The pre-teen birds and bees talk all made it seem so simple. Love, sex, and pregnancy. Each was easily explained, right? (Or maybe it was just that you wanted that awkward conversation to end?) Whatever the case, you thought you had it all figured out.

Unfortunately, as you’ve reached a different stage in life and the desire to control your family size has become a more pressing issue, you’ve likely been left with a few questions. One of which being, can you still get pregnant if the sperm comes out and doesn’t stay in the vagina? (And no, we’re not just talking about the pull out method!)

In short: Yes, even if sperm and semen come out of the vagina, you may still find yourself pregnant. Confused? Want more information? Don’t worry, we’ll explain it all, just keep reading!

To understand how it’s possible to have sperm leak out after sex and still become pregnant, it’s important to discuss the difference between semen and sperm.

Simply put, semen is the liquid that comes out of the penis, and sperm are the cells found in semen that are responsible for fertilizing egg cells in a female. When a male is aroused, sperm mixes with bodily secretions to make semen. (You can think of sperm as the chia seeds in chia seed pudding!)

In addition to sperm cells, semen includes a number of bodily secretions to help those sperm cells survive to reach the egg cell. These include prostatic fluid (for neutralizing the acidity of the vagina), seminal fluid (to help nourish the sperm), and bulbourethral fluid (to lubricate the penis).

Additionally, semen includes many nutrients. According to a 2013 review of studies, semen includes protein, vitamin C, and a lot of zinc. It also contains fructose, sodium, cholesterol, fat, and traces of vitamin B-12.

Because such a small amount of semen is ejaculated during sex, any effect on your nutritional intake will likely be minimal. However, if a sperm cell fertilizes an egg cell, the effect on your life may be big!

During sex, the semen is deposited in the vagina, usually close to the cervix, depending on the position. Some of the sperm immediately begin swimming to the egg, while the remainder and other liquids in semen simply exit through the opening of the vagina.

So how much semen and sperm are released?

According to the World Health Organization, when a penis ejaculates an average of about 1 teaspoon or 4 milliliters of semen is produced. (Although, this can range between 1.2 and 7.6 mL depending on the person’s health and when they last ejaculated.)

The World Health Organization has also provided values that estimate each time males ejaculate, they may produce between 23 million and 928 million sperm cells. (Put another way, a milliliter of semen may include anywhere from 9 million to 259 million sperm cells.)

Given the right conditions, sperm can live in the uterus for up to 5 days. (This makes it technically possible to become pregnant if you have sex while on your period.) Sperm can also live up to 72 hours in an incubator, and they may last for years if frozen. Needless to say, sperm has some staying power.

Because of the vast amount of sperm in semen (think millions… ), as well as the need for only one sperm to fertilize the egg cell, it’s possible for one sperm to travel through the cervix while semen and additional sperm come back out of the vaginal canal.

Even if you notice discharge after sex, plenty of sperm are left inside the vagina to allow for the possible fertilization of an egg.

Whether you want to become pregnant or are trying to avoid becoming pregnant, you may have wondered whether it’s possible to affect your chances of getting pregnant by going to the bathroom, douching, or even just moving around right after sex. Something has to encourage or stop the semen from swimming upstream, right?

Peeing after sex

The truth is, going to the bathroom to clean up or pee after sex won’t affect your chances of becoming pregnant.

This is because even if you were to pee seconds after you had sex, releasing pee from the urethra won’t flush sperm out of your vagina. Urine is released from the urethra, and sperm is ejaculated into the vaginal canal. Since these are two separate openings, what happens in one won’t affect what happens in the other.

Douching after sex

While douching has been linked to problems with conception, it’s not a reliable form of birth control and should not be used as such. If you’re hoping to prevent pregnancy, speak to your doctor about safer, more effective measures you can take.

Beyond being a poor birth control method, douching can increase your risk of infection. So even if your motivation to do so has nothing to do with your pregnancy plans, you should avoid douching. The health benefits just aren’t there, and it has plenty of negative effects.

Lying still after sex

Unlike peeing and douching, the verdict on moving after right after sex is a little more split as to whether it increases your chances of pregnancy. The studies on the topic focus on those using assisted reproductive technologies.

At least one study has shown that it does not matter if you remain in a reclined position for a prolonged period after sperm has been implanted via intrauterine insemination (IUI). However, another older study found that 15 minutes of staying put after sex after IUI increased chances of conception.

Whatever you decide to do, women in these studies weren’t spending more than 15 to 30 minutes reclining, so you don’t have to worry about waiting hours after having sex before you move!

After all, no matter what steps you take to try to avoid or become pregnant, once sperm is released, it can move quickly. One study has shown that sperm deposited near the cervix was able to travel a significant distance quickly, and that a fast swimming sperm takes only 1 minute to reach the fallopian tubes.

If you’re interested in becoming pregnant, one of the things you can do is carefully track your cycles to identify your fertile windows. That way sperm will have a better chance of reaching an egg cell at the right time.

Contrarily, if you’re trying to avoid becoming pregnant, you can track your cycles to avoid having sex during your peak fertility periods and speak to your doctor about other, more reliable kinds of birth control.

Most couples will spend significant time discussing the timing and number of children they want in their family. Because becoming pregnant is likely something that you want to carefully plan, it’s important to remember that anytime sperm comes in contact with the vaginal canal, it’s possible to become pregnant ⁠— even if most of the semen comes out or never goes in!

So, while your questions about sex may have become more complicated than they were when you first heard about the birds and the bees, creating a baby really does ultimately come down to one sperm cell meeting an egg cell.