Can You Get Pregnant From Pre-Ejaculate?

The Withdrawal Method and Your Odds of Conception

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If you’re hoping to avoid pregnancy using the withdrawal method—when a man pulls his penis out from the vagina before ejaculating—then you may be wondering if it’s possible to get pregnant with precum. Precum (also known as pre-ejaculate) is the whitish fluid that comes out from the tip of the penis during sexual arousal but before full ejaculation. This fluid looks very similar to semen.

Are sperm living inside of precum? The answer is yes, sometimes. There is a small possibility of getting pregnant from precum fluid, but it’s unlikely. About 4 in 100 women will get pregnant from precum.

That said, there are other reasons to be cautious about using the withdrawal method to avoid pregnancy. While very few women may conceive with precum, up to one in five women will unintentionally get pregnant using the withdrawal method.

What Is Precum?

Precum (pre-ejaculate) fluid comes from the Cowper’s glands. The Cowper’s glands are two pea-sized glands that sit beneath the prostate gland on either side of the most internal end of the penis.

The glands are slightly less than a half-inch in diameter and they produce an alkaline mucus. From each gland are tiny ducts leading to different sections of the urethra. It’s through these ducts that the glands send precum during sexual arousal but before actual ejaculation. There are two primary purposes of pre-ejaculate.

Roles of Pre-Ejaculate

  1. Neutralize acidity of urethra tract
  2. Provide lubricant for sexual intercourse

One role is to neutralize the acidity of the urethra tract. The urethra serves both as a pathway for urine and also a pathway for ejaculation. Urine is naturally acidic, and some of that acidity lingers in the urethra even after you’ve passed urine. The problem is that sperm cells are sensitive to pH levels, and the acidity of urine can kill sperm cells. The alkaline mucus of pre-ejaculate neutralizes the pathway so that sperm can have a “clean” pathway out.

The second purpose of pre-ejaculate is to serve as lubrication for sexual intercourse. There are actually glands that serve a similar purpose in women, called the Lee MY, Dalpiaz A, Schwamb R, Miao Y, Waltzer W, Khan A. Clinical Pathology of Bartholin's Glands: A Review of the Literature. Curr Urol. 2015;8(1):22-5. doi:10.1159/000365683. These are two pea-sized glands that sit on either side of the vaginal opening. They also secrete an alkaline mucus intended to provide lubrication for intercourse.

Do Sperm Live Inside Precum?

Cowper’s glands do not produce or hold any sperm cells, which is why it was once commonly thought that pre-ejaculate had no sperm cells. However, this assumption is incorrect.

There may be living sperm cells in precum. This does not always occur and when it does, there are not very many sperm cells; however, it is still possible. Though the chances are low, the sperm cells inside of precum could potentially cause pregnancy.

One study found that in precum samples taken from 42 men, approximately 17 percent of the samples contained moving sperm cells. In another study, out of 40 pre-ejaculate samples (taken from 27 men), 41 percent of the samples had sperm cells present, and in 37 percent of these samples, the sperm were motile and alive.

Since the sperm cells in pre-ejaculate do not come from the Cowper’s glands, how do they get inside precum? Research is not conclusive, but it is currently assumed that some men leak sperm cells into their pre-ejaculatory fluid, and these sperm cells come from the seminal vesicle (where they are stored prior to ejaculation).

Can You Get Pregnant From Precum?

The odds of getting pregnant from precum are very small.

As mentioned above, it’s estimated that 4 in 100 women will get pregnant using the withdrawal method correctly.

Even if the man pulls out and ejaculates away from the vagina or vulva area, there is a four percent chance that pregnancy may result.

These pregnancies are due to those few sperm cells in precum.

If a man never inserts his penis into your vagina, and only the tip of his penis (with precum) comes into contact with the outside of your vulva, it's extremely unlikely that precum on the outside of the vagina will lead to pregnancy. However, the odds are not guaranteed. It is still theoretically possible for pregnancy to occur.

How Will I Know If I Got Pregnant?

You won’t know if you got pregnant for at least two to three weeks after you had sex. You might feel tempted to take a pregnancy test the day after, but this would be too soon. It takes at least 10 days for an embryo to implant itself into your uterine wall and produce enough of the pregnancy hormone hCG to be detected by even the most sensitive of pregnancy tests.

You should wait at least two full weeks before taking a pregnancy test. Even better, you should wait until your period is at least a few days late.

Sometimes, people experience "pregnancy symptoms" a few days after sex and worry this means they may be pregnant. The truth is that you can't know if you're pregnant just by "feeling" pregnant. Also, real pregnancy symptoms won't occur until at least 10 days after conception.

Emergency Contraception

If you had sexual intercourse, you don’t want to get pregnant, and you are concerned that precum may have put you at risk of getting pregnant, you can use emergency contraception.

You have two options for emergency contraception. You can have a ParaGuard IUD placed within five days of unprotected sexual intercourse. This can stay in place and continue to serve as birth control.

Another option is the “Morning After Pill,” a type of birth control pill you take after unprotected sexual intercourse. There are different kinds of morning-after-pills, one you need to take as soon as possible, and another that you can take up to five days after sex.

Talk to your gynecologist or visit a Planned Parenthood clinic nearest to you as soon as possible.

A Word From Verywell

You can get pregnant from precum if the penis was placed into the vagina or even (theoretically) if the tip of the penis (with precum) came into contact with the outside of the vagina. If you don’t want to get pregnant, the withdrawal method is better than nothing, but it is not foolproof.

Plus, most couples are unable to effectively use the withdrawal method. Predicting when ejaculation will occur and pulling out in time (and ejaculating away from the vaginal area) isn’t easy.

Also, the withdrawal method will not protect you from a sexually transmitted disease. The withdrawal method is better used in combination with other forms of contraception, like condoms or along with hormonal birth control options.

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Article Sources

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  1. Kovavisarach E, Lorthanawanich S, Muangsamran P. Presence of Sperm in Pre-Ejaculatory Fluid of Healthy Males. J Med Assoc Thai. 2016 Feb;99 Suppl 2:S38-41. doi:10.3109/14647273.2010.520798

  2. Planned Parenthood How Effective Is Pulling Out?

  3. Zukerman Z, Orvieto R, Weiss D, Ben-Rafael Z. P-143. Does pre-ejaculatory penile secretion originating from Cowpers gland contain spermatozoa? Human Reproduction. 1999;14(Suppl_3):212-213. doi:10.1093/humrep/14.suppl_3.212-a.

  4. Lee MY, Dalpiaz A, Schwamb R, Miao Y, Waltzer W, Khan A. Clinical Pathology of Bartholin's Glands: A Review of the Literature. Curr Urol. 2015;8(1):22-5. doi:10.1159/000365683

  5. Kovavisarach E, Lorthanawanich S, Muangsamran P. Presence of Sperm in Pre-Ejaculatory Fluid of Healthy Males. J Med Assoc Thai. 2016 Feb;99 Suppl 2:S38-41.

  6. Planned Parenthood. Pregnancy Tests.

  7. Planned Parenthood. Emergency Contraception.