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 Lunar Calendar, 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.
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.
To take advantage of sperm speed and staying power, the timing of intercourse plays a critical role in achieving the desired gender. To get a boy, Shettles advises couples to have sex as close to ovulation as possible. 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.
Prior to 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 basic 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 prior to 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.
To conceive their daughters, Bethany and her husband made love on the third and second days before she ovulated. 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.”
Bethany and her husband conceived their son, Camden, on the day she ovulated. 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, “We followed the instructions perfectly. We went to the end of the scale following the belief that girls [sperm] live longer and we had sex five days before ovulation.”
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.”