Fertility is your ability to participate in conceiving a child (getting pregnant). Both males and females can be fertile or infertile. Being fertile is a sign that your body is healthy when you are within the average childbearing age. If you are female and between the time when ovulation (releasing an egg cell from the ovary) and menstruation (your period) begins and menopause (change of life – periods cease) ends, you could be fertile. When a female body is releasing an egg (cell produced by women for reproduction) from the ovaries (ovulation) and the uterus (womb) has built up the inner lining (endometrial lining) in case that egg is fertilized (is penetrated by a male sperm cell) on a monthly basis, you can be considered fertile. Sometimes problems with the fallopian tubes (tubes where the egg is released, becomes fertilized, then travels to the uterus for implantation) can cause problems with fertility as well despite the ovaries and uterus being healthy. See the Our Parts tab to view more diagrams of these organs and to see the male reproductive organs in diagram.
The following video from the 1940s is a really wonderful explanation of the female reproductive system. It is very accurate and easy to understand.
The next video is an explanation of the male’s role in reproduction and the workings of the male reproductive system.
In order to become pregnant, an egg must meet the male sperm cell in a sexual act or through artificial insemination. Most of the time we think of this occurring only if the penis is inserted into the vagina and the male ejaculates (reaches orgasm) into the vagina. However, pregnancy is possible if any semen (combination of sperm cells and liquid) comes into contact with the vagina or the vulva through various ways. So, caution must be taken if pregnancy is not intended to contain the semen with a condom (best way to also prevent STD/STI) or to avoid contact with the semen and the female gentalia during any sex act whether or not the penis is inserted into the vagina.
There are many benefits to being in charge of your fertility. By becoming acquainted with your reproductive cycles and health you can not only prevent unintended pregnancy, but you can also prevent illness. For women, this can be as simple as getting to know your menstrual cycle (monthly period). Your body does an awesome job every month of letting you know when you are most likely to become pregnant. There is a window of seven days every month when a healthy ovulating woman is most likely to conceive. If you learn to read the signs your body gives, you can plan when you have sex in order to increase your chances of becoming pregnant or to abstain from sex/plan for proper birth control methods to avoid pregnancy. Learn more about Natural Family Planning by clicking the Family Planning tab.
From the male perspective, you should always assume you are fertile if all systems are go – or you have no issues with ejaculation (reaching orgasm). If you and your partner are trying to achieve pregnancy, but have not after a year or more of trying, you could possibly benefit from having your healthcare provider assess your sperm count, as well as checking on your partner’s reproductive functions. Unless you have had a vasectomy (male sterilization procedure), and you have a healthy sperm count and no issues with your reproductive organs, within the semen are millions of sperm. Though many die before reaching the female egg for fertilization, the egg only requires or allows one sperm cell to enter to create a pregnancy.
To be a responsible sexual partner, you must take actions to protect both yourself and your partner from unintended pregnancy or STD/STI. Don’t ever assume that your partner is taking birth control or will provide some form of birth control if you are planning to have sex. Take a few minutes to ask your partner about birth control use. Always protect yourself and your partner by using the form of birth control/STD-STI protection that is appropriate for your relationship and consider yours and your partners sexual history and plans for the future. Learn more about Birth Control and STD/STI by clicking on those tabs.
Are You Ready to be a Parent?
If you and your chosen partner think you are ready for parenthood, begin by exploring the Family Planning tab under the sub-heading Conception. Becoming a parent is a huge step for anyone no matter your age or financial situation. It does change your life forever. Are you truly ready to become a parent?
Ideally, it is best to plan your pregnancy. This gives you the time to make the lifestyle changes/adjustments necessary to give you and your baby the best chances at a healthy, low-risk pregnancy, birth, and start to life together. Using what you discover by getting to know your monthly cycle, you can have an idea of when your most fertile days are, and increase your chances of becoming pregnant every month. Involve your partner in this process by always keeping communication open and honest. You can avoid future heartache and frustration by doing all you can to make sure that your partner is as ready for pregnancy and parenthood as you are. If there is any question as to readiness, it is best to wait before getting pregnant until you can have the full support of someone willing to take the journey into parenthood with you.
Can you parent alone? Absolutely. However, it is best that this be a conscious choice with the realization that as a single parent you will have sole responsibility for the baby’s needs – finances, healthcare, food, clothes, housing, education, socialization, and most importantly love and nurture. It is a major responsibility for a single person, but we have beautiful examples of mothers and fathers who are doing it well everyday. We must remember though that biologically it requires two – a male and female cell to become pregnant. If you are trying to conceive, any sexual partner should be made aware and their involvement in parenting the child or not should be agreed upon before engaging in sexual intercourse. For more information on becoming a single mother, take a look at Single Mothers .org.
If you know that becoming pregnant is a goal for you in the near future, be sure to receive a health check-up from your doctor or midwife. You might also benefit from conception counseling, where you will learn how to create and maintain a healthy, low-risk pregnancy, and work through any concerns or fears you have regarding pregnancy, birth, and parenthood.