactly how and when pregnancy happens. We hope you all learned this in high school or perhaps a human sexuality course in college but, just in case, here is our quick review of the biology of menstruation, ovulation, and conception.

Women are born with all of the ova (eggs) they are ever going to have (unlike men who begin producing sperm at puberty and continue to do so into old age). Somewhere between the age of 9 and 16 or so, young women begin to have a monthly menstrual cycle which is controlled by a number of hormones. Each month two important things happen. First, one of the eggs in the ovaries fully matures, pops out, and begins to travel down the fallopian tube toward the uterus.

At the same time the uterus begins to build up a lining of blood and tissue to prepare a place for a fertilized egg to grow. If the egg is not fertilized during that month, this blood and tissue is shed as part of the woman’s period (Kelly, 2010).

The first day of bleeding is actually considered day 1 of a woman’s next period. Most women have cycles that last about 28 days and ovulate somewhere in the middle — around day 13 (Wilcox et al., 2001). (Remember this for later because the risk of pregnancy is different on each day of a woman’s cycle.) Of course, in order for the egg to be fertilized and a pregnancy to occur, you need to add sperm. The typical amount of ejaculate contains several hundred million sperm. If released into the vagina, the sperm start swimming up through the uterus and into the fallopian tubes toward the waiting egg (if there is one).

Some of the sperm will die from the acidity of the vagina, others will be attacked by white blood cells because they are foreign bodies, and some will get lost. But about 1000–2000 will make it to the egg (Goulet, 2009). Though technically only one sperm can fertilize an egg, that lucky guy needs a bunch of his friends to prepare the egg by creating a hole in the outermost layer of the egg (called the zona pellucida) for him to swim through. The hole then closes to keep out any other sperm because an egg fertilized by more than one sperm would not develop properly (Mader, 2002).

She’s Not Going to Get Pregnant if We Just Do It This Once

Then Comes the Math
Figuring out the risk of pregnancy does not just involve biology, it also involves some pretty basic math. Once released, an egg can last (meaning it can be fertilized) for only 12–24 hours. Sperm can live in the reproductive tract for about 3–5 days, but they use up some of that time swimming to the egg (it’s a long journey if you’re microscopic).

If we put these together, we find that there is about a 6-day window of fertility. It includes the 5 days before ovulation (because sperm could be waiting for the egg) and the day of ovulation (when the egg could be waiting for the sperm).

The challenge, of course, is figuring out when those days are each month. For women who have a regular cycle that ranges between 26 and 32 days, the fertility window is likely to fall between days 8 and 19. But some women have longer cycles, some have shorter cycles, and some have cycles that are different each month.

Some women use fertility awareness based (FAB) methods of family planning to prevent pregnancy which means they keep careful track of their menstrual cycles, calculate when their fertile window is, and either avoid sex during these days or use a second method like a condom during that time. FAB methods require women to have a 6-to 12-month history of their menstrual cycles so they can know their longest and shortest cycle and calculate correctly.

Some FAB methods also suggest women collect other “data” to determine when they are vulating, including figuring out how much cervical secretion they have each day (there is more during ovulation), noting the characteristics of the secretion (the mucus is stringier during ovulation), and taking their basal body temperature (it spikes at certain points in the month). FAB methods can work but they take a lot of effort and are only appropriate for women with really regular cycles (Jennings and Burke, 2011).

She’s Not Going to Get Pregnant if We Just Do It This Once

And, Now the Statistics
For women who don’t know when they are going to ovulate, researchers have done even more complicated math to try to determine the likelihood of getting pregnant from one random act of intercourse. Results have varied but the best guess is — knowing nothing else about how fertile a couple is or where a woman is in her cycle — one act of intercourse carries with it a 3.1% chance of pregnancy (Wilcox et al., 2001).

In truth, though, this varies depending on the day of her cycle on which intercourse occurs: “the probability of conception is negligible during the first three days. By day 7, the likelihood of pregnancy with intercourse is nearly 2 percent. This rises to a peak of nearly 9 percent on day 13. This probability declines thereafter but remains around 1 percent as late as day 40 and beyond” (Wilcox et al., 2001).

She’s Not Going to Get Pregnant if We Just Do It This Once

These may seem like pretty low odds, but the researchers warn that they don’t mean much for any individual woman. First, these rates don’t apply well to adolescents, women who are approaching menopause, women who have less regular cycles, and women who have lower fertility rates. Moreover, they don’t take into account other factors that impact fertility such as smoking, history of genital infections, and her partner’s fertility.

They conclude: For these reasons, the pregnancy probabilities shown here also provide poor estimates for any individual woman. For a given woman, it would be more useful to know the probability, on any particular day of her cycle, that she is within the 6 days of her fertile window.

Plus, we have some other statistics we would like you to consider. First, we think you should know that about half of all pregnancies each year in the United States (adults and adolescents included) are unintended. This means the couples were not trying to get pregnant when they did. Think about that. If half of the couples who get pregnant weren’t trying to, accidental pregnancies clearly happen a lot.

In fact, out of 100 couples who use no form of contraception, 85 of them will become pregnant within the course of the first year. Compare that with 18 out of 100 couples who use condoms; nine who use the pill, patch, or ring; six who use the shot; and less than one who use either the IUD or the implant (Trussell, 2011). These are all based on typical use rates which include couples who use the method incorrectly or forget to use it at all when they have sex which means that if they followed instructions better they would have even less chance of getting pregnant in the first year of use.

Finally, Some Common Sense
Now we want you to think back to high school. The thing that biology, math, and statistics have in common is that there are pretty much right answers and wrong answers. If you didn’t study for those tests many (if not most of you) would have gotten wrong answers whether you took the test with pencil or pen and if you don’t use contraception 85% of you will get pregnant the first year whether you do it in a bed, on the floor, or upside down on the ice.

The chance of getting pregnant does not change whether it’s the first time or the 500th. Yes, heat lowers sperm count over the long term but pregnancy can happen in hot water (Shefi et al., 2007). Mountain Dew has no magic power over sperm (Pollock, 1999). Douching after sex would actually help sperm swim upstream, and we would be worried that douching with a highly sugary beverage might also lead to a yeast infection.

She’s Not Going to Get Pregnant if We Just Do It This Once
She’s Not Going to Get Pregnant if We Just Do It This Once
She’s Not Going to Get Pregnant if We Just Do It This Once

So let’s stop with the excuses, they’re all pretty silly and they’re just not true. More importantly, right now there are so many methods of contraception on the market that everyone (and every couple) can find at least one that works for them. There is no reason that anyone should get pregnant unless that’s what they’re trying to do. (Reread this when you are trying to get pregnant, and you’ll see some useful tips about the best times of the month to have sex.)

Also, let’s not forget that unless you are in a relationship that you know to be mutually monogamous (as in no one is having sex with anyone else) and you and your partner are known to be free of any STIs (as in you have both been recently tested), you are at risk for STIs and should also consider using condoms for protection.

You may also like to read:

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alcohol sex are harmless combination

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