One of the most tried and true methods for putting a bun in the oven is always going to be the plain and simple, penis-in-vagina sex — which also continues to mean that you need to be careful if you engage in said sex if you'd rather not be pregnant at the moment. But there tends to be a lot of misinformation out there about engaging in safe sex, and how and when pregnancy can happen exactly. For example, a question I’ve commonly heard debated is: Can you get pregnant from pre-cum?
Pre-cum, or pre-ejaculate, is a fluid produced by the bulbourethral glands (or Cowper's glands) that can come out of the penis during arousal, intercourse, and masturbation. Pre-cum is colorless, and it has a similar composition to the semen that comes out of a penis during orgasm. But it is, in fact, a totally different substance. Semen, or seminal fluid, is secreted by the gonads and other sexual organs, and its main job is to fertilize eggs. It’s this process of fertilization than can commonly lead to pregnancy.
However, pre-cum has a job to do as well, but it's not fertilization. It acts as a sexual lubricant and neutralizes acidity around the urethra by lowering the pH in the vagina. Acidity can negatively impact sperm by killing sperm count or decreasing potency.
According to a 2013 study of 27 men conducted by the United States National Institute of Health, there can be viable sperm in pre-ejaculate. Therefore condoms or other forms of birth control should definitely be used during all genital contact in order to best avoid unplanned pregnancy. Additionally, Planned Parenthood says that pre-cum can get you pregnant but it's unlikely. The American Pregnancy Association agrees that a pregnancy caused by pre-cum is super rare but possible.
Elite Daily spoke with three experts in order to clarify of how to tell when there’s pre-cum inside of you, what to do if you suspect that there might be pre-cum inside of you, and the likelihood of an unplanned pregnancy due to pre-cum.
Dr. Ishmael Olusegun of Besafemeds, an online STD treatment center, tells Elite Daily that there can be sperm that travels within pre-ejaculate, but it's unlikely that this sperm would survive and be viable inside your body. This doesn't mean that it can't ever happen, he explains, but it is very unlikely.
“The best way to prevent pregnancy is to practice safe sex,” Dr. Olusegun says. “The pull-out method has been proven to not prevent pregnancy and does not protect from STDs. [Pulling out] should not be used as the primary means of birth control. Using barrier methods, such as condoms, is the only way to prevent the transmission of STDs.”
Dr. Jamil Abdur-Rahman, M.D., an OB/GYN and clinical instructor at Rosalind Franklin University's Chicago Medical School, agrees. “By releasing Cowper's fluid [aka pre-cum], which is basic rather than acidic before ejaculation, the vagina is made less acidic and more hospitable to sperm,” he says. “A recent study found, however, that 40% of men tested had sperm cells in their pre-ejaculate. And, of that 40% of men with sperm cells in the pre-ejaculate, 37% of them had motile sperm that was active and able to swim. Mobile, swimming sperm can swim toward and fertilize an egg. So, while Cowper's fluid has fewer sperm cells than ejaculate does, many men still do have active sperm in their pre-cum.”
Sex educator Kenna Cook echoes Dr. Abdur-Rahman and Dr. Olusegun.“While yes, getting pregnant from pre-cum might be unlikely, it's definitely possible,” she tells Elite Daily.
In fact, that's actually how Cook became pregnant with her second child. “I can tell you from personal experience that I had unprotected sex with my partner, and even though we used the "pull-out method," there was enough viable sperm in his pre-cum to get me pregnant,” she says.
Additionally, Cook explains that she was able to become pregnant this way because of where she was in her ovulation cycle at the time.
So, taking the sperm’s viability under consideration, along with the fact that Planned Parenthood and the CDC do not condone the use of the pull-out method as a legitimate form of contraception, it's clear that while unlikely, pre-cum can result in an unplanned pregnancy. In fact, according to Planned Parenthood, For every 100 people who use the pull out method perfectly, four will get pregnant.
If you suspect pre-cum may have made its way inside of you, emergency contraception (like Plan B) can be a great way to put your mind at ease. In fact, Dr. Abdur-Rahman says that he "absolutely recommends" taking Plan B within the initial 48 to 72 hours after having unprotected sex. According to Planned Parenthood, the ”morning-after” pill can reduce the risk of an unplanned pregnancy by 75 to 89%.
No two bodies are the same, so consider consulting a medical professional when choosing the birth control method that works best for you. When it comes to prioritizing your sexual and reproductive health, selecting a contraceptive that will both protect against STIs and prevent unplanned pregnancy is key.
This post was originally published on Nov. 8, 2017. It was updated on Sept. 5, 2019 by Iman Hariri-Kia.
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