Q&A: Pulling Out During Sex: Does Pre-Cum Pose a Pregnancy Risk?

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QUESTION: Pulling out before ejaculating might be better than nothing, but how effective is this method? Wouldn't pre-cum pose a pregnancy risk?

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Pull-Out

Photo: prettywar-stl (flickr.com)

Just because a man plans to pull his penis out of his partner’s vagina before he ejaculates does not mean that he will be able to.

Research on Pulling Out

The withdrawal method – also called “pulling out” – has received a lot of attention recently thanks to a research study that suggested that it was just as effective at reducing the risk of pregnancy as male condoms.

This finding was confusing for many people as it is commonly believed, by many women and men, that couples can become pregnant from a man’s pre-ejaculatory fluids, which are also called pre-cum.

The truth is a little trickier than that.

The Way It All Works

Here’s the deal: pre-ejaculatory fluids do not contain any sperm. They are clear fluids that come from small glands inside of a man’s body, including glands called the Cowper’s glands. These pre-ejaculatory fluids are released into a man’s urethra when he becomes aroused and they help to lubricate the urethra.

Some men produce more pre-ejaculatory fluid than others and they may be able to see it come out of their penis while they are aroused. Others don’t produce as much pre-ejaculatory fluid and it may not be noticeable to them at all. Because pre-ejaculatory fluid does not contain sperm, it cannot get a woman pregnant.

Reasons to Avoid Unprotected Sex

That said, most healthcare providers and sexual health educators still discourage people from having unprotected sex for several reasons.

First of all, couples can still pass infections to one another.

Second, just because a man plans to pull his penis out of his partner’s vagina before he ejaculates does not mean that he will be able to. Many men ejaculate more quickly than they would like. Men may feel as though they have control over when and where they ejaculate, but they may suddenly feel very excited during sex or a certain position may stimulate their penis in a way they didn’t expect and they may come without meaning to.

Therefore, the withdrawal method is not effective at preventing pregnancy for all men. It probably works very well for men who can routinely and reliably control the timing of their ejaculate. It probably does not reduce pregnancy risk for those men who find it challenging to control when and where they ejaculate.

Finally, there is one last risk with pre-ejaculate and pregnancy. Although pre-ejaculate does not itself contain sperm, it can carry leftover sperm out of a man’s body.

For example, if a man masturbates and ejaculates and then an hour later has sex with a woman without a condom, he could potentially get her pregnant even if he doesn’t come inside her if his pre-ejaculatory fluids carry his leftover sperm out of his penis and into her vagina. To flush out his leftover sperm, he could try peeing before sex.

Learn More

To learn more about condoms, the withdrawal technique and other methods of birth control, check out Planned Parenthood’s website.

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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Comments

  • mitchdcba

    not always but it can. sperm from the last ejaculation can become mixed in with it and survive .. right?