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Does the Shettles method of conception work? Here’s what science has to say

Not everyone cares about gender. Plus, these days, we’ve become more aware of the fact that a baby’s sex at birth may not be his or her gender identity. Still, gender disappointment is common. In fact, experts say up to 1 in 5 women admit they were sad when they found out their baby’s biological sex.

Is there a way to time conception to determine a baby’s gender? It’s a valid question. After all, there are plenty of ways to determine the best time to conceive. You can download apps, invest in ovulation predictor kits (OPKs), or use natural clues to predict your fertile window. Is there a way to do the same for gender?

Some people swear by the Shettles method. What is the Shettles method? In short, it’s a strategy couples may use before and during intercourse to up their odds of conceiving a boy or girl.

Does the Shettles method work? Science provides some clues. Here’s what you need to know.

a couple on a beach celebrating gender reveal of a girl
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What is the Shettles method?

Landrum Brewer Shettles, a physician, developed the Shettles method in the 1960s based on his studies of sperm, which determines a baby’s sex. He believed that couples could choose the sex of their future child by:

  • Timing of intercourse
  • Sexual position
  • The pH of body fluids

The Shettles method gained notoriety in the 1970s when he published his book, Your Baby’s Sex: How You Can Choose. It sounds interesting, fun, and even desirable for couples with their hearts set on a specific gender.

How to have a boy, according to the Shettles method

Shettles believed that sperm containing the Y chromosomes needed to conceive a boy are faster but more fragile. In other words, male-producing sperm will get to the egg quicker. However, if there’s no egg ready (because the person producing the eggs hasn’t ovulated), the sperm will die out before fertilizing it. Based on the Shettles method, couples trying for a boy should avoid having sex until ovulation day and for 1 to 3 days after.

Shettles also found that male sperm do best in a more alkaline environment. Douching with a mix of baking soda and water may help create that environment. However, the ACOG does not recommend douching.

Finally, Shettles believed that male-producing sperm thrive when deposited close to the cervix, so sex positions, like doggy style, that allow for deep penetration are considered optimal.

How to have a girl, according to the Shettles method

To have a girl, Shettles advised couples to essentially do the reverse of what they’d do if they wanted a boy. X chromosomes are thought to be more durable but slower. According to Shettles, having sex at the beginning of your fertile window, up to three days before ovulation, increases the likelihood that a couple will conceive a girl. The sperm will be around to fertilize the egg but won’t have to compete with the faster, male-producing ones.

Since female sperm do best in acidic conditions, he recommended douching with water and white vinegar. (Your doctor can provide guidance on whether this idea is a good one.)

In his view, shallow penetration, like that achieved in missionary position, is optimal for conceiving a girl.

a couple cutting into a cake during a gender reveal party
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Does the Shettles method work?

While the Shettles method sounds genius in theory, subsequent studies have generally disproved it. In 1991, researchers concluded timing sex around ovulation did not affect sex. Another study from 1995 said that having sex a couple of days after ovulation, as Shettles suggests doing if couples want a boy baby, may not even result in pregnancy. More recently, in 2016, researchers threw doubt on the idea that sex positions can determine the sex of a baby.

It’s normal to have dreams of having a baby of a particular gender. The Shettles method, which promises that having sex in certain positions and at certain times can, at the very least, increase your chances of having either a boy or girl, is popular in some circles. Even years after this method gained popularity in the 1960s, people still ask, “Does the Shettles Method work?” Though people on Internet forums and in Facebook groups may swear by it, the data doesn’t appear to support it. It’s likely not possible to choose the sex of your baby. However, you will love that bundle of joy no matter what. If you’re having issues with gender disappointment, confiding in your partner, trusted friends, or a therapist can help you work through your feelings.

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BethAnn Mayer
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