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Can You Get Pregnant From Precum? What You Need to Know

Precum doesn’t typically have sperm—so how can you get pregnant from it? Here’s everything you need to know.
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Updated February 19, 2024
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There’s a lot of misinformation out there about getting pregnant (or preventing pregnancy altogether!), and it can be hard to distinguish between fact and fiction. One question that comes up a lot: Can you get pregnant from precum? Ask your friends, and you’ll likely get different answers. So, what’s the verdict? Can precum cause pregnancy? Read on to get the facts straight from experts who break down exactly what precum is, when it occurs and what the chances of getting pregnant from precum actually are.

What Is Precum?

Before we can get into whether it’s possible to get pregnant from precum, let’s first break down what exactly it is. Precum, aka pre-ejaculate, is a clear fluid that’s produced when a man becomes aroused but before he ejaculates, according to the International Society for Sexual Medicine (ISSM). Precum is produced by the bulbourethral glands (Cowper’s glands), which are located close to the urethra, and can range in quantity from a few drops to a teaspoon. “It acts as a lubricant during sex and can facilitate the movement of sperm,” says women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD.

Can You Get Pregnant From Precum?

Yes, it’s possible. “If there’s intercourse and the pre-ejaculate enters the vagina—even with a small amount of sperm—there’s the potential to get pregnant,” Wider says. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School, agrees. “All you need is one sperm to get pregnant,” she points out. That said, the likelihood of getting pregnant from precum is relatively low for a multitude of reasons. (More on that below.)

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Does precum have sperm?

Unlike semen—which can contain up to 150 million sperm per milliliter—precum itself doesn’t typically contain sperm. But if your partner ejaculates before having sex, live sperm that may be lingering in the penis could find its way into the precum. There isn’t a lot of research on the topic, but one small study published in the journal Human Fertility analyzed pre-ejaculate samples from 27 men, and found that 41 percent of precum samples contained live sperm. Of these samples, 37 percent had sperm that was strong enough to swim to an egg. Another small study found that 17 percent of precum samples taken from 42 men contained live sperm.

What are the chances of getting pregnant from precum?

So just how likely is it to get pregnant from precum? While the research shows that precum may occasionally contain sperm, the odds of it entering the body at the right point in your menstrual cycle (i.e. during ovulation) when an egg is released) are quite low. Moreover, any residual sperm that’s made its way into precum is “most likely poorly formed and immobile,” notes Anate Brauer, MD, FACOG, a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist with RMA of NY.

How You Can Get Pregnant From Precum

Anytime ejaculatory fluids—whether that’s ejaculate or precum—comes into contact with the vagina, there’s a chance for pregnancy, the American Pregnancy Association notes (APA). If there are any sperm cells in the pre-ejaculatory fluid that find their way to an egg and fertilize it, a pregnancy may technically ensue. (Keep in mind that sperm can live in a woman’s body for up to five days, according to the APA.) Of course, there are several factors that can affect this, including:

  • How strong the sperm cells in the precum are and their ability to enter the cervix
  • Whether or not the woman is ovulating or in her fertile window (i.e. if there’s an egg available to fertilize)
  • Whether there are any other contraceptive methods being used

Ultimately, while the chances of getting pregnant from precum are low, “there are very rare cases when sperm contaminates pre-ejaculate, making it possible for a woman to get pregnant,” Brauer reiterates. If pregnancy isn’t the goal, it’s always best to use contraception methods to decrease that risk.

The problem with precum and the pull-out method

If you’re not using any other forms of contraception, you might be wondering if you can get pregnant from precum just by using the withdrawal method (where your partner removes his penis before ejaculating), also known as the pull-out method. There isn’t a lot of specific data, but research suggests that the odds of getting pregnant from the withdrawal method are 4 percent with “perfect use.” Perfect use would mean that your partner removes his penis before he ejaculates, indicating that precum led to that 4 percent statistic—but it’s not a perfect science. That same research also found that the typical failure rate of using this birth control method is 22 percent. That’s to say that approximately 22 out of 100 people who use this method regularly will get pregnant within a year.

Even if you aren’t yet ovulating while using the pull-out method, you’re not necessarily in the clear. This is because sperm can last in the body for up to five days. Clearly, the method isn’t perfect; it relies on your partner to be very aware of their body, which can be particularly difficult during an intense moment. And while they may be able to successfully withdraw before ejaculation, the secretion of precum is completely involuntary and can’t be controlled (so, no, we don’t have any practical tips on how to stop precum).

Suffice it to say, this is why doctors don’t suggest using the pull-out method. “I never advocate pulling out as a means of contraception—particularly when we have so many better methods,” Minkin says.

How You Can Avoid Getting Pregnant From Precum

The best way to avoid getting pregnant—from precum or semen—is to use contraception, and there are many birth control options available. If you find that you’re regularly relying on the pull-out method for contraception, Minkin recommends visiting your gynecologist to learn more about the best contraception options for you. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some birth control options include the following:

  • Diaphragm: Also called a cervical cap, this barrier method is placed inside the vagina before sex and covers the cervix. It’s shaped like a cup and is meant to block sperm from entering the cervix.
  • Condoms: Male condoms are typically made of latex and go over a man’s penis, providing a barrier between it and the vagina, as well as any sperm that’s released.
  • Birth control oral pills: These can be either progestin-only pills or combined (with progestin and estrogen) pills. You get a new 28-day pack for each menstrual cycle and need to take the pill at the same time daily.
  • Injections: These are injections of the progestin hormone that doctors give either in the buttocks or arm every three months.
  • Implants: This is a thin rod inserted under the skin of your upper arm. It releases progestin into the body over the course of three years.
  • Skin patch: Worn either on the lower abdomen, buttocks or upper body (not the breasts), the skin patch releases progestin and estrogen into the bloodstream. You’ll need to switch out your patch every week for three weeks. (The fourth week is patch-free, during your period.)
  • Vaginal contraceptive ring: The ring, which releases progestin and estrogen, is placed inside the vagina and worn for three weeks (the fourth week, it’s taken out for a menstrual period).
  • IUDs: These are small T-shaped devices that are placed inside the uterus by a healthcare provider. There’s a hormonal option (LNG IUD), which releases a small amount of progestin daily, and can be kept in for up to eight years. The non-hormonal option (copper IUD) can stay in the uterus for up to 10 years.

