By Adrian Lam, 17, Staff WriterOriginally Published: November 7, 2017Revised: September 5, 2018
“It was 9 o’clock on a Wednesday night when my partner and I were messing around. There was a full moon outside, an episode of Survivor had just finished, and the sounds of howling wolves could be heard in the distance. At the precise moment when Sirius aligned with the stars in Orion’s belt, my partner came, and some of his semen dripped onto my butt. Could I be pregnant?”
—A Very Concerned Teen
O.K., O.K., I admit this question may be a teensy bit exaggerated, but before you laugh, you should know that many teens are not clear about how pregnancy happens and whether they are at risk for pregnancy. We at Sex, Etc. often receive questions similar to the one above. Judging from the barrage of questions on our Tumblr asking, “Could I be pregnant if…,” there’s an overwhelming concern about pregnancy.
Do you remember the scene from Mean Girls where Coach Carr tells his students, “Don’t have sex. ‘Cause you will get pregnant…and die!” Fortunately for you and me, sex doesn’t always result in pregnancy (or death!), especially when contraception is used. So without further ado, let’s jump right in and talk about what we should really be concerned about!
Anxiety vs. Reality
There are many misconceptions about pregnancy and sperm that can cause lots of anxiety. Before we talk about these anxieties versus reality, let’s get clear about how pregnancy actually happens.
In order for pregnancy to happen, semen has to get inside the vagina. This means that someone has to ejaculate into his partner’s vagina for there to be a risk of pregnancy. Once inside the vagina, the sperm that are in the semen swim up through the cervix into the uterus and onto the fallopian tubes, which are also known as the uterine tubes. Keep in mind that there is not always an egg available to be fertilized. The presence of an egg is determined by where someone is in the menstrual cycle. Pregnancy can only happen if sperm enters a uterine tube when the ovary has released an egg. If a sperm meets up with an egg, they may join together. The now-fertilized egg travels back down to the uterus to implant in the lining of the uterus.
The best way to avoid having to worry about [pregnancy] is to use a condomand a hormonal birth control method, like the Pill.
With this in mind, let’s consider what teens should actually be mindful about and what teens don’t need to worry about as much.
Anxiety: Sperm can live and travel outside of the body.
Reality: Sorry to crash your party, but “supersperm” does not exist. Sperm are more like delicate little flowers. They do not have the magical powers to travel through clothing or live for days outside of the body.
Reality: It’s important to realize that pre-cum and sperm come from different places. Pre-cum mostly comes from the Cowper’s glands, while the testicles produce sperm. Many people do not have sperm in their pre-cum, but some may have sperm in their pre-cum. It’s important to keep in mind that if you or your partner is one of those people who does have sperm in his pre-cum, there are much smaller amounts of sperm in pre-cum than in semen. So, although pregnancy is not likely to occur from pre-cum alone, there is a slight possibility because you have no way of knowing if you or your partner does or does not have small amounts of sperm in your pre-cum. The best way to avoid having to worry about this is to use a condom and a hormonal birth control method, like the Pill.
Anxiety: I will get pregnant if I do XYZ.
Reality: Here are some activities where the possibility of getting pregnant is nonexistent to very low: dry rubbing, oral sex and anal sex. You cannot get pregnant or get an STD from dry rubbing with clothes on. But dry rubbing with clothes off puts you at risk for STDs that are spread from skin-to-skin contact. If you don’t use condoms or dental dams during oral or anal sex, you are at risk for STDs. You are at greatest risk for pregnancy during unprotected penile-vaginal sex with ejaculation inside of the vagina. If no birth control method is being used at all during penile-vaginal sex, the withdrawal or “pull-out” method is more effective at preventing pregnancy than using nothing at all. Condoms, however, are more effective at preventing pregnancy than the withdrawal method and also reduce the risk of getting STDs.
So, in response to “A Very Concerned Teen’s” question from the start of the article, the answer is, in short, no. You cannot get pregnant from semen dripped outside of your body. It’s not possible to become pregnant when sperm is not deposited inside of the vagina. While it’s great that teens are curious and concerned about the risk of pregnancy, many of these situations where there is skin-to-skin contact or an exchange of fluids—like semen and vaginal discharge—actually pose a higher risk for contracting an STD than causing a pregnancy.
Pregnancy vs. STDs
Half of the nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) reported each year were among young people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And yet, teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. have been steadily dropping and have hit historic lows in recent years. Looking at these numbers, STDs should be something young people are concerned about, but Sex, Etc.’s Tumblr rarely gets questions about STDs. Why is that?
When I talk to Drake, 18, from Stafford, VA about this, he says, “There’s more of a social stigma attached to teen pregnancy than having STDs. Getting pregnant or getting your partner pregnant is clear evidence that both of you had sex.”
That’s definitely one way to think about it. At some point in a pregnancy, people can usually see if a teen is pregnant, but they may not know if someone has an STD just by looking at them. For this reason, teens may overlook STDs. That STDs aren’t as apparent as the late stages of pregnancy are doesn’t mean we should neglect talking about them. Since the most common symptom of an STD is no symptom at all, it is especially important to use safer sex methods, like condoms and dental dams, to prevent STDs as well as pregnancy. Only using hormonal birth control, like the Pill, will not prevent STDs.
Drake concludes, “I think teens should be equally concerned about both pregnancy and STDs when having sex. Generally, if you take proper precautions, you can prevent both. I think many teens fail to realize that it’s not about following the rules adults tell them. It’s really about protecting themselves and their future.” Well said, Drake!
Meanwhile, Justina, 17, from Union, NJ has another perspective: “It is important to make the right decisions regarding contraceptives and protection to prevent (pregnancy) from happening earlier than it really should.” This is very true. We would not want the responsibility of having a baby if we are not ready for it. However, even though teen pregnancy may appear to be more life-changing than STDs, some STDs are incurable and require treatment for a lifetime.
Therefore, I’ll say it again: if you choose to have sex, the best way to prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of you or your partner getting an STD is to use a condom and a hormonal birth control method, like the Pill.
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