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The Shettles Method of Sex Selection:

Fact or Fiction: Can you choose a girl or boy?


Updated July 17, 2014

Portrait of happy young family with baby boy (12-17 months).
Tetra Images - Jessica Peterson/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Sex selection is a huge topic in pregnancy and childbirth these days. A recent poll showed that only 17% of women did not have a preference for the sex of their babies. This desire to influence the process one way or the other has lead to numerous theories on how to get pregnant with the girl or boy of your dreams.

The Shettles Method has been around a long time, named for Dr. Landrum Shettles. Dr. Shettles based his methods around the belief that the X and Y sperm characteristics that are different from each other. So the Shettles Method is basically about how you can use these supposed differences to try to influence the sex of your baby, often erroneously referred to as gender selection. He also published a book: How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby.

There are numerous medical articles that examine why the Shettles Method is flawed and most medical studies have not been able to replicate the numbers that Shettles himself claims to have seen. In fact, some studies have shown that those using the Shettles Method may actually have trouble conceiving.

The Facts

There are two types of sperm: X-bearing sperm and Y-bearing sperm. The egg, from the mother, is always an X. If the X-bearing sperm penetrate the egg, then the baby is a girl (XX). If the Y-bearing sperm penetrate the egg, then the baby is a boy (XY).

The Shettles Method Conjecture

Certain things done during the cycle or during intercourse will influence which of these sperm fertilize the egg. So, if you were trying to conceive a girl, you would do things that favored the X-bearing sperm and if you were trying to conceive a boy you would do what supposedly influenced the Y-bearing sperm.

According to Shettles:

X-bearing Sperm

  • survive longer in the cervical environment.
  • are slower than their Y-bearing counterparts.

Y-bearing Sperm

  • are faster and smaller than their X-bearing counterparts.
  • are not as hearty and die more quickly.

Shettles Theory to Conceive a Girl

  • You should have sex 2-3 days before ovulation to allow the Y-bearing sperm to die off before the egg becomes available during ovulation.
  • Women should avoid orgasms because it makes the vagina less favorable for the X-bearing sperm that prefer the acidic environment.
  • Avoid sexual positions that involve deep penetration.

Shettles Theory to Conceive a Boy

  • Use sexual positions with deep penetration, this gives preference to the supposedly faster, but less hearty Y-bearing sperm.
  • Have sex as close to ovulation as possible, to take advantage of the speed of the Y-bearing sperm.
  • Women should have orgasms when trying to conceive a boy, and preferably at the same time as their partner.

What Science Says About Shettles

In talking to families, it is never hard to find women who claim that the Shettles Method worked for them. This anecdotal evidence is, however, not proof of the success of the Shettles Method. There is plenty of scientific study, not conducted by Shettles, that says that the Shettles Method does not work and there is even some scientific evidence that says not only does it not work, but that it can actually prevent you from getting pregnant.

In 1995, the New England Journal of Medicine researchers proclaimed that, "the timing of sexual intercourse in relation to ovulation has no bearing on the sex of the baby." There are also studies found in The International Journal of Fertility and the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Shettles did numerous studies himself and not surprisingly they were always positive. Though the majority of scientists have not been able to replicate his supposed success in sex selection. One complaint that many families have about the method is that the guidelines are strict and difficult to follow, particularly the abstinence of sexual intercourse and orgasm at various points.

In the end you have to remember that there are only a few ways to nearly guarantee the sex of your baby and they involve a lot of scientific tinkering with your body and the whole conception process. There is not any easy method of sex selection that can be done at home. Most couples I have interviewed who choose to do at home methods say they went into this with the mindset that they were tipping the scales in their favor in one direction or the other. Some were very disappointed, while others were thrilled.

To learn more about the Shettles Method, please see Dr. Shettles' book How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby which gives all of the details on his ideas.


France, J. T., F. M. Graham, et al. (1992). "Characteristics of natural conceptual cycles occurring in a prospective study of sex preselection: fertility awareness symptoms, hormone levels, sperm survival, and pregnancy outcome." Int J Fertil 37(4): 244-55.

France, J. T., F. M. Graham, et al. (1984). "A prospective study of the preselection of the sex of offspring by timing intercourse relative to ovulation. "Fertil Steril 41(6): 894-900.

Gray, R. H. (1991). "Natural family planning and sex selection: fact or fiction?" Am J Obstet Gynecol 165(6 Pt 2): 1982-4.

Shettles, LB. (1978). "Sex preselection." Obstet Gynecol. 1978 Apr;51(4):513-4.

Wilcox, A. J., C. R. Weinberg, et al. (1995). "Timing of sexual intercourse in relation to ovulation. Effects on the probability of conception, survival of the pregnancy, and sex of the baby." N Engl J Med 333(23): 1517-21.

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