Can I Get Pregnant If We Don't Have Sexual Intercourse?

Most Likely Not, But It Is Technically Possible

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While it is extremely unlikely for a pregnancy to occur without penetration, it is technically possible. If you are concerned about an unintended pregnancy, you can use emergency contraception (the "morning after" pill) for up to three days after sexual activity.

How Pregnancy Happens

Pregnancy naturally occurs when sperm cells enter the vagina and then travel through the cervix and uterus to the fallopian tubes, where an egg is fertilized.

In people who ovulate normally and who have not reached menopause, an egg is released from an ovary every month, usually halfway through the menstrual cycle.

The average ejaculation typically contains anywhere from around 40 million up to 80 million sperm cells. Only one sperm cell is needed to fertilize an egg.

So while it is rare and very unlikely, if any sperm gets into the vagina, you can still technically get pregnant.

Additionally, it's not clear whether pre-ejaculate (the liquid produced before ejaculation) can cause pregnancy. Some studies have found that pre-ejaculate does not contain any sperm, but others have detected live sperm in this fluid.

Bottom Line

The risk of getting pregnant without penetration is extremely low. Nevertheless, doing everything but intercourse is not necessarily a fail-proof method of birth control.

How You Can Tell If You Are Pregnant

A pregnancy test is the best way to tell if you are pregnant or not, though you must wait until you miss your period in order to get the most accurate results. In some cases, testing may be positive before a missed period if you take a test too soon.

You can purchase an at-home pregnancy test from your local convenience store. If this yields a positive result, call your doctor to schedule an in-office pregnancy test, conducted via a blood test.

How to Best Protect Yourself From Pregnancy

If you want to avoid getting pregnant, it's important to find a method of birth control. There are many options available to you.

Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) are one of the most common methods of birth control for women. Forms of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), such as the intrauterine device (IUD), an injection, or an implant, are also potential options. Because they remove the possibility of user error, they are considered the most effective form of birth control beyond abstinence. There are also foams, patches, diaphragms, and more.

Choosing a Birth Control Option

Some birth control options are more effective than others, and no method is 100% effective. Lifestyle and personal factors may also come into play. Part of choosing a birth control method is finding one you feel comfortable with. Ask your midwife, doctor, or local health department for advice on the method that is best for you. 

Use a Barrier Method

You should also use a barrier method (such as a male or female condom) alongside any other form of birth control. This protects you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

A Word From Verywell

Do not feel alone if you find yourself seeking answers to questions about sex and pregnancy. Educating yourself and debunking misconceptions is key to optimizing your health and preventing an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection.

3 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.
  1. Barlow PW. Why so many sperm cells? Not only a possible means of mitigating the hazards inherent to human reproduction but also an indicator of an exaptation. Commun Integr Biol. 2016;9(4):e1204499. doi:10.1080/19420889.2016.1204499

  2. Zukerman Z, Weiss DB, Orvieto R. Short communication: DoespPreejaculatory penile secretion originating from Cowper's gland contain sperm?. J Assist Reprod Genet. 2003;20(4):157-59. doi:10.1023/A:1022933320700

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

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.