School sex education of the 90s was full of awkward giggles, confused girls and a deep fear a slip of the condom or a missed pill would result in immediate pregnancy.
“I once received a message from a woman whose doctor had told her, “As a young woman, you’re so fertile you could get pregnant sitting on a warm bus seat.” Though ridiculous, this statement accurately describes how most young women view their fertility.” Lisa Hendrickson- Jack, FAE.
This begs the question, ‘how much are we taught about our bodies, and the way in which our cycle works, in early reproductive health education?’ Do we actually know enough about how to get pregnant, or only just enough about how not to get pregnant?
How much are we taught about the way our cycle works?
The fertile window
There’s a small period of time, known as the ‘fertile window’, when pregnancy is possible, as this is the only time in our cycle that we’re... fertile. In the simplest terms, we are only fertile for roughly 6 days each cycle (but in some cases, up to 9 days). Outside of this small window of fertility, pregnancy is just not possible.
Quick sex ed.
This window of time is centred around the 24 hour period we ovulate (when a mature egg is released from our ovary and travels down the fallopian tube). This egg lives in the fallopian tube for roughly 24 hours (but it’s worth allowing for a maximum total of 48 hours, in case a second egg is released in the same cycle. Rare, but possible). This egg needs to fertilise with sperm to result in an embryo. If it leaves the fallopian tube without meeting sperm, it’ll simply disintegrate and end up in our next period. And pregnancy is no longer possible in this cycle.
Timing is everything
Our cervical mucus, which appears before ovulation occurs (easy to spot if you’re looking out for it), helps keep sperm alive for roughly 5 days. So, if having unprotected sex 5 days before ovulation, sperm can stay active in the fallopian tube, ready and waiting to fertilise the egg. And this creates ‘the fertile window’.
Individualising itWe each have our own cycle, which can also vary from cycle to cycle, so identifying our fertile window can take some effort. The above is just a rough guide to get us started, but there are plenty of apps, courses, practitioners and methods out there to help identify each specific fertile window. And it all starts with knowing when we’re ovulating. If pursuing this knowledge path further, make sure to do your research, as not all approaches are created equal (more than half of fertility and period-tracker apps ineffective at predicting ovulation, study finds).
If there’s one takeaway here, it’s that pregnancy is only possible when we’re fertile. And we’re only fertile for the shortest period each month.