At a recent Ask the Sexpert event with college-aged folks, I got a whole slew of questions relating to getting pregnant, not getting pregnant, and sex during pregnancy. As a sexuality educator and midwife, these questions just made my day. There were enough questions to spawn a two-part column! You’ll get half today, and the other half next time.

Q: When can a girl get pregnant?

A: People are most likely to get pregnant if they have penis-in-vagina sex (also known as PIV sex) about 18 to 24 hours before they ovulate. However, the five days before ovulation are considered the “fertile window,” meaning that if you have PIV sex anytime in those five days, getting pregnant is very possible. But there’s more to it. Please, read on!

Q: Can you only get pregnant after ovulation?

A: It’s not very likely that you’ll get pregnant from PIV sex that takes place after ovulation. The ovum (egg) only lives about 24 hours, and it takes sperm about 24 hours to reach the egg following ejaculation. However, it’s possible (not likely, but possible) to ovulate more than once during a cycle. Humans sometimes ovulate in response to strong emotional stimulus. Additionally, the closer a person gets to menopause, the more likely they are to randomly release more than one egg during a cycle. So for people who are trying to get pregnant, it’s best to have sex in the few days prior to ovulation. For folks who are trying to prevent pregnancy, using reliable birth control for all episodes of PIV sex is critical.

Q: Can you get pregnant when you have your period?

A: Most people are not going to ovulate while they’re menstruating, but some people do. Additionally, given that sperm live for about five days, it’s possible to get pregnant if you ovulate soon after your period from PIV sex you had while you were still bleeding.

Q: How likely are you to get pregnant if you infrequently take birth control pills?

A: Taking pills infrequently can actually increase the risk of pregnancy. This happens because when you take the pills for a few days and then stop, it’s possible to trigger ovulation, or your period (off schedule), or both. If you’re having a hard time remembering to take your pills, consider another form of hormonal birth control. And if the hormones aren’t working for you, try a non-hormonal form of birth control instead.

Q: Is it possible to get pregnant while on hormonal birth control and using a condom?

A: Yes, it’s theoretically possible but (good news!) it’s seriously unlikely. Using hormonal birth control and a condom is 98.7 percent effective (99.9 percent with perfect use), assuming you maintain your hormonal birth control (take your pill every day, get your Depo shot on time, change your patch weekly, etc.) and put on a condom before there’s contact between the vagina and the penis. You can learn more about the effectiveness of combined birth control methods HERE.

Q: How does a pregnancy test work?

A: Pregnancy tests look for the hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) in either urine or blood. HCG is a hormone that is made by the placenta, and thus is not present in people who are not pregnant (with very few exceptions). Home pregnancy tests and the pregnancy tests in your doctor’s office work the same way: A few drops of urine are applied to the plastic test disk or the test strip, and after a few minutes (three to five, depending on the brand) the test is read according to the directions. If there is hCG in the sample, the test will be positive. If there’s no hCG (or not enough), the test will be negative. While false negatives are somewhat common in early pregnancy, false positives are extremely rare. This is true for both home tests and doctor’s office tests.

Q: Are there any signs to know if you’re pregnant if you’re on birth control?

A: Often the first sign of pregnancy is a late period. If you’re using a form of birth control that prevents you from menstruating, you might miss that all together! The good news is that there will be other signs. The bad news is that those signs might take another week or two to show up. Many people in the early part of pregnancy feel extreme fatigue, breast tenderness, food aversions, extra strong sense of smell, and nausea (with or without vomiting). If you suspect you might be pregnant, it’s a good idea to just take a pregnancy test about 14 days after the PIV sex that might have led to conception. If it’s positive, you have a little time to make a choice about whether or not you want to continue the pregnancy. If it’s negative, you can check again in a few days or a week if you still suspect you might be pregnant. With two negative tests about a week apart, you can be pretty sure you’re not pregnant.

Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at [email protected] and she’ll get back to you with an answer.

About The Author

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Lucky Tomaszek, LM, CPM, is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee's only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Most mornings you can find her balancing her cat and her keyboard in her lap, working to make the world a smarter, safer place for people of all genders and orientations.