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May 13, 2021
4 min read

Can you get pregnant from precum?

Precum (a.k.a. pre-ejaculatory fluid) is a clear fluid produced by the penis after arousal. Although rare, it is possible to become pregnant from precum. It is produced by the Cowper’s glands, which don’t produce sperm, although sperm might mix with precum before it leaves the penis. This is one reason why the “pull-out method” fails almost 20% of the time.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

You’re fooling around with your sexual partner, and things are starting to heat up. You don’t have a condom, but you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant as long as he pulls out before ejaculating, right? 

Wrong. 

If you’ve ever wondered, “Can you get pregnant from precum?”—the short answer is yes. Let’s explore what precum is and how you can avoid pregnancy from this (perhaps unexpected) source. 

What is precum?

Precum (also known as pre-ejaculate or pre-ejaculatory fluid) is a clear fluid released from the penis via the urethra after erection and before ejaculation. It’s produced by the Cowper’s glands, two pea-sized glands between the prostate and urethra at the base of the penis. Scientists think its evolutionary function was to provide lubrication for intercourse and to alkalize the slightly acidic urethra, helping sperm survive to their destination. 

Is there sperm in precum?

Although the Cowper’s glands don’t produce sperm, sperm can leak into the precum from the other male reproductive organs. Semen can also remain in the urethra after a previous ejaculation, allowing sperm to mix with precum.

When does precum happen?

Everyone is different. Some might emit precum soon after arousal; for others, it may happen closer to the ejaculatory fireworks.  You may produce quite a bit of precum, while others may not. Precum might appear as a small amount at the tip of the penis, or it may ooze more freely. 

Can I prevent precum from happening?

Precum is a lubricant your body makes in preparation for penetration. You cannot control when you release precum, even if you can control ejaculation. This is why you should wear a condom before any genital contact, even during foreplay, if you are concerned about pregnancy.

Can you get pregnant from precum?

In a word: Yes. Women can get pregnant from precum. It’s not likely, but it is possible.

One study looking at the pre-ejaculatory fluid of healthy males found that 41% of them had precum that contained sperm. In most of those cases, the sperm was “motile” or moving. Researchers recommend that you use condoms from the first moment of genital contact. Interestingly, some men may be less likely to leak sperm into their pre-ejaculate fluid (Killick, 2011).

Some heterosexual couples use the withdrawal method (a.k.a. coitus interruptus, or the “pull-out method”) as a form of birth control or family planning—where the penis is withdrawn from the vagina before ejaculation. There’s almost a 20% failure rate for the withdrawal method, compared to a 13% rate for condoms and 6% for the birth control pill (Sundaram, 2017). 

How to avoid getting pregnant from precum

To avoid getting pregnant from precum, you can use barrier methods of birth control (like male or female condoms) or other contraceptives like IUDs, oral birth control, or a birth control implant. Know that these birth control methods are much more reliable than “pulling out.” If you are using a condom, you should put it on before any genital contact to decrease your risk of pregnancy.  

If you’re using the “pull-out method,” urinating before sex may help flush out any lingering sperm in the urethra. Withdraw from the vagina before any ejaculate is released, and keep semen away from your partner’s genitals when ejaculating. Even a small amount of semen is enough to cause pregnancy; remember, it only takes one sperm to fertilize an egg for pregnancy to occur.

Risk of STIs from precum

It’s possible to contract STDs before ejaculation. The bacteria and viruses that cause sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, and syphilis can be transmitted via precum (Habel, 2018). 

For example, if you perform oral sex on a penis infected with the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, it’s possible to contract that STI in your throat even if there is no ejaculation. Precum can also transmit STIs to the vagina or anus. Although the risk is small, it’s possible to contract STIs if you touch your partner’s penis, then touch your genitals, anus, or eyes.

Is my precum normal?

Precum is clear and released by the penis after arousal. If you notice a discharge that appears at other times, is white, yellow, or green, or is accompanied by pain, itching, or burning, it might be an STI, and you should consult a healthcare provider. 

It’s also a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider about your sexual health regularly — your sexual history, how you can avoid sexually transmitted infections, how often you should be tested for them, and birth control, if applicable.

References

  1. Habel, M. A., Leichliter, J. S., Dittus, P. J., Spicknall, I. H., & Aral, S. O. (2018). Heterosexual anal and oral sex in adolescents and adults in the United States, 2011-2015. Sexually transmitted diseases, 45(12), 775–782. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000889. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29965947/
  2. Killick, S. R., Leary, C., Trussell, J., & Guthrie, K. A. (2011). Sperm content of pre-ejaculatory fluid. Human fertility (Cambridge, England), 14(1), 48–52. doi: 10.3109/14647273.2010.520798. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3564677/
  3. Sundaram, A., Vaughan, B., Kost, K., Bankole, A., Finer, L., Singh, S., & Trussell, J. (2017). Contraceptive failure in the United States: estimates from the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth. Perspectives on sexual and reproductive health, 49(1), 7–16. doi: 10.1363/psrh.12017. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28245088