It’s important to note that many of these methods rely on hormones—typically estrogen and progestin—which work to stop the egg from fully developing each month and impair its ability for fertilization, per Mayo Clinic.

When to take emergency contraception

If you relied on the pull-out method without any other forms of birth control and are worried about your chances of getting pregnant from precum, Minkin says it’s a “good idea” to use emergency contraception afterward. This prevents pregnancy from occurring and must be used soon after unprotected sex for it to be effective, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Of course, it doesn’t work if you’re already pregnant, and it might not be effective if you wait to take it and then start ovulating.

Most emergency contraception comes in the form of a pill called Plan B. “It’s quite safe and available over the counter,” Minkin says. This pill prevents the ovary from releasing an egg, the APA explains. However, it uses high doses of hormones and shouldn’t be used consistently as a method for birth control. Having a copper intrauterine device (aka a ParaGard IUD) implanted can also work as emergency contraception, according to ACOG.

Both options can typically be used within five days of unprotected sex. Of course, taking action earlier means there’s less time for you to potentially ovulate, increasing the odds of preventing pregnancy altogether. “It works best if taken within 24 hours after intercourse,” Brauer says. “If the sperm fertilizes the egg before taking emergency contraception it won’t work to prevent pregnancy….Emergency contraception is a good option, but not as good as regularly taking birth control or using a condom.”

When to Take a Pregnancy Test

If you’ve recently used the pull-out method and are concerned about getting pregnant from precum, you may want to take a pregnancy test. Pregnancy tests look for the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and some at-home urine tests can detect pregnancy up to six days before your missed period, Minkin points out. They become more accurate, though, after a missed period, or at least 21 days after unprotected sex, Brauer adds. “If you take a test too soon it’s possible for the test to show up negative and be inaccurate.”

It’s also possible to have a blood test taken at your doctor’s office, which can typically detect pregnancy a few days before a urine test. Brauer recommends contacting your ob-gyn regardless and confirming the test results around eight weeks after a missed period.

Ultimately, if you’re concerned about getting pregnant from precum, the best thing you can do is practice safe sex. Reach out to your provider to figure out what method of contraception would be the right fit for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there ways to stop precum?

Unfortunately, there are no ways to stop precum. As mentioned, the fluid’s secretion is involuntary, meaning it’s a biological part of intercourse that men have no control over. Moreover, most men won’t even know or notice they’re discharging precum when it happens, Brauer says.

Can you get pregnant from precum during ovulation?

If you’re starting to ovulate and there’s sperm in the precum, pregnancy is a possibility, especially since there’s an egg available for fertilization. “The chances are very low but not impossible,” Brauer notes. “The best way to avoid conception is to use protection during intercourse,” she adds.

Can you get pregnant from precum during your period?

Getting pregnant on your period with semen and sperm cells is pretty improbable. Why? Usually, if you have unprotected sex during your period, you’ll typically have at least seven days before ovulation (of course, this may vary based on your specific cycle)—and it’s unlikely any sperm cells will survive that long. Layer in the fact that precum typically doesn’t contain sperm, and the chances become even slimmer.

Can you get pregnant from precum while using birth control?

As long as you’re using the contraceptive method correctly, whether that’s the pill, an IUD, condom or another method, chances of pregnancy from precum (or even sperm) are low, Brauer notes.

Can a woman get pregnant without sperm entering her body?

It’s impossible to get pregnant without sperm entering the body. As a reproduction reminder, in order for pregnancy to occur, a sperm cell needs to join with and fertilize an egg. “If semen gets near the vagina or vaginal opening it’s possible for the sperm to travel to the cervix and fertilize the egg,” Brauer says. “Sperm that’s simply close in proximity to the vagina can result in pregnancy, but it’s very unlikely.”

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Sources

Anate A. Brauer, MD, FACOG, is an ob-gyn and reproductive endocrinologist at RMA of NY. She earned her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine and completed her residency at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Mary Jane Minkin, MD, is a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. She also received her medical degree there.

Jennifer Wider, MD, is a women’s health expert and author. She received her medical degree from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

International Society for Sexual Medicine, What is pre-ejaculate or precum?, 2024

Human Fertility, Sperm content of pre-ejaculatory fluid, December 2010

Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, Presence of Sperm in Pre-Ejaculatory Fluid of Healthy Males, February 2016

American Pregnancy Association, Chances of Getting Pregnant From Precum

American Pregnancy Association, Fertility Window Calculator

National Institutes of Health, Contraceptive failure in the United States, May 2011

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Contraception, May 2023

Mayo Clinic, Estrogen And Progestin Oral Contraceptives (Oral Route), February 2024

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Emergency Contraception, November 2021

Learn how we ensure the accuracy of our content through our editorial and medical review process.

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