If you’ve hooked up with a penis-owner or are a penis-owner yourself, you may have noticed a clear, odorless, sticky substance coming out of the penis during foreplay or sex. This is pre-ejaculate or precum, and it’s totally normal. In fact, it can increase the pleasure of intercourse by providing lubrication.
What exactly is precum? Can you get pregnant from it? Read on to find out everything you need to know about precum and what you can do about it.
What is precum?
Precum is also known as Cowper’s fluid because it’s made in the Cowper gland. The Cowper gland is part of the male reproductive system and it’s located just behind the prostate gland.
Precum is produced when a person is aroused. It’s not like having an orgasm and releasing ejaculate fluid, though. People with penises don’t usually know it’s on their penis because no physical sensation accompanies its release. The fluid itself serves a few functions before and during the reproductive process. First, it neutralizes the acidity of any urine that might be left in the urethra. Sperm doesn’t like acidic environments. Since sperm and urine both travel through the urethra, neutralizing acid from urine will help sperm survive. Next, precum also helps neutralize the acidity of the vagina, again, to help sperm survive. As mentioned above, precum also provides some lubrication to get the whole reproductive process in motion.
Can you get pregnant from precum?
People with penises can’t control their production of precum. When people have sex without using a barrier method, it’s possible for some pre-ejaculate to be released without either partner noticing. Partners who use the withdrawal or “pulling out” method should know that there is a chance some sperm may be present in precum. Some people with penises don’t produce any noticeable precum, while others can produce up to 5 mL. (It’s not possible to know how much sperm is in your precum unless you keep a microscope by your bed and have some training in microbiology.)
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a ton of research on exactly how much sperm is in the ejaculatory fluid. However, the research that exists indicates that while it’s possible that there might be no sperm in some people’s precum, there is sperm capable of fertilizing an egg in other people’s precum. Since there’s no way to tell if you or your partner might have sperm in pre-ejaculate, it’s best to use another birth control option besides or in addition to withdrawal if you or your partner don’t want to become pregnant.
Withdrawal has a 22% failure rate. That means that for every 100 couples who use withdrawal as primary birth control for one year, 22 will experience a pregnancy. IUDs, hormonal birth control, sterilization, and condoms are more effective at preventing pregnancy than withdrawal. However, if withdrawal is the only option available, it does reduce the risk of pregnancy.
Dr. Daniel Atkinson, Clinical Lead for Treated.com explains, “Withdrawal requires a lot of restraint, an in-depth knowledge of your own body and immense trust for both of your bodies” He explains that one in every five couples using this method get pregnant, and it has the highest rate of pregnancy amongst any other contraceptive method. Not to mention, the pull-out method does not protect against STIs.
Can you remove sperm from precum?
There’s no research to verify that it’s possible to reduce the amount of sperm in precum. However, because it’s possible that some sperm in precum is leftover from previous ejaculations, theoretically, you may be able to flush it out by urinating both before and after ejaculation. It’s fine to do this as a precaution, but it’s not a reliable or studied method of preventing pregnancy.
How can I make sure I don’t get pregnant from precum?
Birth control and barriers are well-studied effective methods for preventing pregnancy when used correctly. The birth control implant, IUDs, and permanent sterilization (for both people with penises and people with uteruses) are all methods that are more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Other forms of hormonal birth control range in effectiveness from 91-94% in preventing pregnancy. However, these methods when perfectly used (ie: not missing a pill, getting your shot on time, etc.) increases effectiveness to nearly 99%.
External (often referred to as male) condoms and internal (often referred to as female) condoms are around 82% effective at preventing pregnancy and are even more effective when used correctly and consistently. The options can be quite overwhelming, but we have a breakdown of all the information you need to choose the best protection method for you and your partner. Preventing pregnancy is also possible by avoiding penetrative vaginal sex and exploring partnered pleasure in other ways, for example oral and manual sex.
Are there any other risks that come with precum?
There is some evidence that precum is capable of transmitting some STIs. Some studies have found infectious agents in precum, including HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. The best way to prevent STIs is to use a condom.
You, your partner and precum
At the end of the day, if you’re having sex with a partner who is able to produce precum, just know that even though it’s totally natural and normal (and can make sex feel great), having sex without a barrier method does come with risks of pregnancy and STI transmission. To reduce your risk as much as possible, you can combine a hormonal method of birth control with a barrier method.