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Sperm and Pre-Cum: What You Need to Know

By , 18, Staff Writer Originally Published: September 19, 2012 Revised: September 5, 2018

The first time I ever heard the term “pre-cum,” formally known as pre-ejaculatory fluid, was when someone in my eighth grade health class asked, “Can a girl get pregnant from pre-cum?” In response to the question the teacher shook her head and told the class that pre-cum would only contain sperm if the guy had ejaculated earlier and hadn’t urinated since then. While this surprised me, I wondered why this even mattered since, in my mind, if you were having sex you were wearing a condom.

As it turns out, my classmate wasn’t the only one who worried and wondered about this. During my first day at Sex, Etc.,one of the new writers asked the exact same question during one of our sexual health lessons and got the same response. It struck me that there are teens who probably think that if they pull out before they ejaculate—otherwise known as coitus interruptus—they won’t have to worry about pregnancy since they have been told that pre-cum cannot contain sperm. It all made sense now: pre-cum is such a hot topic because teens want to know if you could avoid pregnancies by simply pulling out before ejaculating.

But heads up to those of you who plan to try pulling out as a form of birth control: a recent study published in Human Fertility may have changed everything we thought about pre-cum and the possibility of pregnancy.

It all made sense now: pre-cum is such a hot topic because teens want to know if you could avoid pregnancies by simply pulling out before ejaculating.

A Surprising New Finding

Pre-cum is made in the Cowper’s gland, and sperm is made in the testicles. Pre-cum and sperm come from two different places, so if a guy hasn’t ejaculated recently, there shouldn’t be any sperm in his pre-cum. At least, that’s what was thought until now.

To determine whether pre-cum could contain sperm, researchers had 27 random participants masturbate multiple times and collect a sample of their pre-cum on a petri dish before ejaculating. The researchers then analyzed these samples to find out if they contained any sperm. Researchers were surprised by what they found: 41 percent of the men had traces of semen in their pre-cum. Ten of the 27 participants actually had sperm in their pre-cum.

This means that a little over a third of the participants had sperm, which would be able to fertilize an egg, in their pre-cum. Now, before you freak out and immediately assume that pre-cum is just as likely as sperm-filled semen to cause a pregnancy, there are a couple of things you should know. First of all, the guys who had sperm in their pre-cum always had sperm in their pre-cum, and those who didn’t have sperm in their pre-cum never had it in their pre-cum.

Second, since pre-cum is produced in much smaller quantities than ejaculate, there is a lot less sperm in pre-cum than there is when a guy fully ejaculates.

Why Risk It?

So what does this mean? For starters, it is important that teens realize that they cannot be completely sure that pregnancy will not occur if they practice pulling out as their birth control method. It’s also important to realize that many guys cannot tell exactly when they are going to ejaculate, so there is always the risk that the guy will not pull out in time.

A pregnancy can occur when sperm are in the vagina or even just on the vaginal opening. In the event that the guy successfully pulls out, there is also the risk that his pre-cum will contain sperm. Even though the amount of sperm is much lower in pre-cum, it still might be there and this means that there is a chance of pregnancy. Is that a risk you want to take? And remember that pre-cum, whether it contains sperm or not, absolutely can transmit sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), so pulling out provides no protection against STDs.

I know that sometimes in the moment it seems like too much of a hassle to put on a condom, and you think to yourself, Hey, things will be fine if I pull out. Well, in those moments, remember that pre-cum isn’t guaranteed to be sperm-free. Condoms are made to protect people from both STDs and unplanned pregnancies, so why not use them? After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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