MSP Q&A: Can a woman get pregnant from a man’s pre-ejaculate (pre-cum)?

plan-b-emergency-contraception-morning-after-pill-skampy-flickr

Not long ago, I noticed that a young woman had asked a question on Yahoo Questions about her risk of pregnancy from a situation in which she had fooled around with her boyfriend and was worried that she had gotten pregnant from his pre-ejaculate (pre-cum) as he had briefly put his penis inside her vagina without a condom. Even though she took Plan B (a form of emergency contraception, also called the morning after pill) about 19 hours following unprotected sex, she was still feeling very anxious and worried about her risk of pregnancy. This is what I said in my response:

It would be HIGHLY unlikely that you would get pregnant from this sexual encounter with your boyfriend for several reasons:

1. A woman actually does NOT have the same chance of getting pregnant from pre-ejaculate as she does from ejaculate; in fact, research studies have shown that there are very rarely any sperm at all in pre-ejaculate. Is it *possible* to get pregnant from a man’s pre-ejaculate? Yes – but it would be very rare and very unlikely.

2. You took Plan B, which is a highly effective form of pregnancy prevention. When used correctly, and when taken soon after unprotected sex (within 72 hours), it is HIGHLY effective at preventing pregnancy. You took Plan B at 19 hours following unprotected sex, which increases the likelihood of it being effective if, by some rare chance, your egg met his sperm from exposure to pre-ejaculate. Emergency contraception works in several ways; the primary mechanism is by preventing ovulation (the release of an egg). It also works by helping to thicken the cervical mucus which would help to prevent any sperm that were still alive from swimming up into your uterus and getting to a fallopian tube, where an egg (ovum) might be waiting. It may be that the discharge you noticed is a result of the Plan B having thickened this mucus, which is now coming out as discharge.

3. It doesn’t sound as though you were close to ovulating on Dec 31/Jan1 as you are correct that ovulation occurs about 14 days prior to the first day of bleeding. If you were supposed to start your next period on Jan 19, and if your cycle is regular/predictable, then you are correct to expect that you would be ovulating on or about January 5. That said, if sperm entered your vagina on Dec 31/Jan 1, it is possible that a few may *possibly* have survived until the 5th when you would have ovulated… but remember, emergency contraception works by preventing ovulation so it is unlikely that you ovulated on the 5th anyway.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the physical symptoms you have been experiencing may be a result of the stress and worrying about this.

You are also very wise to think about what you can learn from this – like taking a health class (if one is offered) or talking to your healthcare provider about contraception (such as the birth control pill, patch or ring) if you think you might continue to be sexual with your boyfriend or anyone else in this way. It may help to ease your mind and reduce stress to learn more about pregnancy prevention and to use a reliable method of birth control, or to – as you’re doing already – use condoms. Talking to your boyfriend about your feelings about sex, contraception, your readiness for sex, and pregnancy risk may help you two out as well.

I’ve addressed similar issues related to pregnancy risk at Kinsey Confidential. Another good teen-focused site with quality information is TeenWire.

Best,
Debby

[Photo by skampy, via Flickr/Creative Commons.]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • Amber

    Debby,

    What a great answer! I work for Planned Parenthood and spend a lot of time correcting the myth that pre-ejaculatory fluid is full of sperm. Thanks for spreading correct info about this. Also, I love your site!

  • Amber

    Debby,

    What a great answer! I work for Planned Parenthood and spend a lot of time correcting the myth that pre-ejaculatory fluid is full of sperm. Thanks for spreading correct info about this. Also, I love your site!

  • Debby

    Thanks. Amber! I appreciate you reading MSP. I think this is one of those myths that’s going to take a lot of time- and education – to get past for many people. Glad to know you’re out there educating women and men, too!

  • Debby

    Thanks. Amber! I appreciate you reading MSP. I think this is one of those myths that’s going to take a lot of time- and education – to get past for many people. Glad to know you’re out there educating women and men, too!

  • charlie

    My girlfriend took the Plan B pills. she had taken the pills before and the first time she had a period of 5 days. Now the second time she took the pills,but 2 days after she took the pills we had unprotected sex but I never ejaculated, and she had a period of 3 days. is there any posibility that she could be pregnant?

  • charlie

    My girlfriend took the Plan B pills. she had taken the pills before and the first time she had a period of 5 days. Now the second time she took the pills,but 2 days after she took the pills we had unprotected sex but I never ejaculated, and she had a period of 3 days. is there any posibility that she could be pregnant?

  • ashley

    I ended my period a week after ihad unpotected sex with my boyfriend, and he said he may have pre came inside me, does this me i have a chance of being pregnant?

  • ashley

    I ended my period a week after ihad unpotected sex with my boyfriend, and he said he may have pre came inside me, does this me i have a chance of being pregnant?

  • sue

    if she got her period, shes not pregnant!
    geez!

  • sue

    if she got her period, shes not pregnant!
    geez!

  • Debby

    Thanks for your comment.

    Technically it is true that if one has an actual period (meaning a shedding of the uterine lining) then one is not pregnant. That said, some women have bleeding – and what appears to them to be a period, even though it’s not technically a period – early in pregnancy or even throughout pregnancy. Which, you can imagine, can make it very difficult for these rare women to tell if they are pregnant without having a pregnancy test!

  • Debby

    Thanks for your comment.

