Hint: Sperm are sneakier than you'd think.
In case you missed sex education class, let's briefly go over how getting pregnant works. The most common way a person gets pregnant is through unprotected vaginal intercourse, when the penis ejaculates semen into the vagina.
The semen contains sperm, which travel up the vaginal canal, through the cervix, and into the uterus. If there's an egg present, then the sperm can fertilize it. Once the fertilized egg implants in the lining of the uterus, voilà — you're pregnant.
But the question remains: Could sperm still enter the vagina and cause a pregnancy without the whole penis-in-vagina sex preamble? And we aren't talking about insemination or IVF – we're focusing on the crazy mishaps and accidents that could maybe technically theoretically lead to pregnancy.
While it's highly unlikely, it's possible to get pregnant without having vaginal sex, experts say. Yep, let that sink in.
"Unfortunately, there are a lot of crazy myths out there just to scare people, so it's important to understand the real scenarios where it's possible to get pregnant without having sex, and why," Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine, tells BuzzFeed Health.
First, there are millions of sperm in just a tiny bit of ejaculate we're talking 20 million sperm per 1 mL of semen, and the average male ejaculates 3.5 mL each time.
"It's important to talk about sperm first, because people might not know that there can be thousands or even millions of these little guys in just one drop of semen," Minkin says. So semen is pretty sperm-potent.
Just to give some context, Minkin says, a "low sperm count" is anything less than 20 million sperm per 1 mL of semen and 10 or 15 million per 1 mL is still a lot of sperm. "So even a tiny bit of ejaculate can cause a pregnancy if it gets inside the vagina," Minkin says.
But what about the pre-ejaculate? "Research shows that there's very few, if any sperm in pre-ejaculate, but there's so little time between pre-ejaculate and ejaculate that they often mix and you can never be 100% sure it's only pre-ejaculate with no sperm," Minkin says. So it's better be safe than sorry, and assume there could always be sperm lurking in there.
Sperm are literally designed to swim their way up the vaginal canal and find an egg, so they can travel from the vulva to inside the vagina if they're close enough to the vaginal opening.
"Don't forget that sperm can move they're basically designed like little Olympic swimmers whose only job is to swim up the vagina and find that egg," Minkin says.
So, yeah, they're active enough to travel from on or around the vulva to inside the vagina if they're close enough to the vaginal opening. "If there are a lot of vaginal secretions around the vulva, this can also make it easier for the sperm to swim from outside to inside the vagina." And depending on where the sperm land, they can survive for several minutes after being exposed to air.
It's unknown exactly how long sperm can survive outside the body, Minkin says, but scientists do know that it's more than a few minutes. It really depends on where the sperm lands, because the warmer and more moist a place is or the closer that place is to being like a vagina the longer it will survive.
So if the semen lands on a dry, cold floor or a toilet seat, the sperm will probably die pretty quickly. But if the semen lands on the stomach or in a natural skin crease like the groin area or butt, then the sperm might survive for much longer. "Don't forget that sperm can live inside the vaginal canal for up to five days," Minkin says.
Now that you're up to speed on how plentiful and resilient sperm is, let's go over the different ways it can get into the vagina and potentially cause a pregnancy.
Quick note: In all of the situations we're about to mention, we are assuming that the person with the vagina is not on any method of effective birth control that would prevent a pregnancy and that they're ovulating, so there could be an egg present for the sperm to fertilize.
If someone ejaculates on or near the vulva during naked dry-humping, oral sex, or any other kind of sex play.
"If the ejaculate gets close enough to the vulva, it's possible for the sperm to travel into the vagina," Minkin says. It could move there on its own or it could be accidentally smeared or wiped into the vaginal opening.
What if you're wearing clothes? Well, sperm can pass through fabric and it might technically be possible to cause a pregnancy this way, but Minkin says it's highly unlikely, even if the underwear touching the vulva is saturated with semen. Clothing is usually a pretty effective barrier since sperm aren't usually strong enough to swim through fabric, especially if both partners are covered and there are two layers of fabric to cross.
If there is semen from a recent ejaculate on any fingers, toys, or other objects that get inserted into the vagina.
If someone ejaculates, it might be easy for the semen to get on either their fingers or their partner's fingers. If the sperm is still alive when those fingers end up in the vagina, it can enter the vaginal canal and swim to the uterus, where it can cause a pregnancy. The same goes for any sex toys, such as dildos or vibrators, or other objects that get inserted into the vagina that might have sperm on them.
If someone ejaculates in the rectum during unprotected anal sex, then semen comes out and gets on or near the vulva.
"If your partner ejaculates inside your rectum, it's very easy for the sperm and rectal mucous to leak or come out, and then it can spread to the vulva since it's so close to the anus," Minkin says. You're still highly unlikely to get pregnant from anal sex, she says, but it's technically possible if the semen situation gets messy afterward.
So think of it this way: The closer semen gets to the vulva in any situation, the more likely it is for sperm to sneak into the vagina and maybe cause a pregnancy.
"If the semen lands on your ankle or your foot, you probably won't get pregnant," Minkin says.
But if you aren't on any form of birth control and you're worried about getting pregnant, you should probably avoid getting ejaculate anywhere near your vulva. Additionally, make sure you wash your hands properly after touching semen, and keep toys clean before they go inside the vagina.
All that being said, just because it's possible to get pregnant in these ways doesn't mean it's likely it's still very rare.
Context is important. Yes, some people have gotten pregnant from these activities, but statistically it's still highly unlikely.
Just because it can happen doesn't mean you should be paranoid that it will happen, especially when there's a bunch of ways you can protect yourself.
If you're worried about getting pregnant, you might want to consider a reliable birth control method, such as the pill, ring, or IUD.
"If you're becoming sexually active or thinking about it, you can be prepared by going on a reliable birth control method that will prevent pregnancy beforehand," Minkin says. Birth control can prevent ovulation or block the sperm from reaching the egg, which can greatly reduce your chances of getting pregnant from sex and any of the activities we mentioned.
There are many different forms of hormonal and non-hormonal birth control, so it's up to you and your doctor to decide what's right for you.
Condoms are important too, because you can spread sexually transmitted infections (STIs) through unprotected oral or anal sex and even genital skin-to-skin contact.
STIs can be spread through oral and anal sex and sometimes through skin-to-skin genital contact (which is the case with HPV and herpes) or by sharing sex toys.
So if you're engaging in any of these activities, you might want to use a condom. You can use one for safer fingering, put it on toys, and of course, use one during anal and oral sex.
No matter what kind of sexual encounter you're having, protection is key.
Unless of course you're trying to make a baby. Then it's fair game.
April 18, 2017, at 9:28 a.m.
Fertilization of the egg most often happens in the fallopian tubes, but can also happen in the uterus. A previous version of this article only mentioned fertilization occurring in the uterus.
Source: Buzz Feed