Timed intercourse: can it help you get pregnant?

A blog about timed intercourse for those who are trying to get pregnant, with evidence and resources.

Page originally published: 20 March 2015. Revised and republished: 03 August 2022 to include the latest Cochrane evidence, NICE guidance, resources and take-home points.

Take-home points

Timed intercourse involves predicting ovulation (egg release) and having vaginal sex during the 'fertile period' of about five days before ovulation and a few hours afterwards, to increase the chance of pregnancy. Timed intercourse may improve pregnancy rates compared to intercourse without ovulation prediction, but this isn’t certain - the evidence isn’t very good. There is also uncertainty about how timed intercourse compares with intra-uterine insemination for improving the chances of having a baby, and without an unacceptable increase in the chance of having a multiple pregnancy, in couples with unexplained infertility. NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) says that having vaginal sex every two to three days gives people the best chance of getting pregnant. 

It can be hard, wanting to get pregnant and finding it’s not happening – or not as quickly as you’d like. Eight in ten couples in the general population will conceive within a year, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), if the woman is under 40 years old and they have regular vaginal sex without using contraception. Of the two couples that don’t get pregnant in the first year, one will conceive in the second year. NICE also says that having vaginal sex every two to three days gives you the best chance of getting pregnant.

What is timed intercourse?

It’s only possible to conceive during the ‘fertile period’ of about five days before ovulation (the release of the egg) and a few hours afterwards. Many people practice ‘timed intercourse’ by predicting ovulation and having sex during the fertile period in the hope of conceiving.

Ways of predicting ovulation include measuring hormones in urine, taking your temperature and having ultrasound scans.

How well does it work and are there any down-sides?

Although timed intercourse has the potential to help people get pregnant naturally and avoid medical intervention, prediction methods can be time consuming, expensive and stressful.

A team from Cochrane looked at the evidence on Timed intercourse for couples trying to conceive (published March 2015) to see what research studies can tell us about the benefits and risks of ovulation prediction methods for timing intercourse to increase the chance of pregnancy. They wanted to know its effects on pregnancy rates but also whether it has negative effects on quality of life, stress levels and so on.

They found five studies but there were results available for only four, with 1387 women or couples. They compared timed intercourse with intercourse without ovulation prediction.

Here’s what they found:

They found that timed intercourse may improve pregnancy rates compared to intercourse without ovulation prediction, but they can’t be sure – the evidence isn’t very good.

One study reported on live births but was too small to draw any conclusions.

One study reported no evidence of a difference in stress levels between those who had timed intercourse and those who didn’t. This was the only one to report on any harm.

The review authors say: “while a small benefit for timed intercourse, without additional stress, cannot be excluded, the use of ovulation prediction methods to guide timed intercourse to achieve clinical pregnancy or live birth remains uncertain“.

More and better research may change the results, or at least our confidence in them. Let’s hope that more and better research is being done – and will be reported. It’s also very frustrating that the largest study, with 1453 people, has never been published and the review authors couldn’t get the results to put into this review.

How does timed intercourse compare with intra-uterine insemination (IUI)?

Intra-uterine insemination (IUI) is often used as a treatment for couples with unexplained subfertility. It involves choosing the best quality sperm and putting these into the womb. Doctors and researchers are still trying to find out if IUI is better than timed intercourse for these couples for improving the chances of having a baby.

The authors of a Cochrane ReviewIntra-uterine insemination for unexplained subfertility (published March 2020) looked at the evidence for this. They found that, in couples with unexplained subfertility, it’s uncertain how IUI and timed intercourse compare (whether or not drugs are used to stimulate the ovaries) in terms of improving the chances of having a baby and without an unacceptable increase in the chance of having a multiple pregnancy.

Find out more

References (pdf)

Join in the conversation on Twitter with @CochraneUK @SarahChapman30 or leave a comment on the blog. 

Please note, we cannot give specific medical advice and do not publish comments that link to individual pages requesting donations or to commercial sites, or appear to endorse commercial products. We welcome diverse views and encourage discussion but we ask that comments are respectful and reserve the right to not publish any we consider offensive. Cochrane UK does not fact-check – or endorse – readers’ comments, including any treatments mentioned.

Sarah Chapman has nothing to disclose.


Timed intercourse: can it help you get pregnant? by Sarah Chapman

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

1 Comments on this post

  1. I read the article with great interest, it is nicely written and I appreciate that information from multiple studies is summarised in a review to obtain a better evidence of the findings. However, the article is missing a crucial information. The author points out a problem / potential inaccuracy of Ovulation tests. What is the finding about this? Why is the test not accurate? What is a better timing? This would be crucial helpful information for readers of this article.

    Carlina / Reply

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