Contrary to popular belief, sperm can leak into pre-cum, which can lead to pregnancy. Using a barrier method or other form of contraception may help reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy.

Pre-cum isn’t something you can control. The fluid release is an involuntary bodily function that happens right before ejaculation.

This is why the withdrawal method doesn’t work as well at preventing pregnancy as other birth control options, such as pills or condoms.

Even if you pull out right before you climax during vaginal intercourse, pre-cum is still likely to enter your partner’s vagina, which can lead to unintended pregnancy.

Some research estimates that around 20% of people who use the withdrawal method will become pregnant in a year.

Plus, according to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 19% of unmarried males in the United States reported using the withdrawal method.

Overall, the failure rate for this method is about 4% with perfect use and 20% with typical use.

In this article, we use “male and female” to refer to someone’s sex as determined by their chromosomes, and “men and women” when referring to their gender (unless quoting from sources using nonspecific language).

Sex is determined by chromosomes, and gender is a social construct that can vary between time periods and cultures. Both of these aspects are acknowledged to exist on a spectrum both historically and by modern scientific consensus.

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Before climax, the penis releases a fluid known as pre-ejaculation, or pre-cum. Pre-cum comes out right before semen, which has live sperm that can lead to pregnancy.

Many people believe that pre-cum doesn’t include sperm, so there’s no risk of unintended pregnancy. But that is not true.

A lot of misinformation exists about this topic, but the short answer is: Yes, it’s possible to get pregnant from pre-cum.

Here is a closer look at the likelihood of pregnancy upon exposure to pre-cum in several different scenarios:

During fertile windowThere are around 6 days during your menstrual cycle when you are most likely to get pregnant, which is known as the fertile window. This occurs around the middle of your cycle, a few days before and during ovulation.
During menstruationWhile it’s very unlikely to get pregnant during your period, it may be possible to get pregnant right after, especially if you have a short cycle and ovulate early.
While using a condom or other barrier methodWith typical use, male condoms are around 82% effective at preventing pregnancy, while female condoms are about 79% effective. When used with spermicide, a diaphragm or cap is 71-88% effective against pregnancy with typical use.
While using an IUDThe risk of becoming pregnant with an IUD is less than 1%. Unlike other methods, there is less risk for user error while using an IUD, meaning that it is more likely to be effective at preventing pregnancy.
While using a birth control pillIf taken correctly, oral contraceptives are 99% effective against pregnancy. But, with typical use, they are estimated to be around 91% effective.
With the fertility awareness methodAn estimated 24 in 100 people will become pregnant while using the natural family planning method, which involves monitoring signs and symptoms of fertility to prevent pregnancy.
After having a vasectomyThe risk of pregnancy after a vasectomy is estimated to be around 1 in 2,000. After surgery, doctors typically advise using another form of birth control until a semen analysis is performed, which is usually around 8-16 weeks after the procedure.

You’re right: Pre-cum doesn’t actually contain any sperm. However, it’s possible for sperm to leak into pre-cum.

Pre-cum is a lubricant produced by a gland in the penis, which is released before ejaculation. Semen may linger in the urethra after ejaculation and mix with pre-cum while it’s on its way out.

In fact, a 2016 study found mobile sperm present in the pre-cum of nearly 17% of its participants. Another older study published in 2011 found mobile sperm in 37% of pre-cum samples given by 27 participants.

Peeing before sex may help flush out any leftover semen, reducing the chance sperm will appear in the pre-cum.

The short answer is yes: You can get pregnant from pre-cum even if you’re not ovulating.

Although pregnancy is most likely to happen during ovulation, sperm can actually live inside your body for as long as 5 days. This means that if sperm is inside your reproductive tract before ovulation, it’s possible it’ll still be there and alive when you do ovulate.

Ovulation typically happens around the middle of your menstrual cycle. This can be anywhere from 7-14 days before you start your next period.

Since sperm has a 5-day life span inside your body, if you have sex regularly for 5 days before as well as on the day you ovulate — known as “the fertile window” — you have a higher chance of becoming pregnant.

People with irregular periods may have more difficulty knowing when they’re ovulating and fertile.

The pull-out method isn’t an effective way to prevent pregnancy. If you do use it, then it may be helpful to have emergency contraception (EC) handy in your medicine cabinet.

EC can help prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after having sex without a condom or other barrier method. That’s because it delays or prevents ovulation from happening in the first place.

This means your mature egg won’t be released to be fertilized. But it is not intended as a method for contraception. It makes more sense to use a more reliable form of contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy from happening in advance.

Two types of EC can be obtained over the counter or through a doctor. They include:

Hormonal EC pills

You can take hormonal emergency contraceptive pills up to 5 days after having sex without a condom or other barrier methods. They’re most effective when you take them within the first 72 hours.

Hormonal EC pills are safe to take but, like hormonal birth control pills, have some side effects. This can include:

You can purchase EC pills at your local drugstore. They can cost anywhere from $20 to $60, depending if you buy a generic or name-brand product.

If you’re insured, you can call a doctor to request a prescription. EC pills are considered preventive care, so they’re often free with insurance.

Emergency IUD contraception

The Copper-T is an intrauterine device (IUD) that can also work as emergency contraception.

According to Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit group that promotes reproductive healthcare, the Copper-T IUD can reduce your risk of becoming pregnant by more than 99%. This makes it more effective than hormonal EC pills.

A doctor can insert the Copper-T IUD up to 5 days after sex without a condom or other barrier method to prevent pregnancy. Plus, as a form of long-term birth control, the Copper-T IUD can last for 5 to 10 years, depending on the type.

Although the Copper-T IUD works better than EC pills, the steep cost of insertion can be a barrier. If you’re uninsured, it can cost up to $1,300 in the United States. Most insurance plans will cover the Copper-T IUD for free or at a reduced cost.

Although the withdrawal method may be effective at times, there’s still a chance you may become pregnant from pre-cum. If you think you may be pregnant, you can take an at-home pregnancy test to find out for sure.

You may want to take an at-home test right away, but that can be too soon. Most doctors recommend you wait until after the first day of your missed period to take a pregnancy test. For the most accurate result, you should wait until the week after your missed period to test.

People who don’t have regular periods should wait to test until at least 4 weeks after having sex without a condom or other barrier method.

You should confirm your results with a doctor. Although a positive result is almost always accurate, a negative test result isn’t as reliable. You may have tested too early or might be taking medications that have affected the results.

A doctor may have you take a urine test, blood test, or both to determine if you’re pregnant or not. If you are pregnant, make sure to speak with the doctor about your options.

Your chance of becoming pregnant from pre-cum may be slim, but it can still happen. Sperm can still be present in the urethra and mix with pre-cum that’s released before ejaculation.

If you use the withdrawal method, keep in mind that around 20% of people will become pregnant over the course of a year when using this method.

Choose a more reliable method of contraception if you want to avoid pregnancy, and consider keeping emergency contraception on hand if needed.

See a doctor if you have any concerns or have a positive pregnancy test. The doctor can walk you through your options for family planning, abortion, and future birth control.