    Technically it is true that if one has an actual period (meaning a shedding of the uterine lining) then one is not pregnant. That said, some women have bleeding – and what appears to them to be a period, even though it’s not technically a period – early in pregnancy or even throughout pregnancy. Which, you can imagine, can make it very difficult for these rare women to tell if they are pregnant without having a pregnancy test!

  • Heather

    I just got off my period Tuesday and I had unprotected sex Thursday and my partner pre ejaculated alot. Is there a chance of getting pregnant.

  • Heather

    I just got off my period Tuesday and I had unprotected sex Thursday and my partner pre ejaculated alot. Is there a chance of getting pregnant.

  • Debby

    @Heather: It would be unlikely for several reasons – (1) although some women ovulate more than once during a month or at unpredictable periods, it’s most likely that you were not anywhere near ovulation at the time you had unprotected sex. Ovulation usually occurs about 14 or so days into the cycle though it certainly varies. (2) Pre-ejaculate rarely contains any sperm unless a man has just previously ejaculated (and not peed, hence sperm might still be hanging out in his urethra). But if you don’t want to get pregnant please talk with your healthcare provider about birth control options such as condoms and/or the birth control pill, patch, shot or ring. Also, there’s always STI risk to think of, too.

  • Debby

    @Heather: It would be unlikely for several reasons – (1) although some women ovulate more than once during a month or at unpredictable periods, it’s most likely that you were not anywhere near ovulation at the time you had unprotected sex. Ovulation usually occurs about 14 or so days into the cycle though it certainly varies. (2) Pre-ejaculate rarely contains any sperm unless a man has just previously ejaculated (and not peed, hence sperm might still be hanging out in his urethra). But if you don’t want to get pregnant please talk with your healthcare provider about birth control options such as condoms and/or the birth control pill, patch, shot or ring. Also, there’s always STI risk to think of, too.

  • Jennie

    Me and my boyfriend were fooling around last November 20, I’ve just finished from my menstrual period last Nov. 17..but we never had Intercourse or the actual sex, i only let him rubbed his penis on my vaginal lips, now I’m worried that i may get pregnant because i think some of his pre-ejaculate fluid got on my my vaginal lips.. he never ejaculated before nor after our foreplay.. so can you please help me what to do..thanks

  • Jennie

    Me and my boyfriend were fooling around last November 20, I’ve just finished from my menstrual period last Nov. 17..but we never had Intercourse or the actual sex, i only let him rubbed his penis on my vaginal lips, now I’m worried that i may get pregnant because i think some of his pre-ejaculate fluid got on my my vaginal lips.. he never ejaculated before nor after our foreplay.. so can you please help me what to do..thanks

  • Jennie

    and also i’ve researched about that in the internet and MOST people said that it is possible to get pregnant from pre-ejaculate because it contains sperm same as to the actual ejaculation, which made me to worry more.. i don’t know what or who to believe since i have NO proof which can lead me to believe which is TRUE..I’m so confuse and worried..please help me out

  • Jennie

    and also i’ve researched about that in the internet and MOST people said that it is possible to get pregnant from pre-ejaculate because it contains sperm same as to the actual ejaculation, which made me to worry more.. i don’t know what or who to believe since i have NO proof which can lead me to believe which is TRUE..I’m so confuse and worried..please help me out

  • melo

    A week ago I was with a guy and he put his penis in me for a few seconds. I didn’t want this because I know how stupid it is, but that is not the worst part. He didn’t get his penis in me all the way before I pulled away, however I am still freaking out that I could be pregnant. I went to the pharmacy that same day and took Plan B (within 10 hours). This happened a week ago today and my breasts are starting to hurt and my period is supposed to start next week I believe. I took a blood test on Monday (even though i knew it was too early) but i had to do something proactive because I was literally freaking out. I have read way too much on the internet and it is only confusing me more. Can someone please tell me the odds of me getting pregnant? I am freaking freaking out!

  • Dee

    Thank you Debby for answering this question as I too have been worrying about this and also took the plan b pill. I was in a similar situation with my boyfriend where there was “rubbing” involved and possible “pre-cum”, however, we both had our underwear on, and being paranoid, I still took the plan B pill just in case any “pre-cum” had entered. This occurred on a Sunday and that same night (well midnight – technically Monday morning) I got my period. Again I took the plan B pill also because I am way too paranoid about this and constantly worrying. Should I still be worried and have there been a lot of known cases where the plan b pill has failed (taken within the 72 hours) I took mine within 17 hours. Please help.
    Thank you

  • Jon

    Debby,
    Thank you for writing this as it helps many who are scared and don’t know a lot about certain precautions.

    My question to you is about pre-ejaculate.
    Me and my girlfriend had unprotected sex on the early morning of Aug. 19th. I did not ejaculate at all during our session, but i know there was pre-ejaculate. She also was on her menstrual cycle, I’m thinking about 3 days in, so no ovulation? I didn’t worry about it the next two days for some reason, but the past week or more I have been scared terribly. It was indeed a quick thoughtless mistake to do it so unsafely. But I did make sure I did not ejaculate. The one thing that makes me feel a lot better is that about 3 hours before sexual intercourse happened, I did go to the bathroom to urinate. I don’t believe i ejaculated that day either.
    Please, could you answer my question as best to your knowledge. I’m just worried.

    Thank you so much.