When it comes to bodily fluids we tend to be a bit squeamish – particularly when it’s something our own bodies don’t produce.
When we reach sexual maturity our curiosity to learn more about sex increases. This is especially true in many communities where sex education is still considered taboo.
We know the basics, such as ‘sperm meets egg and creates a baby’. Most young people learn that the egg is released by a woman’s ovaries each month and that a man produces sperm, ejaculated in semen.
But we might not be aware of other things, such as how many sperm cells are found in precum – a fluid that comes out of the penis during sexual arousal before ejaculation.
Let’s find out more.
What is precum and when does it occur?
Precum (or sometimes pre-cum) is a fluid discharged by the Cowper’s glands at the base of the penis during sexual arousal.
This pre-ejaculatory fluid is responsible for lubrication and cleaning of the urethra. It counteracts the acidity of urine that also travels through the urethra. This ensures the pH is optimal for sperm to travel in search of the egg.
You can read more in What is precum.
Why could pre-ejaculate fluid be the cause of any anxiety?
There are two major concerns for people who engage in sex and who aren’t trying to fall pregnant: to avoid pregnancy; and to avoid contracting a sexually transmitted infection.
We know condoms are the most effective contraceptive methods women use to stay safe from unexpected pregnancy or STIs.
We understand barrier methods well: during sexual activity, we put a physical barrier between the two sexual partners. There is no exchange of sexual fluids.
What about precum? Can a woman get an STI or get pregnant from pre-ejaculatory fluid?
Precum is a sexual fluid, as are semen and vaginal fluid. So yes, you can actually catch a sexually transmitted infection for having unprotected contact with precum.
Let’s find out how likely it is to get pregnant from pre-cum fluid.
Can precum cause pregnancy?
The short answer is this: although unlikely, yes, pre-cum can carry motile sperm that can cause a pregnancy.
Research carried out in the UK found sperm cells in precum samples from 41% of the subjects and these were perfectly motile in 37% of tested men. The results were consistent in individuals, which means they consistently carried sperm (or not) in their precum fluid.
For those who don’t have sperm in their precum fluid, the withdrawal method or ‘pull out’ method might be more successful in avoiding pregnancy than for those with live sperm in their precum.
To avoid pregnancy, however, this withdrawal method or pull out method should not be fully trusted.
Another thing to take into account is although not all men secrete sperm while producing pre-ejaculate fluid, live sperm from previous ejaculations can remain in the urethra.
In an average ejaculation, the number of sperm cells goes from 40 million to 1.2 billion. In pre-cum samples, up to 5 million sperm cells have been found.
When determining sperm count, anything below 40 million is considered low sperm count. The chances of achieving a pregnancy with a low count aren’t very high but it can happen. At the end of the day, it takes only one sperm to fertilize the egg.
Can you get pregnant from precum while ovulating?
If there’s a moment in the menstrual cycle where women are most fertile it’s the time around ovulation. The woman’s body is ready for conception to occur. And it needs only one sperm.
Whether this sperm comes from semen or from pre-ejaculate doesn’t matter; one sperm can cause a pregnancy.
Women can get pregnant from pre-cum, especially during ovulation, as their bodies are at their most receptive to achieve a pregnancy.
Can you get pregnant from precum on your period?
Human fertility is really affected by the synchronicity of the male and female bodies working together.
When a woman is having her period, her chances of getting pregnant are very low.
Women get their periods because fertilization of the egg hasn’t occurred. The layer of the uterus that was built up to nurture a potential embryo is shed.
At this point, the woman’s body isn’t ready to get pregnant but is preparing for the next menstrual cycle.
At the same time, we know the body’s ultimate mission in life is to reproduce, so it will do everything possible to achieve this.
A live sperm can live inside the woman’s reproductive tract for up to five days after ejaculation has occurred.
In an average, regular 28-day cycle, day 1 is considered the first day of your period and ovulation naturally usually occurs on day 14. For women with shorter cycles, getting pregnant from pre-ejaculate fluid during their periods is a possibility.
You can read more about the menstrual cycle and the possibilities of getting pregnant at each stage in the;
Can you get pregnant from precum if there’s no penetration?
Preventing pregnancy is on the agenda of almost every woman who engages in sex and uses some form of birth control.
Getting pregnant needs the following factors to be present:
- An egg has been, or is about to be, released in the woman’s body
- A healthy male will ejaculate healthy sperm
- There is penetrative sexual intercourse, where sperm is ejaculated as close to the cervix as possible to give each sperm the best chance of reaching the mature egg to fertilize it.
If these factors happen together, it’s very likely conception will happen; it’s also possible that it will not.
This isn’t the only way to achieve a pregnancy, however.
Sometimes, pregnancy can occur even when many of these favorable factors aren’t present.
Perhaps you’re wondering whether it’s possible to get pregnant from precum when there’s no penetrative sex. The answer is: it’s not likely, but it is possible.
During sexual arousal, the male body gets ready for vaginal penetration and ejaculation. A penile erection occurs and the Cowper glands – two pea-sized glands at the base of the penis – start to release pre-ejaculate to prepare the urethra for ejaculation.
At the same time, the woman’s body, as it gets sexually aroused, will prepare to receive the penis and sperm. The external genitalia (labia) fill with blood and open up, and lubrication starts to occur.
All sexual fluids have the same mission: to make the way easier for the egg and the sperm to meet up.
Male sexual fluids will make sure the way is lubricated and ready to give sperm the best chance to make it to the inside of the uterus in the best possible shape.
At the same time, vaginal fluids are also making the way as easy as possible for the sperm to reach the egg.
During sexual intercourse, women’s labia play a very important role. They open up and get ready to receive the penis. At the same time, lubrication occurs and mucus is secreted to help the sperm get through the cervix. If the woman is very aroused, this mucus will cover much of her genitalia, from the labia to the cervix.
In other words, the genitalia is doing everything in their power for the sperm to reach the egg.
Even if there’s no penetrative sex there is a chance for sperm present in pre-ejaculate fluid to reach the egg. It just needs to get close enough to the woman’s external genitalia. Once in contact with the woman’s sexual fluids, a sperm is able to swim all the way up to the egg and fertilize it.
Pubic hair appears when we achieve sexual maturity. You might have wondered about its role.
Pubic hair also helps with lubrication, by keeping the area moist; it also helps to keep sexual fluids close together.
Can you get pregnant from precum while on birth control?
We know birth control methods can fail. We also know pre-ejaculate sperm content can be quite high.
The chances of both things occurring at the same time aren’t very high but the possibility is still there.
Speak to your family planning healthcare providers if you have any queries. They might be the best professionals to answer your specific and individual queries.
What are the chances of getting pregnant from precum?
We’ve been through the different scenarios, in terms of the possibility of getting pregnant from pre cum. We’ve dug a bit further into human sexual physiology and understood a little better how our bodies work sexually.
The chances of getting pregnant from precum aren’t very high. It’s very difficult, however, to quantify any measurable data to find out exactly what the chances are of getting pregnant from pre-ejaculate.
It’s only possible to count those pregnancies that occur when there was no ejaculation and that’s not always something people remember if they’re not actively trying to get pregnant.
If you’re practicing unprotected sex in the belief precum can’t cause a pregnancy, you can’t be completely confident. Although the chances of getting pregnant from pre-ejaculate are low, it’s still possible.
Speak to your healthcare provider about the best birth control options for you and your partner, so you can enjoy a healthy sexual life.