Dear Dr. Joe: Can Pre-Ejaculate Get a Woman Pregnant?

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Once a month, Dr. Joe DeOrio, a urologist in Chicago, answers your questions on male sexual health. To ask him your own question, click here.

Dear Dr. Joe,

Can pre-ejaculate get a woman pregnant?

— Leaky

Dear Leaky,

Pre-ejaculate, or “pre-cum,” as it is commonly known, is the predominantly clear fluid that leaks from a man’s penis during sexual stimulation prior to orgasm. And, yes, it can get a woman pregnant.

Pre-ejaculate arises primarily from the periurethral glands (glands of Littre) and the bulbourethral glands (Cowper’s glands). This fluid prepares the urethra for ejaculation, and, to some extent, may provide some lubrication during sexual intercourse. Despite the fact that these glands do not produce or secrete sperm, the pre-ejaculate fluid may still contain sperm.

How does that happen? Though it is not perfectly clear, the general consensus is that some sperm remain in the penile urethra after a previous ejaculation. The pre-ejaculate fluid “picks up” some of these sperm as it traverses the urethra and escapes from the penile meatus (opening). This theory is supported by the fact that pre-ejaculate from men who have recently urinated (thereby flushing the urethra) or who have not ejaculated for a period of time often does not contain sperm.

Unfortunately, there is no way to know if your or your partner’s pre-ejaculate contains sperm, barring a full microscopic examination, which isn’t very romantic. Normal ejaculate contains tens of millions of sperm (normal is greater than 20 million per milliliter). Pre-ejaculate is significantly less, but may still contain a few million sperm. Since it only takes one sperm (and a few helper sperm) to get pregnant, there are clearly enough little guys to fertilize an egg.

The withdrawal method — or coitus interruptus, as my high school Latin teacher referred to it — is a form of birth control in which the man withdraws his penis from the vagina prior to ejaculation. Based on the information above, it is not surprising that this technique is one of the least effective forms of birth control. If perfectly practiced, the annual failure rate is 4%. But, honestly, very few people are perfect, and the annual failure rate can be as high as 28%! In comparison, perfect-use failure rates for the pill, the I.U.D., and condoms are 0.3%, 0.6%, and 2%, respectively.

So, in conclusion, pre-ejaculate certainly can get a woman pregnant. If you plan to practice the withdrawal method as a means of birth control, the male partner should always urinate before intercourse and after each ejaculation. In this scenario, though pregnancy is possible, it is far less likely (provided the male withdraws in time!). Finally, it should go without saying, withdrawal provides no protection from STD’s. Be safe!

— Dr. Joe

Dr. Joe earned his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology from Princeton University. After attending the Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, he completed his residency training in urological surgery at the Los Angeles County Medical Center. He lives and works in Chicago, IL. Keep an eye out for his upcoming blog at docjoe.net.


  1. I wouldn’t agree with your statement that it can ”certainly” get a woman pregnant, after the expalnation you just gave. You should have said that ”in theoryy” it could ”possibly” get a woman pregnant

  2. True! but for those horny days you could use a condom innit? NFP, or an acute understanding of one’s cycle is quite good for avoiding too many ‘oh-my-gosh better rush out and get the morning after pill’ moments. As in, if you understand your cycle, and you have unprotected sex and he comes or one is worried about pre-come, or the condom breaks, at least if you know you’re not in the fertile period you don’t have to fill yourself with lots of hormones unnecessarily.
    Everyone’s different, but I find most hormonal contraceptives/the morning after pill turn me into a crazy weeping monster.

    My partner and I got pregnant using NFP coz we weren’t restrained enough to use the condom in the fertile period. I want to try it again though, because with strict use of condoms on the fertile days I think this contraceptive method is the bomb diggidy.

  3. yeah, sure. NFP is the perfect method for people who manage to keep away from sex for the most horny days in the month. Long term. Fat chance.

  4. BY THE WAY, you failed to mention that if the woman is not in her fertile time, even a bucket load of come won’t get her preggers (that is a 5 day window – 4 days before she ovulates and 24 hours after the ovum is released). If like me you want to know your cycle and not use hormonal contraceptive, ask your doctor about natural family planning (or prevention!) as we call it here in the UK. It is unwise to practice natural family planning without the help of an experienced women’s health advisor or trained GP.

    I quote:
    “Natural Family Planning is not only very reliable but also does not give rise to any health risks produced by hormonal drugs. NFP is sadly underated by the NHS because it does not produce revenue from the government. I only wish the public were more aware of how exploited they are. NFP is undoubtedly the most efficient, safe and ethical method used in spacing births. It is NOT contraceptive because it does not prevent conception during sexual intercourse but uses a period of infertility during the cycle.”

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