Pregnancy happens when a sperm fertilises an egg, which can happen even if you've not had sexual intercourse (penetration).
During vaginal penetrative sex (where the penis enters the vagina) semen can be ejaculated. Semen is the liquid produced during ejaculation and contains millions of sperm.
As soon as the penis is erect, (before ejaculation), a liquid called pre-ejaculate or "pre-cum" is produced. This liquid can contain thousands of sperm.
The ovaries release 1 or more eggs (ovulation) 12-16 days before a period starts.
The sperm enters the body through the vagina, then travels through the cervix and womb to the fallopian tubes, where the egg is usually fertilised (conception). The egg can be fertilised by sperm contained in semen or pre-ejaculate.
What if I did not have penetrative sex?
It is possible to get pregnant if sperm comes into contact with the vagina, if for example:
- your partner ejaculates very close to your vagina
- your partner's erect penis comes into contact with your genital area (vagina or vulva)
The risk of getting pregnant in this way is very low because sperm can only live for a short time outside the body.
However, if you're not planning a pregnancy, it's important to know that it's possible to get pregnant in this way.
If you do not want to get pregnant, you should use contraception. For information about the different methods, see: which method of contraception suits me?
It's also important to remember that only condoms can protect you against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you use a condom, put it on as soon as your partner's penis is erect, to prevent any sperm from coming into contact with your vagina.
Page last reviewed: 23 April 2021
Next review due: 23 April 2024