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Can you get pregnant without having sex?

The information provided herein does not constitute an expert or medical advice, nor intended to replace such advice.

Sexual Health
STD Tests

We know that penetrative intercourse is usually necessary to get pregnant. You may have heard tales of people who got pregnant without having sex, but is this even possible? And how would pregnancy occur without sex?

Keep reading to find out if you can get pregnant without having sex.

Can you get pregnant without having sex?

Although the risk of getting pregnant without having sex is very low, it’s still theoretically possible.

But despite the fact that it’s possible to get pregnant without engaging in penetrative sex, sperm cells always have to enter a woman’s vagina for fertilization to occur. So even without penetrative sex, intimate contact is still necessary for pregnancy, since the sperm has to come into contact with the woman’s genitals. You can’t get pregnant from other activities, such as kissing, holding hands, or rubbing against your partner with your clothes on (commonly known as “dry humping”).

Sperm cells are typically found in a man’s sperm or “cum”, which comes out of a man’s penis when he has an orgasm and ejaculates. However, pre-ejaculatory fluid, commonly referred to as “pre-cum” can contain a smaller amount of sperm cells which can also cause pregnancy.

There are different ways in which sperm cells could come into contact with a woman’s vagina without penetrative sex, including:

  • Masturbation
  • “Fingering”
  • Anal sex
  • Sex toys
  • Rubbing genitals
  • Your partner ejaculates very close to your vagina

Keep in mind that this can only happen if sperm cells are present. For example, you can’t get pregnant from using a sex toy on your own, but you could get pregnant from using a sex toy that has viable sperm cells on it. According to the NHS, sperm cells can only live for a very short time outside of the body.

How to prevent pregnancy

The good news is that there are many different contraceptive methods available. However, different methods will work differently from one person to the next, and each method can come with certain contraindications and side effects.

It’s very important to seek medical assistance before starting a new contraceptive method, such as the pill or a hormonal injection. Your healthcare provider will be able to offer guidance and help you choose the right method for you, depending on your lifestyle, personal and family history, and preferences.

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Barrier methods

When used correctly every time you have sex, condoms are a very effective method of birth control. According to a study published in the journal Contraception, the effectiveness of male condoms against pregnancy ranged between 93 and 99 percent.

Keep in mind that condoms — whether male or female — are the only contraception method that can prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), in addition to unplanned pregnancies. So even if you’re using an additional contraceptive, you should still use condoms properly  and get tested regularly to prevent getting an STI.

Other barrier methods include:

  • Cervical diaphragms
  • Cervical caps
  • Cervical sponge

According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, these barrier methods can be used in combination with spermicide to increase their effectiveness. When using a barrier method, you shouldn’t wait until penetration to put it on. As mentioned above, pre-cum can contain sperm cells, so you should use these methods whenever you engage in intimate contact that could result in pregnancy.

Hormonal methods

Hormonal contraceptive methods are some of the most effective at preventing unplanned pregnancies.Some methods need to be taken daily, while others can last months or even years. According to Planned Parenthood, hormonal contraceptives include:

  • Birth control implant
  • Hormonal intrauterine device (IUD)
  • Birth control shot
  • Vaginal ring
  • Birth control patch
  • Birth control pill

Copper IUD

The copper IUD, also known as ParaGard, is a small device covered in copper thread that is inserted into the woman’s uterus. According to the Mayo Clinic, the copper IUD is effective for up to 10 years after insertion and it can be used in premenopausal women of all ages.

Natural contraception

Natural birth control methods typically rely on tracking your ovulation to avoid having sex during your fertile day. These methods are also known as fertility awareness methods, natural family planning, or the rhythm method. Natural contraceptive methods aren’t the most effective, and you’ll need to track your cycle very closely to increase their success rate. 

Surgical sterilization

Surgical sterilization is meant to be permanent, which is why it’s only offered to people who are sure that they don’t want to have children in the future. Males can get a vasectomy, while females can undergo tubal ligation. These methods are very effective and typically have a low rate of complications — particularly vasectomy, which is a simple outpatient procedure.

As we mentioned above, in addition to preventing pregnancy, you also need to prioritize STD prevention by using condoms and getting tested regularly. You can learn more about other sexual health topics at STDWatch.com now. 

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Can I get pregnant if I have sex without penetration? - nhs.uk

Effectiveness of the male latex condom: combined results for three popular condom brands used as controls in randomized clinical trials - pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Barrier Methods of Birth Control: Spermicide, Condom, Sponge, Diaphragm, and Cervical Cap - acog.org

Birth Control - plannedparenthood.org

Copper IUD (ParaGard) - mayoclinic.org

Dr. Andrea Pinto Lopez

Dr. Andrea Pinto Lopez

Mar 25, 2022

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