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Um, can I get pregnant if…?

Myths, gray areas, foreign agents—we got deets.

by Grace Shih, MD, MAS

Pregnancy scares: most people have one at some point. Even when you know how pregnancy happens, most text books don’t cover what specific sex acts could result in pregnancy. So how worried should one be after sex that wasn’t strictly missionary position? Let’s talk details…

Can I get pregnant if I have sex right before, right after, or during my period?

Yes, yes, and yes! You’re most likely to get pregnant if you have sex around the time of ovulation, but it is possible to get pregnant at any time during your cycle.

Ovulation, when an egg is released from the ovary, usually occurs about 14 days after the start of your last period. Many women have unpredictable ovulation or may have spotting at the time of ovulation, which could be confused with a period. And sperm stay alive and swimming for days after sex.

Can I get pregnant if my clothes were on?

No. Dry humping cannot lead to pregnancy.

Since sperm cannot swim through clothing, getting pregnant while clothed (and that, of course, means while wearing clothing that prevents penetration—a mini-skirt pulled up around your waist doesn't count!) would be very unlikely. Sperm exposed to air lose their ability to swim and can only live a few hours or less. Wearing or touching clothes with dry semen cannot lead to pregnancy.

What if he fingered me and there was semen or pre-cum on his fingers?

Yes, you can get pregnant. It doesn’t matter how the sperm gets into your vagina—once it’s there it can cause a pregnancy.

Pre-cum, or pre-ejaculate, is a clear fluid that accumulates at the tip of the penis when some men are aroused. While it has less sperm than regular ejaculate, it can have sperm in it, so you may be able to get pregnant.

Can I get pregnant from sex toys?

Only if the sex toys had semen on them.

Like the scenario above, you can only get pregnant if sperm enters your vagina. If semen is on a sex toy and it enters your vagina, you can become pregnant.

What if I have sex in a pool or hot tub?

Sorry, you can still get pregnant.

The heat or chlorine in a hot tub will not kill sperm or make it more difficult for sperm to swim. Once the penis ejaculates inside the vagina—whether you are in a pool, hot tub, or romantic, candle-lit bedroom—you can get pregnant!

Can I get pregnant from oral sex? Anal sex?

Nope. You cannot get pregnant from oral or anal sex.

A woman’s egg is released from her ovary and travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus. For a pregnancy to occur, semen has to be in the vagina, which is near the uterus. The mouth and butt are not connected to the vagina, so there’s no way for sperm to meet an egg. So no, swallowing semen won’t lead to pregnancy.

Does the woman have to have an orgasm to get pregnant?

No. Unfortunately, pregnancy has nothing to do with how much you enjoyed the sex, how much you liked the person you had sex with, or whether you had an orgasm.

Orgasms are a totally independent phenomenon and are not related to when an egg is released.

I had sex standing up, so won’t gravity stop the sperm from swimming?

No. Sperm can swim up, down, sideways, in all directions, so you can get pregnant no matter how creative you get with positions. Gravity cannot prevent sperm from reaching your egg.

If you’re worried...

If it's been less than five days since the act in question, you might want to take emergency contraception. There are several options including emergency contraception pills, which anyone can get over the counter without a prescription.

If it's been longer than five days, you can buy an inexpensive pregnancy test at most drug stores or dollar stores, or you might be able to get a test for free at your local health clinic or Planned Parenthood health center. The tests are easy—just pee on a stick or in a cup. If you buy a home pregnancy test, read and follow the instructions that come with it. You have to wait at least 10 days after the risky business, and the tests are more accurate if you wait until a few days after you expect your next period.

All of these scenarios have focused on pregnancy risk, but remember that there are other risks to unprotected sex, such as infections. An infection can affect your future fertility, so use a condom to protect yourself. And if you aren’t trying to get pregnant, you can reduce the worry factor with one of your many birth control options.

Note: We do our best to respond to questions in the comments, but if we've already answered your question in the article or another comment, we may not answer it again. If your question is time sensitive, we recommend calling the San Francisco Sex Information (SFSI) hotline at 415-989-SFSI (7374) or contacting a health care provider. You may also want to check out our sequel to this post, Um, can I get pregnant if...? Part 2! which looks at pregnancy risk under various circumstances.

Grace Shih, MD, MAS is a family practice physician in Seattle, WA. She completed her family medicine residency at Brown University and her family planning fellowship at University of California, San Francisco. When she's not seeing patients, you can find her cooking, hiking, or salsa dancing.

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