When I first learned about sex from my friends in seventh grade study hall, I thought getting pregnant was as simple as this equation: penis + penetration + cum inside the vagina = pregnancy. I figured there was no way I’d ever have to pee on a stick as long as I didn’t have sex.
Well, I’ll say it for the record. I was wrong.
Turns out, you can get pregnant without having any penetrative, penis-in-vagina sex at all. One in 200 women in the U.S. say they've given birth without having intercourse, according to a study of 7,870 cisgender women published in the British Medical Journal.
"Some participants may have misunderstood the definition of sexual intercourse," acknowledged the study authors, claiming that, "In a study of Canadian college students, 90% considered penile vaginal intercourse with orgasm as 'having sex.'" By that definition, it's possible that some of these women had PIV intercourse, but didn't think it counted because neither partner orgasmed. Of course, as you know, this method could still allow precum to enter the vagina — and you can get pregnant from precum.
There are also a few scenarios in which you could get pregnant without penetrative intercourse, says Heather Bartos, Ob-GYN, the founder of MindShift Medicine. Say Partner A ejaculates, getting semen on their hands, then fingers Partner B. Sperm enters the vagina, where it can fertilize an egg. The same is true if Partner B gets semen or pre-ejaculate on their fingers, then masturbates.
There’s a risk with anal sex too. “The area between the vagina and anus is very small,” Dr. Bartos says. She says if someone ejaculates into the anus, the semen may drip out and into the vagina when they pull out. It's not the likeliest scenario for pregnancy, but it's possible.
The bottom line: If sperm ends up in the vagina, you could get pregnant, Dr. Bartos says. If you're dry humping and your partner ejaculates near or on the vagina, or if you sit in a pool of cum, there is a heightened risk that sperm can enter the vagina and fertilize an egg. It's unlikely, it's rare — but it's within the realm of possibility.
"But I don't think people should be scared," Dr. Bartos says. "If you go by the study that said there's a 0.5% chance you'll get pregnant without having sex, that's about the same chances as when you use an IUD. The risk of getting pregnant that way is really low." Be cautious, of course, but not panicked.
Actions that are very unlikely to cause pregnancy, according to Dr. Bartos, include: being in contact with dried cum (on bedsheets or your boo's boxers); being in a tub with ejaculate (hey, bathtub sex is a thing!); and swallowing sperm during a blow job (a surprisingly common question).
If you're trying to avoid pregnancy, your best bet is to use protection every time, to wash your hands if any semen gets on them before touching your vagina, and to ask your partners to do the same. If you didn't use birth control, and you're worried some semen entered your vagina, Dr. Bartos suggests considering taking an emergency contraceptive ASAP — even if you didn't have full penetrative sex.
"Any time you're worried you might get pregnant, you should take a plan B," she says. "If your gut's telling you something isn't right here, it's for a reason. I'm a big believer in listening to your gut."