Timing is everything
ICYMI: You *can't* get pregnant just any old day. That long-ago sex-ed class may have left you thinking pregnancy could easily happen on any given day, but let's revisit: once per cycle (roughly once a month), a mature egg is released from what's called the dominant follicle (picture a fluid-filled sac in the ovary) and travels to the fallopian tube. That's where it can be fertilized by sperm for a pregnancy.
The mature egg only sticks around for a day or two if it isn't fertilized. But, sperm can live in the fallopian tubes for a few days, so it's ideal to have them ready and waiting for the egg to arrive. So how do you sync up that timing?
You’ll need to get a better understanding of what’s called your “fertile window” or “ovulation window.” Right before you ovulate, roughly midway through your cycle, there will be what's called an “LH surge.” That's when luteinizing hormones (LH) rise and the egg is released from the follicle. Similar to pregnancy tests, there are at-home ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) that can detect LH in your urine. You can also track your patterns on a calendar, via basal body temperature (you’ll need an ultra-precise thermometer and a consistent temp-taking schedule), or by monitoring your cervical mucus. Here, we break down what to look for—and what to do about it.
What kind of discharge am I supposed to be looking for when ovulating?
Did you know that you can monitor cervical mucus mid-cycle to help track ovulation? You can check toilet paper, your underwear or with a gentle sweep of a clean finger. But don’t check right after sex—it’s easy to confuse cervical mucus with arousal fluids. (Differentiating it from semen can take a bit of practice too.)
Here’s what to look for:
If your cervical mucus is dry or sticky: You’re not ovulating yet.
If your cervical mucus is creamy/lotion-y: Getting closer.
If your cervical mucus is clear, wet and stretchy: Ovulation is coming soon (right before ovulation, the consistency is similar to raw egg whites). This is a good time to get it on if you’re trying to conceive via intercourse. (If you never get the egg-white appearance, let your doctor know.)
Tracking cervical mucus might not work for everyone, but can be used in combination with other methods like basal body temperature, ovulation predictor kits or simple calendar-watching, too.
Can ovulation give you cramps?
Fun fact: It’s actually called "mittelschmerz pain,” which translates to middle pain—as in, pain in the middle of the cycle (when you ovulate). Sometimes it’s dull; sometimes, sharp. You’ll feel it on one side of your lower abdomen.
It’s estimated to be felt by about 20% of people with ovaries—but it might not be consistent every cycle. The cause of the pain is still a bit of a mystery, but the best guess is that it’s related to the dominant follicle (the 2- to 3-cm sac filled with fluid and an egg) rupturing. Other theories include follicle pressure or muscle contractions after your LH surge (the hormone spike that triggers ovulation).
If you’re trying to conceive via intercourse, ovulation cramping is another good cue to keep track of.
Should you have sex every day during your ovulation window?
It depends on how well you know your own ovulation window. There's only a 24- to 36-hour window to fertilize an egg post-ovulation, but sperm can stick around in the reproductive tract for days (and they get there within minutes). So, the recommendation is to start trying when you notice an LH surge, which means you're *about* to ovulate.
If you're a pro at tracking all of this and know you're two- to three-day fertile window, then sex every day for those couple days is a good call.
If you're using a calendar to time things out a bit more generally, sex every other day over the course of a week should do the trick without tiring you out.