Pregnancy happens when a man’s sperm fertilises a woman’s egg, which can happen even if you’ve not had sexual intercourse (penetration).
During sex, semen is ejaculated from the man’s penis into the woman’s vagina. A man's semen (the liquid produced when he ejaculates or "comes") contains millions of sperm. One ejaculation can contain more than 300 million sperm.
As soon as the penis is erect, before the man ejaculates, a liquid called pre-ejaculate is produced. This liquid can contain thousands of sperm. Men have no control over the production of this liquid.
A woman's ovaries release one or more eggs (ovulation) 12-16 days before her next period.
The man’s sperm enters the woman's body through her vagina, then travels through her cervix and womb to the fallopian tubes, where an egg is fertilised (conception). The egg can be fertilised by sperm contained in semen or pre-ejaculate.
What if I didn’t have sex?
It’s possible for you to get pregnant without having sexual intercourse if, for example:
- sperm get into your vagina – for example, if you or your partner have semen or pre-ejaculate on your fingers and touch your vagina
- your partner ejaculates near your vagina
- your partner’s erect penis comes into contact with your body near your vagina
The risk of getting pregnant in this way is very low because sperm can only live for a short time outside of 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 don’t 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.
Read the answers to more questions about pregnancy.
- Can I get pregnant just after my period has finished?
- How do I use a condom?
- How effective is each contraceptive?
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Contraception guide
- Pregnancy and baby guide
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Page last reviewed: 28 March 2018
Next review due: 28 March 2021