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.”
The Whelan Method
In Boy or Girl?, a lesser-known book on low-tech gender selection, author Elizabeth Whelan details a method that directly contradicts Shettles’ theories. Basing her technique on the research of Dr. Rodrigo Guerrero of Colombia, Whelan states that Shettles’ approach to timing intercourse only applies to couples undergoing artificial insemination.
She explains that for those partners conceiving the old-fashioned way, intercourse timed closer to ovulation is likelier to result in a girl, and having sex earlier in the cycle will favor boy conception. Further, Whelan promises a lower success rate than Shettles—68 percent for boys and 57 percent for girls.
Dr. Shettles devotes several pages of his book to attacking Whelan’s theories. He even includes a letter written by a woman who takes Whelan to task and touts Shettles’ techniques as superior. Shettles maintains that Whelan’s book “has fallen into merciful obsolescence because it is based upon assumptions that are sometimes absurd and sometimes self-contradicting.”
Does the Whelan Method Work?
Judging the accuracy of Whelan’s book is difficult in part because fewer couples use her approach. And Shettles isn’t the only person to critique his rival. Madeleine states that after reading both books, “Whelan made no scientific sense to me so we went with Shettles.”
However, Kate* says she conceived the girl she wanted using Whelan’s method. Referring to Boy or Girl?, Kate says, “I read [the book] and tried to use as much as I could follow.”
Environmental Effects on Gender
Dr. Mark Moore, an anesthesiologist from Tallahassee, Florida, and his wife, Lisa Moore, a registered nurse, explain their method of gender selection in their book, Baby Girl or Baby Boy: Determining the Sex of Your Child. The book details some practices that are generally believed to increase a couple’s chances of influencing the gender of their baby. While there are no guarantees, Dr. Moore estimates that, if it’s followed correctly, it has a statistical probability of working 80 percent of the time.
Dr. Moore’s method is similar to the method developed by Dr. Shettles, but Dr. Moore has “tweaked” it to take advantage of recent discoveries in the environmental and behavioral science of conception.
Ways to Influence Boy or Girl Gender
Here are some of the ways Dr. Moore says will maximize a couple’s chances of conceiving a girl or a boy.
Baby Boy: For a baby boy, the Y sperm need to be more plentiful and to make their way to the egg easier and faster.
- Avoid sexual activity for three to four days before the calculated ovulation date.
- No hot tubs or hot baths for the man at least one week before this time. He should also avoid wearing briefs.
- Have intercourse one time only on the ovulation date. Use condoms for any subsequent sexual activity.
- The man should drink coffee or caffeinated soda two hours before sex; this increases sperm counts.
- After sex, the woman should lie still for 20 minutes.
- Avoid artificial lubricants.
Baby Girl: For a baby girl, the X sperm need to be more plentiful.
- To lower the sperm count, have frequent intercourse on days 5 through 8 of the woman’s cycle.
- On days 9, 10, and 11, have daily intercourse.
- The sexual position should be face to face.
- Avoid artificial lubricants.
- No sex on days 12, 13, or 14, or for at least two days after ovulation, except with condoms.
Dr. Moore also notes in his book that selecting a child’s gender shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but he thinks using his methods make trying that much more fun.
What Moms Say About Gender Selection
Considering that influencing the gender of one’s child is sometimes viewed as playing God, it’s interesting to note that each of the three women interviewed for this article is religious. While Kate and Bethany say that they would draw the line at high-tech sex selection methods, Madeleine responds that she and her husband are thinking about sperm-spinning to conceive a girl.
All three women appear to have reached a healthy balance between taking a proactive stance toward gender selection and at the same time appreciating the singular gifts that a baby of either sex brings.
When asked what advice she would give to couples contemplating any form of gender selection, Bethany puts an insightful spin on the issue of choice: “Be happy with either sex. You will get the child that has chosen you.”
* Last name withheld to protect privacy.