Search icon


23rd Mar 2018

THIS is what you need to know about gender swaying and selection

Many of us long for a boy or a girl.

Alison Bough

Many mums and dads secretly wish to conceive a baby of a particular gender but feel unable to talk about their feelings for fear of being judged.

I love all my children equally and endlessly, as every parent does, but I won’t shy away from admitting that after two boys my heart ached for a daughter. I wanted my girl. I longed for my girl. I was more than relieved when I heard the words from the doctor. I won’t pretend it didn’t matter to me, because it was my last chance and it did matter.

Yes, having a healthy child is clearly the most important thing but why does gender swaying, or even gender selection, remain the pink or blue elephant in the obstetric waiting room?

Longing for a girl, or for a boy, doesn’t make a hopeful parent-to-be a bad or ungrateful person. Similarly, being disappointed – however briefly – with the sex of your baby doesn’t mean you love your child any less.

A quick search of the internet will direct you to a multitude of website and forums full of women sharing various ‘methods’ to ‘sway’ conception to their preferred gender. I’m putting ‘methods’ in inverted commas because, let’s face it, gender is a 50/50 game isn’t it? Some of the shared tips are simply old wives. Some are grounded in science, and some are just plain bonkers.

The Ericsson method

Since a baby’s sex is determined by the type of sperm (X or Y) that merges with the ovum, it is indeed possible to select ‘male’ and ‘female’ sperm through genetic techniques. The X spermatozoa possess more DNA than the Y spermatozoa, so X is heavier than Y (feel like you’re back in 5th year maths yet?) and therefore they can easily be ‘sorted’ into boy and girl sperm. This sorting method is known as the Ericsson Method, named after the scientist who first discovered it. After the sperm are sorted in a lab, an artificial insemination is then carried out with the hope of conceiving the chosen gender. Research over the years has shown that the precision of this technique leaves something to be desired and is better suited to the selection of girls. Even so, many clinics abroad offer prenatal sex selection from sperm sorting, and it is particularly popular in the USA.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) 

The only one hundred percent, hands-down, no exceptions, completely reliable technique to choose your baby’s gender is preimplantation genetic diagnosis (commonly known as PGD). This method is illegal in many European countries where there is no therapeutic purpose. Most bioethics laws reserve the use of PGD for parents-to-be who risk transmitting a serious genetic disease to their child. In practice, the oocytes of the potential mother (who has undergone hormone treatment) are collected and IVF is then carried out. After a few days, one cell of each embryo is examined to see if it is male or female and if it is healthy. Finally, embryos free of the disease and of the chosen gender are implanted in the woman’s uterus. This method is very expensive and the rate of pregnancies obtained remains very low at around 15%.

Shettles Method 

The popular Shettles method, developed by Biologist Landrum Shettles, revolves around the timing of sex. Essentially, the closer to ovulation you have intercourse, the higher the chances are that you will have a boy. This is because boy-sperm are said to be faster swimmers than female sperm, and are more likely to get to the egg first.

O+12 Method

O+12 (oh plus twelve) is a popular gender-swaying method for the pink camp. It advises having sex twelve hours after ovulation to conceive a girl – hence the name O (for ovulation) plus 12 hours.

Whelan Method

Another timing-based method based around sperms’ environmental preferences. The Whelan method dictates that if you want to conceive a boy, you should have intercourse four to six days before ovulation. However, if you are trying to conceive a girl, you should get down to business just two to three days before ovulating.

Eating A Boy Or Girl Friendly Diet

Most gender-based diets state that they should be followed for at least two months prior to conception and stopped immediately after conception (because they are not nutritionally balanced and could lead to dangerous deficiencies if followed during pregnancy). These ‘gender-swaying’ diets consist of a list of permitted and prohibited foods. They are generally very restrictive to follow, resulting in high rates of abandonment of this method. Girl conception diets are low in protein, low in nutrients (!), low in fat, and low in calories – not ideal when you are trying to conceive. Boy conception diets advise avoiding acidic foods in order to create a more alkaline (less acidic) ‘environment’ for boy-sperm to do their thing.

Avoiding Orgasm

This method seems particularly depressing; to conceive a girl the woman should avoid orgasm. This is based on the theory that the internal ‘environment’ created by a female orgasm favours the Y sperm and therefore the conception of a boy.

The Chinese Calendar

This ancient calendar calculates the sex of a baby based on the age of the mother and the month of conception. Highly questionable but a bit of fun nonetheless.