Can You Get Pregnant From Pre-Ejaculate?

Pregnancy caused by precum isn't likely, but it's definitely possible

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If you’re hoping to avoid pregnancy using the withdrawal method—when the penis is pulled out from the vagina before ejaculating—then you may be wondering if it’s possible to get pregnant with precum. The answer is yes. you can get pregnant from precum. However, while It's possible, it's unlikely.

What Is 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.

In fact, while sperm aren't typically in precum, sometimes they are found in the fluid. Plus, sperm can live inside of precum. So, while uncommon, there is a small possibility of getting pregnant from precum fluid. In fact, research shows that 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 people may conceive with actual precum, up to 1 in 5 will unintentionally get pregnant when using the withdrawal method because of accidents, such as not fully withdrawing the penis from the vagina in time.

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, tiny ducts lead 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 urine is passed.

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 safer 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 the vagina, called the Bartholin's glands. The two pea-sized glands sit on either side of the vaginal opening. Bartholin's glands also secrete an alkaline mucus that provides lubrication for intercourse.

Do Sperm Live Inside Precum?

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% of the samples contained moving sperm cells.

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.

In another study, out of 40 pre-ejaculate samples (taken from 27 men), 41% of the samples had sperm cells present, and in 37% 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).

Odds of Getting Pregnant

The odds of getting pregnant from precum are very small, but not impossible. As mentioned above, some people will get pregnant when using the withdrawal method, even when doing it correctly.

Even if the person with a penis pulls out and ejaculates away from the vagina or vulva area, there is a 4% chance that pregnancy may result. These pregnancies are due to those few sperm cells in precum.

If the penis isn't inserted into the vagina, and only the tip of the penis (with precum) comes into contact with the outside of the vulva, it's extremely unlikely that precum on the outside of the vagina will lead to pregnancy. However, it is still theoretically possible for pregnancy to occur.

Signs of Pregnancy

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 the uterine wall and produce enough of the pregnancy hormone hCG to be detected by even the most sensitive of pregnancy tests.

Wait at least two full weeks after sex before taking a pregnancy test. Even better, wait until your period is at least a few days late.

Sometimes, people experience pregnancy-like 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) takes significant self-control and isn’t easy.

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

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. 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):22-25. doi:10.1159/000365683

  4. Kovavisarach E, Lorthanawanich S, Muangsamran P. Presence of sperm in pre-ejaculatory fluid of healthy males. J Med Assoc Thai. 2016;99 Suppl 2:S38-41.

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By Rachel Gurevich, RN
Rachel Gurevich is a fertility advocate, author, and recipient of The Hope Award for Achievement, from Resolve: The National Infertility Association. She is a professional member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and has been writing about women’s health since 2001. Rachel uses her own experiences with infertility to write compassionate, practical, and supportive articles.