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There is no question that fertility decreases steadily with age. While you'll have, on average, a 20 percent chance of conceiving during any one menstrual cycle at age 30, those per-cycle odds will have gone down to five percent by age 40.

Age, as we can see, plays an important role in fertility. Even in your twenties, however, there is more to getting pregnant than simply deciding not to use birth control any more. These factors can roughly be separated into two categories: getting the timing of intercourse right, and taking care of your health (something that holds true for both partners).

Trying To Conceive: Making Sure You Get Your Timing Right

In order to have a good chance of conceiving during any one cycle, you need to have sex during ovulation or the days leading up to it. It really is that simple. Once released, an egg is viable for 12 to 24 hours. If it is not fertilized, you don't get pregnant that cycle.

Some couples prefer to determine when the female partner ovulates or will ovulate, either roughly or precisely. They have many methods at their disposal:

  • Ovulation tests, which like home pregnancy tests react to a hormone in the urine, this time Luteinizing Hormone (LH). Ovulation tests can tell you when you are ovulating during this cycle, as well as give you a rough idea of the cycle day on which you tend to ovulate for the future.
  • Ovulation calendars, rough tools that help you predict the timing of ovulation. Though mostly online now, you can easily make your own if you have a predictable, regular menstrual cycle. Take the date on which your last period began, add the number of days an average cycle lasts for you, and subtract 14 days. You will now get the date on which you are most likely to ovulate, as the post-ovulation stage of the menstrual cycle, the luteal phase, lasts an average of 14 days in women regardless of cycle length. (Averages do not mean this will really be true for you, of course!)
  • Mucus testing, during which you physically examine your cervical mucus. "Egg white", stretchy, mucus indicates that you are in your fertile window.
  • Charting your temperature involves taking your basal body temperature (in a state of rest) each morning. An increase in temperature of between 0.4 and one degree Fahrenheit indicates ovulation.

Some couples, however, prefer not to turn their sex life into a chore by subjecting their desire for closeness to the clock. If this is you, realize that the idea that you can have too much sex has been disproven now. Having intercourse every single day actually gives you a slightly higher chance of pregnancy than having sex every other day.

Health Changes Couples Trying To Conceive Should Make

Being at a healthy weight optimizes your fertility, while smoking is detrimental to both male and female fertility. Heavy drinking and drug use can also decrease your fertility. Meanwhile, taking a folate supplement decreases the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects in unborn babies, while a healthy and balanced diet promotes fertility and sets you up for a healthy pregnancy.

And If You Don't Want To Be Pregnant?

SteadyHealth frequently receives questions from young women and men who are wondering how likely their relations are to have led to a pregnancy. Especially for these members of our community, I would like to make it clear that the following acts are highly unlikely to lead to pregnancy:

  • Dry humping, especially if you both had your clothes on
  • Manual and oral stimulation
  • Kissing
  • Anal intercourse

In order to get pregnant, sperm and egg need to come together, something that doesn't just require the female partner to be in her fertile window, but also depends on sperm reaching her reproductive tract in the first place. Now, mutual masturbation could, technically, create a pregnancy depending on the exact mechanics, but it's highly unlikely.

A special note on the pull-out method: it's not fail-safe if you want to prevent a pregnancy, but let's just say that couples who are actively trying to conceive will not want to engage in this kind of sex. If you practiced withdrawal and are now wondering whether a pregnancy could have resulted, the answer is yes, but depending on when the pull-out occurred, it's again not very likely.

Couples who do not want to become pregnant should, however, ideally look for a birth control method that works well. A combination of a hormonal contraceptive such as the birth control pill or Nexplanon AND condoms is best, as the latter also help protect against sexually transmitted diseases — and of course, many of the same activities that don't lead to pregnancy can indeed cause those.

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