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Do sex positions or orgasms affect your chances of getting pregnant? Here’s what the science says

Do sex positions or orgasms affect your chances of getting pregnant? Here’s what the science says

6 min read

This article was last updated May 21, 2021.

There’s no shortage of sketchy, not-scientifically-informed info out there on things that might impact your chances of conception. We could write for months and still not dispel every myth that’s out there (unfortunately).

In this post, we’ll focus on three frequently cited myths about things that can impact conception:

Myth 1: Sex positions, and lying down after sex, affect your chances of conception.
Myth 2: Having an orgasm during sex makes conception more likely.
Myth 3: Masturbation causes infertility.

We’ll explain the reason the myths exist, the relevant scientific studies, the extent to which there might be any truth to them, and what can actually improve your chances of conception.

Myth 1: Sex position, and lying down after sex, affects your chances of conception

The reason the myth exists

This myth can be traced back to one of the many theories (some more dated than others) that scientists have historically suggested to hypothesize possible biological mechanisms involved in conception: the poleaxe hypothesis. The poleaxe hypothesis suggests it’s necessary for the person with ovaries to lie down on their back after sex in order for ejaculated sperm to travel up the vaginal canal to the egg. In this theory, the function of the female orgasm is to exhaust the person enough to rest in a prone position.

At its core, the myth that positions during and after sex can improve your chances of conception is based on the scientifically correct fact that for conception to happen, sperm needs to reach and fertilize an egg. Here's where things deviate:

  • Because some sex positions facilitate deeper penetration than others, the thinking is that certain positions could make conception more likely by getting sperm closer to that egg.
  • According to this myth, angling hips upward while lying down right after sex could also potentially make conception more likely by helping more sperm stay in the reproductive tract.  

The science

During ejaculation, sperm travels pretty fast — by some estimates, 200-inches-per-second-fast. Because sperm is able to travel so quickly on its own, it’s unlikely that getting it just a few millimeters closer to an egg would do much good: "Sperm are propelled with such force and in such high numbers that this simply doesn't pan out," says OB-GYN and Modern Fertility medical advisor Dr. Jenn Conti, MD, MS, MSc.

  • Regardless of sex position, sperm are able to make their way to the fallopian tubes (where eggs hang out during ovulation) within 15 minutes of ejaculation.
  • A 2017 committee opinion from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine emphasizes the fact that there’s little reason to believe in a link between sex positions and fertility without medical treatment.

Science also doesn’t overwhelmingly support the idea that lying down after sex has anything to do with your odds of conception:

  • While some studies have shown that lying down for 15 minutes after intrauterine insemination (IUI) increases the chances of conception, a 2017 meta-analysis on all published studies of this topic found that lying down post-IUI didn’t make much of a difference.
  • It’s important to remember that these sorts of studies performed in the context of IUI can’t necessarily be used to inform our understanding of what would happen during conception without treatment, and there haven’t been any systematic studies on whether position after sex in those contexts affects conception.

The takeaway: Do sex positions impact your chances of conception?

Science doesn’t support a relationship between your chances of conceiving and your positions during sex or your positions after it. Our take? Do whatever keeps things feeling comfortable and fun.

Myth 2: Having an orgasm during sex helps conception

The reason the myth exists

Lots of things happen to your body during an orgasm — your heart rate and blood pressure go up, your brain releases hormones like oxytocin that make you feel warm and fuzzy, and the muscles of your pelvic floor contract, among other things. The idea that having an orgasm during sex makes conception more likely comes from thinking that the pelvic contractions experienced during an orgasm help draw in and retain sperm within the reproductive tract, and make it more likely that egg and sperm will meet.

Like the first myth we broke down, this one also builds on an old theory called the upsuck hypothesis. This hypothesis focuses on the uterine contractions that accompany the female orgasm, and suggests that orgasm helps sperm move through the fallopian tubes to reach the egg (hence its name). This theory claims that the ultimate function of the female orgasm is “sperm retention,” or holding on to the ejaculate near the cervix.

The science

Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for pelvic floor contractions during orgasm (and also for contractions during labor!), and studies have experimentally administered oxytocin to women and looked at how sperm-like fluids move throughout the reproductive tract:

  • Some early studies found that experimentally administering oxytocin to women increased the amount of sperm-like fluid that was transported to the fallopian tubes — meaning, since orgasm increases oxytocin, orgasm could then make sperm transport faster and conception more likely.
  • But one not-so-small problem: The doses of oxytocin administered in this study lead to levels of oxytocin in the body that were up to *sixty times higher* than oxytocin levels post-orgasm, meaning we have no clue what the effect of oxytocin at normal, post-orgasm levels is.
  • Dr. Conti has a simple way of framing the truth about this myth: "How can the same contraction that functions to push out a baby simultaneously function to suck in sperm?"

Still, scientists aren’t completely putting this idea to rest just yet. There are review articles, book chapters, and pop-sci books being written to try and understand what role, if any, the female orgasm plays in reproduction.

One more thing: Orgasms during pregnancy aren't scientifically shown to trigger labor either. "Have all the orgasms you want while pregnant — as long as you aren't bleeding or in preterm labor," says Dr. Conti.

The takeaway: Do orgasms impact your chances of conception?

Based on the evidence that’s out there right now, science doesn’t support a relationship between your chances of conceiving and how often you have orgasms during sex. Our take? Have as many or as few orgasms as you want, without worrying about what it’ll do to your chances of getting pregnant.

Myth 3: Female masturbation can cause infertility.

The reason the myth exists

Masturbation has been historically and culturally associated with shame, which may be why there are several long-standing myths to try and stop people from engaging in male and female masturbation. One of these myths suggests that female masturbation can cause infertility.

The science

As is the case with most masturbation myths, researchers haven't found a scientific basis for supposed “dangers” of masturbation in terms of fertility.

"There's no physiologically plausible way that an orgasm, the involuntary contracting of the uterus during sex, would cause infertility because it has no lasting effect on hormone production or your anatomy," explains Dr. Conti. "If this myth held true, the contractions during labor — which are way stronger and longer lasting than those with orgasm — would make someone infertile, and they clearly do not."

The takeaway: Does masturbation impact conception?

Female masturbation has no direct relation to conception or pregnancy rates. But it can be a form of sexual expression and exploration that connects you with your body — and maybe even helps you enjoy sex with a partner more.

What *does* increase your chances of conceiving, then?

When it comes to conceiving with a partner, rather than pressuring yourself to set orgasm goals or obsess over certain positions, prioritize steps you can take to make the process more relaxing, supportive, and fun for both of you. Intimacy and trust with your partner are key.

There are some things you can do that science does say will promote your odds of conception — like timing when in your cycle you have sex by tracking ovulation, taking ovulation-inducing meds, and monitoring nutrition and exercise.

If you experience fertility issues, rather than trying a new sex position to try to conceive, speak with your healthcare provider. In the meantime, if you want to better understand your reproductive health, the Modern Fertility Hormone Test is here to bring you insight into your fertility today and help you see how it's changing over time — and our Ovulation Test can help you understand the ins and outs of your cycle whether you're trying for kids or just curious about your body's patterns.

This article has been reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Conti, MD, MS, MSc.

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Talia Shirazi, PhD

Talia is a clinical product scientist at Modern Fertility. She's passionate about reproductive health + behavioral neuroendocrinology. Talia received her PhD in biological anthropology at Penn State.

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