Contrary to popular belief, sperm can leak into pre-cum, which can lead to pregnancy. Your overall risk of unintended pregnancy depends on a few factors, including whether you used a condom or other form of birth control.

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

That’s why the withdrawal method doesn’t work as well at preventing pregnancy as other birth control options.

Even if you pull out just before you ejaculate, 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. Overall, the failure rate for this method is about 4% with perfect use and 20% with typical use.

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

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, known as the fertile window. This occurs around the middle of your cycle, a few days before and during ovulation.
During menstruationPregnancy is unlikely during your menstrual period, but 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, external condoms are around 82% effective at preventing pregnancy, while internal condoms are about 79% effective. A cervical cap or diaphragm is about 71-88% effective when used with spermicide.
While using an IUDThe risk of becoming pregnant with an IUD is less than 1%. Unlike other methods, there’s less risk of user error while using an IUD.
While using a birth control pillIf taken correctly, oral contraceptives are 99% effective against pregnancy. But, with typical use, they’re around 91% effective.
With the fertility awareness methodAbout 24 in 100 people will become pregnant while using the natural family planning method, which involves monitoring signs of fertility to prevent pregnancy.
After having a vasectomyThe risk of pregnancy after a vasectomy is 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 live inside your body for as long as 5 days. This means that if sperm is inside your reproductive tract before ovulation, it may still be there when you 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 penis-in-vagina 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 menstrual cycles may have more difficulty knowing when they’re ovulating and fertile.

EC can help reduce the risk of pregnancy when used within 5 days of unprotected penis-in-vagina sex.

There are two types of EC: pills that you can buy in advance and intrauterine devices (IUDs) that must be inserted by a doctor or other healthcare professional.

Hormonal EC pills

Plan B and other levonorgestrel EC pills are most effective when taken within 72 hours (3 days). However, levonorgestrel EC pills may be used up to 120 hours (5 days).

Ella, the ulipristal acetate EC pill, is just as effective on day 1 as on day 5. It must be taken within 120 hours (5 days).

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

Ella is only available by prescription. Ella cannot be purchased over the counter. A healthcare professional must send the prescription to your pharmacy for fulfillment.

If you have insurance, consider asking a primary care physician or other healthcare professional to write you a prescription. EC pills are considered preventive care, so they’re often free with insurance.

Emergency IUD contraception

IUDs are a form of long-term birth control. They can be used as EC when placed within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected penis-in-vagina sex.

In either scenario, IUDs reduce your risk of pregnancy by more than 99%. Although IUDs are more effective than EC pills, the steep cost of insertion can be a barrier.

Without insurance, it can cost up to $1,300 in the United States. Most insurance plans will cover the IUD for free or at a reduced cost.

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 about 4 weeks to test.

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.

Your healthcare professional may have you take a urine test, blood test, or both to confirm your at-home results.

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 released before ejaculation.

If you have a positive pregnancy test, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional as soon as possible. They can discuss your options for family planning, abortion, and birth control.