What Is Pre-Cum? Doctors Explain Whether It Can Get You Pregnant
One important part of enjoying a healthy sex life is having a plan in place for pregnancy prevention. If you’re not looking to have a baby anytime soon, it’s in you and your partner’s best interests to talk through contraceptive options before you start getting it on. This also means educating yourself on specific and confusing sex questions — like, what is pre-cum? Can it ever get you pregnant? This fluid may look just like semen, but it serves a very different biological purpose.
Pre-cum, or pre-ejaculate, is the thick liquid that comes from the tip of someone's penis when they become aroused. If you’ve ever given your partner a hand job, you may have noticed their penis producing a milky substance that gets slightly sticky on your hands. “The pre-cum is meant to lubricate the urethra for ejaculation,” explains Dr. Sheila Loanzon, board certified OB/GYN. This substance is created by the bulbourethral glands, also known as the Cowper’s glands, which are located beneath the prostate. Pre-cum serves two main purposes: to lubricate the area, and to neutralize the acidity in the urethra, which allows sperm to survive and flow through. Every person with a penis produces a different amount or pre-cum, ranging from just a few drops to a teaspoon or more.
Whether or not pre-cum contains sperm is a bit of a debate in the medical community. Dr. Alyssa Dweck, board certified OB/GYN, tells Elite Daily that getting pregnant from pre-cum is “unlikely but possible since it just takes one sperm to make the journey.” She adds, “Current thinking is that there may be sperm in pre-ejaculate.” According to a March 2011 study of 27 subjects in the Human Fertility (Cambridge) journal, 37% of those surveyed produced pre-cum samples that contained motile sperm. According to Planned Parenthood, pre-cum itself doesn’t contain sperm, but sometimes the body leaks a small amount of ejaculate fluid together with pre-cum, in which case, sperm may be present. Planned Parenthood concludes that it is “unlikely but possible” that you could get pregnant from pre-cum inside the vagina if it contains motile sperm.
In addition, recent sexual activity can leave small amounts of sperm in the genital area. “Pre-cum can contain sperm in it if left over from previous sexual activity or masturbation that travels with the pre-cum in the male urethra,” Loanzon says. “There is a small amount of men who unavoidably leak sperm into their pre-cum.” If you’ve just finished having sex and are going for round two, there might be sperm left on the outside of the penis or directly inside the urethra. In this case, even if you rely on the pull-out method, you might end up with a small amount of sperm in your body before your partner ejaculates.
All this to say, it’s best not to rely solely on the pull-out method as your means of birth control. “The pull-out method, or withdrawal, is surely better than nothing if one is trying to avoid pregnancy, but it has at least a 25% failure rate,” Dweck explains. Planned Parenthood warns that one in five people who use the pull-out method as their only form of birth control will get pregnant every year. Loanzon adds that human error can also contribute to the failure of this method. “The pull-out method is risky because it relies on the partner's keen awareness of when to withdraw before ejaculation,” she says. “The timing can be difficult to assess or detect for some partners, and accidental pregnancies can happen because of this.” It’s safer to use a barrier method such as a condom or diaphragm, or a hormonal contraceptive such as the birth control pill or IUD, to minimize the risk of pregnancy. Barrier methods are also the best way to lower your risk of contracting STIs.
If you attempt the pull-out method and your partner fails to withdraw in time, or if you’re worried about pre-cum inside of you from a recent sexual encounter, you can use emergency contraception (like Plan B) up to 72 hours after you have sex. The sooner you take it, the more effective it will be. It’s available at any drugstore or your local Planned Parenthood, and you don’t need a prescription to get your hands on it. But it’s best to use Plan B only in the case of emergencies, rather than as a replacement for other forms of birth control.
To figure out a contraceptive method that works for you, talk to your doctor about your options. Every body is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to birth control. The most crucial thing is that you take the appropriate steps to have safe sex, so that you and your partner can enjoy intimacy together without added worry or stress.
Dr. Sheila Loanzon, board certified OB/GYN & author of "Yes, I Have Herpes"
Dr. Alyssa Dweck, board certified OB/GYN & practicing gynecologist at the CareMount Medical in Westchester County, New York