Yes, there is a chance that precum may contain sperm, so it’s possible to get pregnant even if full ejaculation doesn’t occur in the vagina. It’s perfectly natural to wonder whether you can get pregnant using the withdrawal method or even from genital contact. So, what is precum, and why may it contain sperm? Read on to learn about the sperm content in pre-ejaculatory fluid, and why using the withdrawal method is not an effective method of contraception.
- What is precum?
- Can precum contain sperm?
- What’s the withdrawal method?
- Is the withdrawal method effective?
- What about the risk of pregnancy from genital-to-genital contact?
What is precum?
Precum, or pre-ejaculatory fluid in more scientific terms, is a lubricating fluid released from the penis during sexual arousal. It comes from the Cowper’s gland and the Glands of Littre, which connect to the urethra. These glands release an alkaline fluid that’s made up of mucus and enzymes.
Can precum contain sperm?
The short answer is: It can.
Even though pre-ejaculatory fluid itself doesn’t contain sperm, there is the possibility it comes into contact with sperm. Research shows that living sperm can leak into pre-ejaculatory fluid in men. One study found the presence of sperm in the pre-ejaculatory fluid of 16.7% of healthy men1. Whereas another study discovered that 41% of pre-ejaculatory samples from 27 men contained sperm2.
Although these studies show that the amount of sperm present was low, there is still the chance of pregnancy.
What’s the withdrawal method?
The withdrawal method, also known as the pull-out method or coitus interruptus, is when a man pulls out his penis during sex before ejaculating. The idea is that pulling out means the sperm won’t reach his partner’s egg, so this is used as a form of contraception.
Is the withdrawal method effective?
No, it is not considered an effective form of contraception. Not only is there a chance that precum may become contaminated with living sperm, but the chances of getting pregnant are higher than other methods of contraception. Out of every 100 people using the withdrawal method as their only form of contraception, 20-27 of them will be pregnant within a year (about 1 in 5 women)3,4. It’s mostly ineffective because it’s a difficult method to use perfectly, as some men may not pull out in time.
Some couples use the withdrawal method during the non-fertile days. However, you should be tracking your ovulation accurately, for example, by using an ovulation test, and only use the method after you’ve ovulated. However, there is still a risk of pregnancy when you use this method.
What about the risk of pregnancy from genital-to-genital contact?
Although pre-ejaculatory fluid itself doesn’t contain sperm, motile sperm can leak into it. To minimize the risk of unwanted pregnancy and transmissions of STDs, play it safe and wear a condom prior to any genital contact.2
If you don’t want to get pregnant, you should always use an effective method of contraception, like an IUD (intrauterine device), contraceptive implants, the pill, condoms (which also protect you against STDs) etc. Talk to your healthcare provider about finding the right form for you. If you think you may be pregnant, take a pregnancy test. That way, you can rule out any anxiety you may have about whether you’re pregnant or not.
- Kovavisarach E, Lorthanawanich S, Muangsamran P. Presence of sperm in pre-ejaculatory fluid of healthy males. J Med Assoc Thai. 2016 Feb;99 Suppl 2:S38-41
- Killick SR, Leary C, Trussell J, Guthrie KA. Sperm content of pre-ejaculatory fluid. Hum Fertil (Camb). Hum Fertil (Camb). 2011 Mar; 14(1): 48–52.
- Hatcher RA, Nelson AL, Trussell J, et al. Contraceptive Technology (21st edition). New York: Ayer Company Publishers. 2018
- World Health Organization. Family planning/contraception. Fact sheet 351. 2017, July.