All we want is a healthy baby.
Although this wish tops every pregnant woman’s list, many moms-to-be harbor a secret, or not-so-secret, desire for a boy or a girl.
At some fertility clinics, high-tech sperm-spinning can yield the preferred gender up to 90 percent of the time. But for couples who can’t afford this pricey procedure or who shudder at the idea of “playing God,” employing one of the more natural sex selection methods may help them get the baby they want inexpensively, without stepping on Mother Nature’s toes.
Old Wives’ Tales
Folklore is full of creative, often wacky, suggestions for choosing a baby’s sex. According to the Old Wives, women should eat meat and salty food to get a boy or splurge on desserts to get a girl. Couples supposedly are more likely to conceive sons if they make love standing up or when there’s a quarter moon. Conversely, daughters are in the picture if partners use the missionary position or have sex during a full moon.
The Chinese conception chart, which has been around for some 700 years, tells women what dates will result in boy or girl conceptions based on the mother’s age and the month of conception.
These methods are entertaining to read about and, in some cases, to practice, but none has any legitimate scientific merit. For example, going by the Chinese conception chart, this writer’s son should have been a daughter.
The Shettles Method
In the early 1960s, Dr. Landrum B. Shettles published a groundbreaking report on the distinctive characteristics of Y-bearing (boy-producing) and X-bearing (girl-producing) sperm. He asserted that the Y sperm are lighter in weight, swim faster, but die sooner; the X sperm are heavier, swim slower, but live longer. Shettles expanded this central thesis into a low-tech method of gender selection. His resulting book, How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby, co-written by David M. Rorvik, was first published in 1970 and since has become the sex-selection bible for couples interested in non-invasive, low-tech family planning techniques. In the 1997 edition, Shettles claims a conservative 75 percent success rate for partners who employ his method scrupulously.
To take advantage of sperm speed and staying power, the timing of intercourse plays a critical role in achieving the desired gender. Shettles advises couples to have sex as close to ovulation as possible to get a boy. During ovulation, a woman’s vaginal and cervical fluids become alkaline, a condition that makes conception more favorable for either sperm, but especially for the less hearty Y sperm. And because the Y sperm move quicker than the female-producing sperm, they are more likely to win the race to the egg. Before and following ovulation, vaginal and cervical secretions are acidic. If intercourse occurs under these conditions, the heartier X sperm are more apt to survive in the reproductive tract for a couple of days until the egg arrives.
Because many women don’t know when they’re ovulating, Shettles suggests they track several cycles to observe their body’s signals before attempting conception. By checking the condition of her cervical mucus (CM), also known as cervical fluid (CF), and tracking her basal body temperature (BBT) for a few months, a woman should be able to pinpoint the day of ovulation and the fertile days leading up to it.
Ovulation kits available in pharmacies also can determine when a woman is ovulating, but these kits are expensive and may not be accurate for women with irregular cycles.
How to Get a “Shettles Girl”
According to Shettles, girls are harder to come by than boys. Couples need to be patient; conceiving a girl may take several months. The reason for this is that partners trying for a daughter need to stop having sex at least two days before ovulation, so more X sperm than Y sperm will be around to meet the egg. Even though the Xs have better-staying power, it’s tougher (but not impossible) for either sperm to last more than a few days. That said, the primary method to conceive a girl is this:
Immediately after a woman’s menstrual period ends, she and her partner should have intercourse frequently (at least every other day) until 48 hours before ovulation. Shettles stresses that continuing to have sex beyond this point diminishes the chances of getting a girl.
How to Get a “Shettles Boy”
In a nutshell, couples hoping for a boy should do the following:
Either abstain from sex or use condoms until four days before ovulation. After this point, abstain entirely until 12 hours before ovulation; this sexual respite acts to boost a man’s sperm count, a condition that Shettles maintains favors male sperm. During the 12-hour ovulatory window, a couple should have sex, preferably just once. After this, partners must use condoms if they have intercourse again in the next several days.
Does the Shettles Method Really Work?
