Reproductive health experts get to the bottom—err, tip?—of it,

By Gabrielle Kassel
September 02, 2019
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Sputter, dribble, love snot… for a bodily fluid with a lot of nicknames, precum is cause for a lot of confusion and concern. Seriously, raise your hand if you've ever Googled or texted the sexpert of your friend group (hey, every gang's got one!) "uh...can you get pregnant from precum???"—or some iteration of that.

Rather than take it to the friend in your crew, look to these women's health experts and gynecologists to learn once and for all what the hell precum even is and whether or not you can get pregnant from it.

Precum 101

It may resemble your favorite fancy facewash, but precum is actually a sticky fluid made of enzymes, protein, and mucus that's produced in the Cowper's gland, explains Michael Ingber, M.D., board-certified urologist and female pelvic medicine specialist with The Center for Specialized Women's Health in New Jersey. This gland, also known as the bulbourethral gland, is located in the urethra inside the penis (FYI: the urethra is where pee and ejaculate come out of). When a person is aroused and close to climax, this gland releases pre-ejaculate, which the penis then spurts or sputters out, he explains. (Related: Is Sex Different With Circumcised vs Uncircumcised Penis?).

It may seem like NBD, but this stuff actually has a purpose: Precum (ahem) comes in handy for folks who are trying to get pregnant. Urine is pretty acidic, so if semen mixed with the urine "residue" in the urethra on its way into the uterus, it could alter the pH of the semen, and hinder its viability. Instead, precum slides through first, and neutralizes the acidic urine which may be left in the urethra, and therefore protects the sperm, explains Dr. Ingber.

"The precum also helps neutralize the acidity of the vagina to help the survival of sperm that will be released during ejaculation," adds Kim Langdon, M.D., an ob-gyn with ParentingPod.com. Basically, precum is sperm's body-guard, handling anything that could get in its way when making its tip-to-egg journey. Speaking of sperm…

Does Precum Contain Sperm?

Prepare yourself for an unsatisfying answer: Sometimes.

"Precum contains sperm in approximately 16 percent of men, according to one small study that examined the precum under a microscope," explains Dr. Langdon. While this study only sampled 42 men, 16 percent isn't insignificant. For a sense of scale: That's higher than the percentage of people in the U.S. who have a pet fish (#swimmers).

The sperm in precum are typically the weakest of the pack, says Dr. Langdon. But (!) another very small study found that in 37 percent of precum samples, "a reasonable proportion" were motile sperm—and, remember, it only takes one motile sperm to get pregnant. (Related: How Bad Is It to Take Plan B As a Regular Form of Contraceptive?)

So… Can You Get Pregnant from Precum?

Yes. "It would be extremely rare that someone would get pregnant from precum alone, but it's theoretically possible," says Dr. Ingber. Think of it this way: "It's sometimes difficult for people to get pregnant from a full ejaculate, which contains 40 to 500 million sperm," he says. "So, with just a few sperm in the precum, it would be highly unlikely."

But still, there's not a zero-percent chance, he says. (BTW, did you know your chances of getting pregnant are higher with a new partner?)

In fact, precum is one of the reasons the pull-out method isn't effective as a sole method of birth control, according to Savita Ginde, M.D., family-planning doctor and VP of Medical Affairs at Stride Community Health Center in Englewood, Colorado. Precum isn't something you can control or turn off, she explains. "More often than not, people don't even know when the precum release occurs." So, even if your partner pulls out before the ~full blown~ ejaculation, the pre-ejaculation (which, again, may contain sperm!) has probably already happened, she says. (More on that here: How Effective Is The Pull-Out Method, Exactly?)

It Matters Where You Are In Your Menstrual Cycle

Of course, it takes two to tango—and to get pregnant. Where you are in your menstrual cycle affects how likely you are to get pregnant from precum, according to Dr. Ginde. (These period-tracking apps can help you figure out where you are in your cycle.)

Ovulation, which typically takes place 14 days after the start of your last period, is known as your cycle's fertility sweet spot. "Ovulation is when there's actually an egg present that could get fertilized and result in a pregnancy," she says. During this period, an egg is only available to be fertilized for about 12 to 24 hours; however, since sperm can live in the body for three to five days after sex, and the egg is available for one day, your most fertile time is considered to be about five to seven days, according to the American Pregnancy Association. So, if you're near your ovulation window, that's when you're most likely to get pregnant—either from precum or a full ejaculate, says Dr. Ginde.

So, can you get pregnant from precum on your period? Since your period is on the opposite end of your menstrual cycle from ovulation, that's an almost definite no. "If you're on your period (a.k.a not ovulating), it's incredibly unlikely that precum would result in pregnancy," says Dr. Ingber. (See More: Can You Get Pregnant If You Have Sex On Your Period?).

No, Getting Precum Near Your Vagina Won't Get You Pregnant

Ok, but can you get pregnant from precum on the outside of your vagina? "This would be HIGHLY, HIGHLY unlikely," says Dr. Ingber (emphasis his).

For someone to get pregnant, the sperm needs to get inside the cervical canal, which typically sits several centimeters higher than the vaginal canal, he explains. "If the pre-ejaculate is simply on the labia or rubbed on the vaginal opening, it would be very unlikely for the sperm to get where it needs to go to get someone pregnant, he says. "Sperm don't typically swim this far, and most would likely die on the outside of the body." Phew.

The Bottom Line On Precum

Yes, you can get pregnant from precum. No, it isn't super likely. But, if you're actively trying to avoid pregnancy, it's something to keep in mind.

Plus, it's worth mentioning that anytime you forgo condoms, there's risk of STI transmission. "Precum can transmit fluid-born STIs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, HPV, and trichomonas," says Dr. Ginde. "The best way to protect against STI and pregnancy risk is to use protection and to have a conversation with your partner about their STI status." (Just make sure you're avoiding these common condom mistakes.)

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