21st century humans still don’t understand how the female of the species gets pregnant

There are a couple of flaws in my thesis. I am flying off the handle because of one book. And that book was published in 1998. Yet, I doubt that this assessment is false, and so I rant.

In 1998 Mike Gayle published a novel titled My Legendary Girlfriend. A minor plot point involves a sort-of-girlfriend of the protagonist, named Martina, who calls him approximately one week after they had sex, when her period is 4 days late, frightened that she is pregnant.

This means that the couple in question had sex 3 days before the female was due to menstruate. It is not possible for her to be pregnant because there was no egg available at the time. But this occurred to neither character, and this minor thread created a little bit of background tension throughout the remainder of the novel.

Why didn’t either of them know that it was basically impossible for Martina to be pregnant?!!!!!

Why can’t a novel tell an amusing story and educate, by having a clever character who knows basic biology, or at least putting the sexual act at a date that would have generated an actual pregnancy scare?

Why is an ‘advanced society’ so afraid of/bored by/disgusted with knowledge of their own bodies which they use and depend on every second of every day?

Look, if you don’t understand your mother’s breast cancer, fine: wear your pink ribbon and heal. If your doctor has to wearily remind you every year why she won’t give you antibiotics for that viral head cold, that’s okay too. But if you are having heterosexual vaginal intercourse and you don’t understand how women get pregnant, you’re an idiot and I hate you. Okay, I don’t hate you, but I am going to talk you very sternly and very loudly, because ignorance on this issue really gets my panties in a bunch.

So, an education:

1) Are you actively preventing pregnancy by taking a birth control pill/patch/ring/injection? If yes, be sure to read the section below: But I’m/My Girl is on the Pill, etc.!

2) Pregnancy requires three things:

  • An egg, in the right place, able to be fertilized
  • A single sperm, in the right place, able to penetrate the egg
  • A uterus (most often), ready to receive a fertilized egg (usually)

The Egg Most human females of reproductive age (11ish to 50ish) make one egg ready to be fertilized every month. Every month that egg is released from the organ in which it is made (the ovary), 14 days before menstruation.

Stop. If you are not on the pill, when are you supposed to get your period next? Count back 14 days. That is the day you ovulated.

The egg is usually able to be fertilized for 1 to 2 days after ovulation. That’s it. A woman has an egg available and ready to be fertilized about 3 days per month. With a little simple math you can figure out which three days those are and aim for them, or be extra careful, depending on your goal.

The Sperm Men make sperm continuously from puberty until death. Sperm can survive inside a women’s reproductive system for 3-5 days. Most men average upwards of 200 million sperm per ejaculation and it only takes one sperm to fertilize an egg. There are also some sperm in the fluid released before ejaculation.

So if you have unprotected sex (even without ejaculation) 2 days before a woman releases her egg, she might get pregnant. Make sense?

The Uterus is a very stretchy, very muscular, fist-sized organ in a woman’s pelvis. The bottom of the uterus meets up with the top of the vagina. The uterus is where the fertilized egg will implant and start to grow, at this point the woman is pregnant.

The uterus gets ready for the fertilized egg every month. Then it eagerly waits during those 3 days. And if a fertilized egg does not implant in the uterus the lining breaks down and is released. This is the blood and tissue that is shed during menstruation.


  • the egg isn’t there
  • the sperm isn’t there
  • the uterus is not ready

a woman will not become pregnant.

Which means there are a total of about 6 days per month (3 days prior to ovulation because of sperm survival, ovulation, and 2 days after, because of egg survival) when unprotected sex will lead to pregnancy. And you can know when those days are by counting backwards 14 days from your next period. Don’t track your period? You should start.

P.S. Protected sex (specifically, a condom) is always a good idea because it prevents the transmission of STDs.

But I’m/My Girl is on the Pill (or something like it)!

‘The pill’ and other birth control methods like the patch, the ring, injections etc. prevent pregnancy by manipulating hormone levels and preventing the release of the egg. As we noted above, no egg = not pregnant.

Hormonal methods are a maximum of 97% effective. But the effectiveness can deteriorate from even simple changes like not taking the pill at the same time every day. Some pills are also less effective when you are on certain antibiotics.

Even though a 3 out of 100 chance that the egg will be there seems small. There are more than 200 million chances for the egg to be fertilized if it is there. So, hey if you don’t want to get pregnant use a condom.


I can hear all of the clamoring stories that begin with, “But my cousin/friend/sister/self totally got pregnant when she was on her period/on the pill/not having sex!”

I respectfully, but strenuously disagree. I believe that further exploration of your/her claim will reveal that she a) actually got pregnant as a result of sex in the 6 day window I outlined above. b) has a disorder that causes irregular ovulation (metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome, etc.). Unfortunately, these are becoming more common.

Thank you for reading. Please make safe whoopie more knowledegably.



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