For most men, getting their partners pregnant comes with as much pressure as giving them an orgasm, so it makes sense why guys might wonder if they have to do both at the same time. It is true that some studies suggest there’s a correlation, but they are dated and have been debunked many times over (and not just by women who got pregnant from mediocre sex.) Still, the notion that female orgasms facilitate conception lives on as one of the more pervasive fertility myths and it sucks — just not in the way scientists previously thought.
“There were theories that female orgasm increased the likelihood of getting sperm up into the uterus but, since then, some research has been done to disprove this theory,” says Dr. Savita Ginde, a physician and VP of Medical Affairs at Stride Community Health Center in Colorado. “Right now it appears that male orgasm plays a role in pregnancy but female orgasm is its own experience, unrelated to impacting pregnancy.”
The most prominent theory that tied orgasm to conception came to be known as the “upsuck theory,” positing that muscle contractions that occur during a female orgasm help suck sperm through the cervix to the uterus. The theory was plagued with errors from its conception, down to the gross term itself, which is actually based on a typo. This suction effect was originally described by a husband and wife team of researchers in the UK in the 1970s as insuck theory, not upsuck, psychologist Robert King, who has studied the insuck phenomenon, explains. And like a lot of things from the 1970s, it did not age well.
While early data on the theory indicated that pressure changes in the uterus post-orgasm could potentially create a suction effect, many researchers such as Elizabeth Lloyd, philosopher of biology and author of The Case of the Female Orgasm, have argued that this does not make much anatomical sense. Even if an orgasm created a sucking effect, because of how the cervix moves during orgasm it would not be close enough to the semen for that to be at all useful. As a result, the evidence that female orgasms aid conception is mostly based off of two experiments on the one woman.
Subsequent follow-up studies on much larger samples have failed to produce the same results, including a study of over 16,000 women which found no correlation between female orgasms and fertility. Co-author of the study, psychologist Brendan Zietsch acknowledges that “couples trying to conceive shouldn’t worry about upsuck theory,” he told Fatherly.
So why has upsuck theory lingered so long? Sexual physiologist Roy Levin has gone as far as to refer to upsuck theory as a “zombie hypothesis” — a dead idea that refuses to lie down despite evidence, but will gladly infect the psyches of stressed-out couples trying to conceive by means of mind-blowing sex. Part of the reason is that scientists already know why men orgasm to some extent (to release sperm to fertilize the embryo) but women’s orgasms are more of a mystery. Other scientists have proposed the possibility that women’s orgasms are not for making babies, but for keeping parents bonded. Based on this conjecture, men are going to want to get around to making the mother of their children climax eventually, but it doesn’t have to be when the baby is made.
Not every expert agrees that women’s orgasms are completely useless for conception. Marriage and family therapist Katie Ziskind notes that orgasms can help with fertility, not by acting as some strange sperm vacuum but by reducing stress hormones and releasing oxytocin, making it theoretically easier to conceive.
“She may be more likely to conceive because she’ll be more relaxed and her stress hormones will be lower. An orgasm naturally releases huge amounts of feel-good chemicals in a woman’s brain,” Ziskind says. “Her body is less on edge and less stressed. It is known that high levels of stress can cause infertility.”
It’s worth noting that the oxytocin released during sex does not depend on an orgasm, it mostly depends on enjoying sex, and plenty of women enjoy sex without the requisite finale each time. And as much as Ziskind raises a good point that stress is bad for fertility, putting that much pressure on your partner and yourself every time you have sex will just create more of it. So just relax and enjoy the process of having sex. The product will get in the way of that soon enough.