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”, so 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.
Below, we describe the likelihood of pregnancy due to precum in different scenarios and the next steps a person could take.
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.
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:
|Situation||Likelihood of pregnancy on exposure to precum|
|3 days before ovulation||The most fertile days are the |
|While ovulating||Sperm can survive for |
|During a period||The 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 control||The 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 condom||The likelihood of pregnancy when relying on a male condom is |
|With an IUD||The chance of pregnancy within 1 year of insertion is |
|After a vasectomy||The rate of pregnancies within 1 year of the surgery is less than |
|After giving birth||Pregnancy happens in |
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
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 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.
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.