Q&A: Period Length And Pregnancy Risk

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QUESTION: I've been a nervous wreck for the past couple of days. The other day, I was on day 3 of my period, and I had my boyfriend over. We have never had sex and I pride myself on that. Occasionally, though, he will stick his hands down my pants. He doesn't finger me or anything, he just puts his hand down there. He insists he had nothing on his hands (like sperm) but then on day 5 of my period, my period ended. Normally I have a 6 or 7 day period, so could I be pregnant? What if he accidentally touched pre-cum before putting his hands in my pants? Could I be pregnant?

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We get a lot of questions from women and men who are concerned about pregnancy risk. If anything, it reminds us how important it is to educate young women and men about pregnancy and sexuality and what does (or doesn’t) put a couple at risk of becoming pregnant.

In order to become pregnant, a man’s sperm need to be able to fertilize a woman’s egg, and then the fertilized egg needs to be able to implant itself into the lining of a woman’s uterus, which is called the endometrium.

If your boyfriend didn’t have any recently ejaculated semen on his hand, and if his hand didn’t go very near your vaginal entrance or inside your vaginal entrance, then I cannot imagine a scenario in which you would become pregnant. He would have had to fresh, wet semen on his hand – which you probably would have noticed – and then somehow have gotten it inside or awfully close to your vaginal opening. If you are worried about sperm somehow being “leftover” on his hand from an earlier episode of masturbation, that is also unlikely – clean, dry hands don’t keep sperm alive.

Let’s turn now to women’s menstrual periods. Even if you usually have 6 or 7 day periods, that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have shorter or even longer periods. Menstrual periods can change due to stress, weight changes, hormonal changes, health issues or for no apparent reason whatsoever. Periods are especially likely to change during adolescence. Girls who are used to having 5 day periods from age 13 to 16 may find that when they are 17 or 18 or 20, their periods become shorter or longer, or lighter or heavier. These types of changes are actually quite common, and may continue to change even in adulthood.

If you are feeling anxious about being sexual with your boyfriend, it may be a sign that you need more information about sexual health, and maybe that you need to communicate more with him about your decision to be sexual together in this way. You may also want to spend more time thinking to yourself what your values, concerns and expectations are related to sexuality, so that you can have experiences that feel more comfortable and enjoyable to you.

If you want to continue being sexual with him in this way, consider ways that can make it feel more comfortable to you, such as perhaps touching each other over each other’s clothes, rather than under them. That way you can feel more certain that you will not become pregnant.

To learn more about women’s sexual health and pregnancy risk, consider reading the book Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
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