Whether you’re attempting to get pregnant or attempting not to, knowing the times of the month when you’re most likely to conceive can be incredibly important. If we’re honest, many of us only have a basic understanding of how pregnancy and our monthly cycles actually work.
For instance, you may know that ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovaries down the fallopian tubes) happens after you’ve had your period. You may also know that ovulation is the only time in which you can get pregnant. Knowing this, it would make sense that you shouldn’t be able to get pregnant if you have sex during your period, right?
Well, not quite. As we’re going to see, you technically can get pregnant if you have sex while you are on your period. It’s not very likely, but never say never!
One of the most empowering things you can do to take control of your amazing body, fertility cycles, and pregnancy opportunities (or risks--depending on your goals) is to learn about your cycles and how fertility works.
So stick around as we set the “exactly-how-does-pregnancy-happen” record straight so that you can begin to navigate your cycles and your sex life confidently!
Rael is your go-to source for holistic period and skincare, and in this article, we’ll not only cover how pregnancy happens (after the sex part, of course -- we’ll save that for another day), but also when during your cycle it can happen. We’ll also cover some methods of holistic contraception and period care.
How Does Getting Pregnant Work?
Obviously, sex is involved, but that’s the easy (fun?) part! For you to become pregnant, your partner’s sperm must fertilize the egg you release during your monthly cycle. This is the stage called ovulation. Typically, you will only release one egg each month. Your partner will release millions of sperm with each ejaculation.
Eggs get fertilized by sperm after your ovaries have released them. If an egg hasn’t been released, the sperm have nothing to fertilize, and pregnancy does not occur.
Whether you're trying to get pregnant or not get pregnant, it’s essential to know when you're most fertile (i.e. when your egg is released and the window of time it’s most viable for fertilization). This is called your fertility window.
Your Monthly Cycle Explained
What you commonly refer to as “your period,” is really a constant, ongoing cycle that you’ll have for about forty years of your life. It makes sense to get to know it a bit!
- How long is your cycle? Your monthly cycle is the length of time between the first day of your period until the first day of your next month’s period. The average length of time for a period is 28 days. However, just as every woman is unique, so is her period. Your period may have a longer or shorter monthly cycle than the more typical 28 days. It can also vary from month to month, keeping you on your toes!
What happens during a full cycle? During your monthly cycle, ovulation occurs, which is when your ovary releases an egg to potentially be fertilized. In preparation for ovulation, the lining of the uterus thickens, so that a fertilized egg can implant.
When ovulation occurs, and your egg doesn't meet up with an eligible suitor (i.e. does not get fertilized by a sperm), the egg, uterine lining, and extra blood are shed. This shedding is what you know as your period. Because your period is the shedding of your egg, many people assume it’s not possible to get pregnant during this time. It's definitely not the most likely time to get pregnant, but the possibility remains, as we’ll explain in a minute.
When can you get pregnant during your cycle? You can only get pregnant during ovulation (i.e., when you’ve released an egg). However, there’s no precise way to know the exact day you ovulate unless you carefully follow the Fertility Awareness Method (also called FAM--but more on that in a minute).
Again, this is because every woman's cycle is different and can even vary month to month. Without following FAM, pinning down your exact day of ovulation is always a best guess.
If your cycle is usually between 28 to 30 days, your fertility window (the time when the egg is most likely to be released) is between days 11 and 21.
Pregnancy and Your Period Explained
If having your period means the egg was not fertilized, why is there still a chance of getting pregnant if you have sex while on your period? There are a few reasons for this….
- Once an egg is released, it can live up to 24 hours. Sperm, on the other hand, can live up to five days. If you have sex on the last day of your period, which we’ll call day 7, you are approaching your fertile window (days 11-21). That means sperm can actually still be active inside you when an egg is released.
- The dates are never exact. Even if your period is incredibly predictable, you can’t know for sure the exact day and hour you will ovulate without learning how to track your cycle through FAM. If you’re trying to avoid getting pregnant, it’s risky to have sex without contraception at any time during your monthly cycle.
If avoiding pregnancy is your goal but you’d also like a more holistic approach, the good news is you’ve got options.
Hormonal birth control is great for many people, but not for everyone. If you want to keep things non-hormonal, here’s a list of valid methods.
Fertility Awareness Method / Rhythm Method
Fertility Awareness Method is a time-honored tradition that, when used properly, can be an extremely effective form of birth control. It’s definitely the most natural as it uses only your own body’s signals (a combination of checking basal body temperature and cervical mucus daily). With this method, you can either avoid having sex during your fertile window or use an additional form of contraception (like a condom) at that time.
FAM is more involved than the rhythm method (also called calendar method), which only charts the days you are probably fertile based on the days in your cycle, without the extra measures of checking your body’s fertility signals. The rhythm method is much less reliable and isn’t generally a great solution to use to avoid pregnancy as it doesn’t pinpoint your exact day of ovulation. If using this method, it’s suggested that you use the calendar method along with an additional form of contraception if you do not want to become pregnant.
The withdrawal method, or “pulling out” refers to not allowing your partner to ejaculate inside of your vagina. When your partner nears climax, the penis is pulled out of the vagina before ejaculation.
It’s important to note that this is also not a foolproof method, and if you use it, your partner should make sure that ejaculation does not occur anywhere near your vaginal opening.
Condoms are likely the most popular form of non-hormonal contraception available. They’ve been used for centuries in one form or another, (goat’s bladder, anyone?). When used properly, condoms are between 95%-98% effective, depending on whether you use a female condom or male condom.
For a condom to be effective, it must be worn the entire time you are having sex. An added bonus of condoms is that they may offer protection against sexually transmitted diseases.
Non-hormonal Copper IUD
IUDs, or intrauterine devices, are small, flexible devices inserted inside the opening of the uterus. Some IUDs contain slow-release hormones. However, the copper IUD is hormone-free. It works by making the uterus a hostile environment for sperm and making it practically impossible for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterine wall.
A copper IUD is fitted in your doctor’s office and lasts up to ten years, and is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.
The sponge doesn’t have the same high percentages of effectiveness as other forms of non-hormonal birth control, making it one of the least popular options. However, it’s rate of effectiveness can increase if you use a male condom along with it.
The sponge is a small, spongy device filled with spermicide. It works by blocking sperm from entering the uterus and by slowing them down so they die before they would reach the egg.
Holistic Period Care
You know why you have your period and what it does, but sometimes, it can still feel like a hassle. Unless you plan on getting pregnant, you’ll continue to have your period month to month.
Using the right products during your period can help it seem like less of a drag.
Rael offers holistic, earth-friendly period care so you can have a happy period and a happy conscience. Here’s everything you need to have a better, stress-free period.
Our favorite right now is the Rael Menstrual Cup. Truly the ultimate in holistic, earth-friendly period care, our menstrual cup is a reusable, flexible cup that fits snugly inside your vagina. It’s comfortable, leak-proof, and totally forgettable for up to 12 hours.
Available in three different sizes depending on where you are in life, our menstrual cup is the stress-free answer for you and your period.
What is Ovulation? American Pregnancy Org
Withdrawal method (coitus interruptus) | Mayo Clinic
World Health Organization reference values for human semen characteristics*
Can You Get Pregnant on Your Period? | American Pregnancy Org
Natural Family Planning (NFP): Fertility Awareness Method :: American Pregnancy Association
Fertility Awareness-Based Methods of Family Planning | American College Of Obstetrics and Gynecologists
Basal Body Temperature Method | Cleveland Clinic
Rhythm Method | Cleveland Clinic