During sex without a condom or another barrier method, liquid from the penis can enter the vagina before ejaculation. Semen can leak into this “precum,” which means it can lead to pregnancy.

This article refers to sex that could lead to pregnancy. For people having this sex, pregnancy is always a possibility, regardless of the methods of contraception that they use.

Before ejaculating, the penis releases fluid, which people may call precum. This release is involuntary, and it can help with lubrication.

Precum does not usually contain semen, but some semen can leak into it. This means that it is possible to become pregnant if precum enters the vagina.

Below, we describe the likelihood of pregnancy due to precum in different scenarios and the next steps a person could take.

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Yes, it is possible to get pregnant from pre-ejaculate fluid, or precum. This fluid is mostly a lubricant, but it can also transport sperm from the penis to the vagina.

Releasing precum is not voluntary, so a person cannot stop or control it, even if they can control when they ejaculate. When precum enters the vagina, most people do not notice.

In terms of the likelihood that precum contains sperm — a small, older study found that a significant number of participants had motile sperm in the samples they provided. “Motile” means that the sperm could move in a way that could lead to fertilization.

Eleven of the 27 participants had sperm in their pre-ejaculate fluid, and in 10 participants, a significant number of these sperm were motile.

However, a 2016 study found that only 16.7% of healthy males had motile sperm in their pre-ejaculate fluid.

Pregnancy is more likely to occur:

  • around the time of ovulation
  • if a person is not using a reliable method of birth control
  • if they use a reliable method imperfectly, which can easily happen

The following table shows how likely pregnancy is after exposure to precum in various circumstances:

SituationLikelihood of pregnancy on exposure to precum
3 days before ovulationThe most fertile days are the 3 days before and up to the day of ovulation. To limit the chances of pregnancy, take care to avoid exposure to precum at this time.
While ovulatingSperm can survive for 3–5 days in the female reproductive organs, and an egg lives for 12–24 hours after ovulation. Pregnancy can result from exposure to precum at the start of ovulation, but the chances of pregnancy reduce over time.
During a periodThe chances of becoming pregnant during menstruation are low, but conception can occur at any time in the cycle if a person is not using birth control effectively and there is exposure to sperm, which may be in precum.
While using birth controlThe chance pregnancy after exposure to precum depends on the method of birth control and how the person uses it. We describe which methods are more and less reliable below and in the next section.
With a condomThe likelihood of pregnancy when relying on a male condom is 18%, and this figure is 21% when relying on a female condom, which can be more difficult to use. This means that there is a chance of pregnancy from precum for people who use condoms, especially if they start using a condom after sexual contact has begun.
With an IUDThe chance of pregnancy within 1 year of insertion is less than 1%. making the chance of pregnancy from precum very low. But, the effectiveness of IUDs over time will vary, depending on the type. Check with a healthcare provider about when to replace the IUD.
After a vasectomyThe rate of pregnancies within 1 year of the surgery is less than 1 in 100. But in the weeks afterward, pregnancy is still possible. People should continue to use birth control until a sperm analysis shows that it is safe to stop, usually within 16 weeks.
After giving birthPregnancy happens in 2% of people who are exclusively breastfeeding for up to 6 months and before they have their first post-pregnancy period. But pregnancy can occur around the time of ovulation, and it can be hard to know when ovulation happens after childbirth because it occurs before the first period. So it is difficult to predict the likelihood of pregnancy at this time.

Compared with some birth control methods, the pull-out method is not as effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the pull-out method has a failure rate of around 22%.

This means that of all the people who can get pregnant, regularly have sex that could lead to it, and rely on the pull-out method, 22% become pregnant within 1 year.

Some reasons that people rely on the pull-out method anyway include:

  • It is free.
  • It requires no preparation and no trip to a clinic or store.
  • It involves no hormonal changes.
  • It requires no prescription.

It is important to keep in mind that no birth control method is perfect. For example, with typical use, 18% of women who rely on male condoms as a birth control method become pregnant within 1 year.

This statistic and those below come from the source linked above, which uses “women” to describe its population.

Within 1 year, 21% of women become pregnant after relying on female, or internal, condoms alone, and 28% become pregnant after relying on spermicide alone.

However, the rates of pregnancy are much lower when people use birth control methods correctly every time.

These data indicate that the pull-out method is about as effective as condoms if a person always uses them correctly. In this scenario, pulling out is also more effective than using spermicides.

And pulling out is more effective than using no type of birth control, which results in pregnancy for 85% of women within 1 year.

Still, compared with certain types of birth control, the pull-out method is less effective. For example, 8% of women relying on the pill become pregnant within 1 year, and this figure is 12% for women who rely on diaphragms.

Fewer than 1% of women who have IUDs or implantable rods get pregnant within 1 year. Among women who rely on injected contraceptives, such as depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (Depo-Provera), 6% become pregnant in this time frame. If the male partner has had sterilization, this figure is reduced to 0.15%.

What to remember about the pull-out method

Some things to keep in mind before trying the pull-out method include:

  • It is not necessarily easy, and people should practice it with a condom.
  • A person may be unable to control when they ejaculate, or they may not know when it happens.
  • Pulling out does not prevent sexually transmitted infections.
  • Tracking the menstrual cycle and avoiding sex during ovulation may increase the effectiveness.
  • It is important to have a backup plan or emergency contraceptive.

Before trying the pull-out method, communication is key. If anyone is not confident that it will work, they should use another type of birth control.

Some people use both condoms and the pull-out method. This can help prevent sperm, including any in precum, from entering the vagina. It also helps prevent pregnancy, to a certain extent, if the condom breaks.

Plan B and ella are the two types of emergency contraception that have approval from the Food and Drug Administation (FDA). They prevent pregnancy by delaying ovulation or preventing fertilization.

Plan B is a well-known brand of “morning after” pill, but there are other brands. A pharmacist can describe the options, some of which may be cheaper.

Research shows that Plan B and ella are safe for emergency use, but it has not shown that they are safe to use regularly. Also, they may also interfere with other methods of birth control.

The Office on Women’s Health recommends using emergency contraception after sex without birth control or if a person suspects that their method has not worked.

A person might take emergency contraception if they:

  • forgot to take their birth control pill
  • found that a condom has slipped off during sex
  • think that precum has entered their vagina

Anyone who is worried about accidental exposure to sperm should take emergency contraception as soon as possible. It is safer and more effective than an unintended pregnancy.

Precum can contain sperm. If it does and it enters the vagina, this can lead to pregnancy.

Above, we describe how likely it is to become pregnant while using various types of birth control. No method is entirely effective, so for people who have sex that can lead to pregnancy, but want to avoid it, having emergency contraceptive on hand is a good idea.