Bethany, a 30-year-old homemaker in Illinois, could be the Shettles Method Poster Mom. Bethany and her husband assiduously followed the techniques outlined in Shettles’ book when they conceived each of their five children. With four out of the five, they got pregnant on the first try; only one baby took two months to conceive. And most impressive, this couple achieved the desired gender with all of their kids: Lindsey, Hayley, Makenna, Camden (the only boy), and Amrin.
Bethany and her husband made love on the third and second days before she ovulated to conceive their daughters. They also used the missionary position, which Shettles asserts “makes it less likely that the sperm will be deposited directly near the opening of the cervix, where the secretions are most alkaline and would thus favor the male-producing sperm.”
In the 1997 edition of his book, Shettles discounts his previously recommended “girl” tip of douching with vinegar and water. However, Bethany used this acidic combination when she conceived her girls. While it’s unclear if the douching helped, it obviously didn’t hurt.
On the day she ovulated, Bethany and her husband conceived their son, Camden. They used the “rear-entry” position, which Shettles maintains places the sperm closest to the cervix, where the secretions are the most alkaline and thus boy-producing. To boost the alkaline content of her fluids even further, Bethany douched with baking soda and water.
When asked how she feels about having employed Shettles’ somewhat rigorous techniques, Bethany gives her conception experience a big thumbs-up. “It was not intrusive – more fun than anything. You just have to keep in mind that it really does not matter what you get. Love them no matter what.”
However, not every couple is as successful using the Shettles Method as Bethany and her husband. Referring to her Shettles attempt to get a girl, Madeleine*, a 36-year-old mom of four, says this:
“We followed the instructions perfectly. We went to the end of the scale following the belief that girls live longer and we had sex five days before ovulation, [resulting in conception].”
But the girl that Madeleine was trying for turned out to be a boy. Although Madeleine initially felt sad that her daughter would not realize her dream of having a little sister, she stresses that “the minute I saw my son I fell in love and I know he was sent to us for a very special reason.”
The Whelan Method
In Boy or Girl?, a lesser-known book on low-tech gender selection, author Elizabeth Whelan, Sc.D., details a method that directly contradicts Shettles’ theories. Basing her technique on the research of Dr. Rodrigo Guerrero of Colombia, Whelan states that Shettles’ approach to timing intercourse only applies to couples undergoing artificial insemination.
She explains that for those partners conceiving the old-fashioned way, intercourse timed closer to ovulation is likelier to result in a girl, and having sex earlier in the cycle will favor boy conception. Further, Whelan promises a lower success rate than Shettles: 68 percent for boys and 57 percent for girls.
Dr. Shettles devotes several pages of his book to attacking Whelan’s theories. He even includes a letter written by a woman who takes Whelan to task and touts Shettles’ techniques as superior. Shettles maintains that Whelan’s book “has fallen into merciful obsolescence because it is based upon assumptions that are sometimes absurd and sometimes self-contradicting.”
Does the Whelan Method Work?
Judging the accuracy of Whelan’s book is difficult in part because fewer couples use her approach. And Shettles isn’t the only person to critique his rival. Madeleine states that after reading both books, “Whelan made no scientific sense to me, so we went with Shettles.”
However, Kate* says she conceived the girl she wanted using Whelan’s method. Referring to Boy or Girl?, Kate says, “I read [the book] and tried to use as much as I could follow.”
What Moms Say About Gender Selection
Considering that influencing the gender of one’s child is sometimes viewed as playing God, it’s interesting to note that each of the three women interviewed for this article is religious. While Kate and Bethany say that they would draw the line at high-tech sex selection methods, Madeleine responds that she and her husband are thinking about sperm-spinning to conceive a girl.
All three women appear to have reached a healthy balance between taking a proactive stance toward gender selection and at the same time appreciating the singular gifts that a baby of either sex brings.
When asked what advice she would give to couples contemplating any form of gender selection, Bethany puts an insightful spin on the issue of choice: “Be happy with either sex. You will get the child that has chosen you.”