How’s Your Sex Life?

Great Sex Matters When You’re Trying to Conceive

By Jane Merrill “And as his seed sprang in her, his soul sprang towards her too, in the creative act that is far more than procreative.”

– D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Good sex makes likely conception is widespread in folklore, as is the idea a woman potentially knows very soon after intercourse if she’s conceived – much sooner than could be verified by objective tests.

Most people in the medical field are completely skeptical, but consider the perspective of an expert on sexual health at the top of his profession, Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, Harvard Medical School professor and author of The Viagra Myth (Jossey-Bass, September 2003). “Biologically, the whole purpose of good sex as we know it is to make the chances of pregnancy increase,” he says. “We know for a fact that women do not need to have an orgasm to become pregnant. However, when a man goes for semen analysis, if he obtains a semen sample during sex, it will be far better than in the lab washroom. This indicates clearly on the man’s side that men do have considerably greater amounts of fluid ejaculated when they are more aroused.”

Circumstantial evidence seems to point to the idea that you are more likely to get pregnant if you feel the sex. Ask your gynecologist if the quality of sex relates to conception and you’ll probably hit a steel wall, as I did initially, researching this topic. A candid doctor acquaintance of mine who has delivered thousands of babies in my town said merely, “It would be nice.” In the end, doctors talked to me about everything from timing, ovular temperature and menstrual cycles to egg meets sperm in the fallopian tubes.


According to The Yale Guide to Women’s Reproductive Health (Yale University Press, May 2003), 15 percent of infertile couples are diagnosed with unexplained fertility, to which sexual dysfunction is a contributor. The authors recommend copious sex. Every other day is good, as more than once a day lowers the sperm count. Sperm count is high for Orthodox Jews, who have many children because the wife abstains for the first 12 days of her cycle and then intercourse is prescribed.

Evidence-based medicine would discredit the idea of building up lust. However, a study of a group that waits and then enjoys spontaneous, passionate coupling, versus the “Come sperm donor; do your thing” scenario would be very interesting, as the results would acknowledge the role of enjoyment and high-intensity orgasms in getting the woman pregnant.


Can sexual position help? From India comes indigenous medical manuals that say yes – not Kama Sutra twists but just some gentle hydraulics.

Getting me pregnant took my first husband 10 years. The month we were giving it one last try was when I conceived. Knowing we were about to call it quits, our fertility specialist imparted some extra advice. We should get into the sexual act as heartily as possible, despite its being on command, and I should prop myself up on a pillow, with my legs raised, for at least five minutes after receiving the sperm.


In the 1970s, a Japanese doctor of traditional medicine, a housekeeper in Iran and a professor of endocrinology at Harvard Medical School all gave me the same advice. Had I listened, I might have saved myself from some harrowing circumstances. The Japanese doctor, a celebrity of alternative macrobiotic diet, examined my eyes and fingernails and asked about my diet, exercise and sex life. To warm up my hormones, he prescribed a daily appetizer of spicy umabashi plum. I tried it once but scoffed. Living in Iran, I tasted the torshi, a hot pickle the housekeeper made, but forgot to take it consistently.

Once, as a patient at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital under the care of an endocrinologist associate with Harvard Medical School, we attempted to trace the cause of my infertility. This doctor said I could have children. He said something like, “But you must ripen like a juicy tomato.” He advised a lot of slow touching and massage of my partner. The concept of heating up my inner fires seemed hopelessly indirect.

Fast forward to the late 80s. The conception of Julia, following a cozy Thanksgiving afternoon that included turkey, pecan pie and a bit of frolicking, surprised quite a number of us – all except my Aunt Bernice, who confided that she finally had my cousin (her only child) at 40 by following the doctor’s counsels: Hot baths, bedtime hot cocoa and waiting under warm quilts for my uncle to come to bed and embrace her.

In D.H. Lawrence’s story The Sun, a Manhattan doctor tells a man to take his wife on a sun cure. The couple has a child and would like another. Once the woman, Juliet, feels the sun inside her breasts, a change takes place. “Her heart, that anxious, straining heart, had disappeared altogether, like a flower that falls in the sun, and leaves only a ripe seed-case … Something deep inside her unfolded and relaxed, and she was given. By some mysterious power inside her, deeper than her known consciousness and will, she was put into connection with the sun, and the stream flowed of itself, from her womb. She herself, her conscious self, was secondary, a secondary person, almost an onlooker. The true Juliet was this dark flow from her deep body to the sun.”

Relaxed Mood

Doctors have traditionally told women who want to get pregnant to relax. Since intoxicating sex relaxes, there may be a connection between body, mind and conception.

According to far Eastern philosophy, if you clear your mind, your soma (body) performs better. It follows then that feeling primed, sexual and concentrated in the sexual act can promote the conception of a child. For instance, traditional Chinese sexologists claimed a woman’s sexual response was a big factor, saying her sexual satisfaction was considered an objective condition for timely conception and healthy offspring.

Stress is like spermocide! The holistic medicine authorities say it’s a matter of the man and woman getting in tune. The woman’s cycle is the moon; the man’s cycle is the sun. The woman has inner tides; the man rises and sets, producing sperm on a daily basis. Sex and intimacy bring the cycles into harmony. “Stress is the big deterrent of mood,” says Dr. Wei Huang of Arogya Holistic Healing in Connecticut. “If the parents are stressful, so is the pregnancy.”

Great Sex

“For him it is All ashore! For me it is Out to sea!”

– D.H.L.

Great sex seems to release any stagnant energy and opens you to a flowing energy that will transcend into life. The good feeling is a saving power that enhances the pathways of your body. “When someone is stressed out it takes away from the whole experience,” says Dr. Wei Huang. “This is a natural experience. Intercourse has to partake of the whole flow. And the women are counting dates!”

Intoxicating sex is an incomparable, invisible energy exchange of you and your partner, part of what the French describe well as la vie du couple or the life of the couple.

“Today we make it so complicated,” says Dr. Wei Huang. “Each step of the continuum – intercourse, getting pregnant, staying pregnant – has a responsibility and a flow. To avoid defects in the process or the child, work on your lifestyle. Align all dimensions: physical, sexual, psychological, financial. Prepare 100 percent. Intercourse in the spirit of giving rejuvenates energy rather than depletes it.”

But does the mother’s sex life during pregnancy affect the baby like a sprightly lullaby or a baleful aria? I consulted Dr. David Sable, director of reproductive endocrinology at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., where infertile people from all over the world come for high-tech healing.

“Can we boil down the quality of sex to what will impregnate? No,” he says. “And if anybody figures out the formula for attraction and arousal, I don’t want to know. Let’s keep the mystery. Note how sex thrives throughout the pregnancy for many couples. The biological duty is done, yet there is a continuance of pleasure. Except in the unusual event of bleeding in the uterine lining, there is no reason to abstain. I emphasize that pregnancy loss is embedded in the embryo. Pregnancies are hardy things.”

“Whether or not we find what we are seeking is idle, biologically speaking,” writes poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. She seems to be speaking for what medicine knows not, but what Dr. Morgentaler suggests and hopes may be known in the future.

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