How was it for you?
By Duncan Graham-Rowe IF YOU are having trouble getting pregnant, it might help to stop worrying and simply concentrate on enjoying sex. The question of whether good sex is better for making babies than less pleasurable encounters has been hotly debated since two biologists at the University of Manchester, Robin Baker and Mark Bellis, measured the “flowback” of seminal fluid ejected by women after intercourse. They concluded that a well-timed orgasm can greatly increase the chance that sperm would be retained in a woman’s reproductive tract (“The subtle side of sex”, New Scientist, 14 August 1993, p 24). Other researchers have criticised their measurements as too indirect to say anything definitive about fertility. So Jacky Boivin of Cardiff University, whose results were presented at the BA meeting, carried out a more direct analysis—measuring the quantity of sperm in cervical mucus. Boivin examined the cervical mucus of 71 women within two to three hours of their having intercourse. The women were screened to exclude those with unusual mucus and their partners were screened to rule out those with low sperm counts. She also gave the women a questionnaire asking them to rate various aspects of the sex they had just experienced, such as the intensity of sexual feeling, their level of arousal, the total duration of the sexual encounter and the quality of their orgasm, if they had one. Boivin used the results to divide the women into three categories according to how much they reported enjoying the sex. She found that nearly half of those in the group with the lowest enjoyment had virtually no sperm in their cervical mucus. Among women in the group with the highest enjoyment, only 10 per cent of the women had no sperm in their mucus. Boivin doesn’t think that orgasm and sexual enjoyment are vital for fertility. “Generations of mothers have never experienced orgasm,” she points out. But for couples having trouble conceiving, she suspects that whether or not they enjoy good sex could sometimes be the difference between success and failure. Baker, who has since left his university position to pursue a career writing on biology, welcomes Boivin’s results. “It is a nice addition to studies like ours and suggests that what goes on during sex does have an effect on the number of sperm retained,