Yes, you can get pregnant without having penetrative sex — but it’s extremely rare

It’s also likely that varying definitions of sex can contribute to stories of people getting pregnant “without having sex.” For example, if someone defines sex as penetrative sex where both partners orgasm, it’s still entirely possible for pregnancy to occur without this happening. Female orgasm isn’t necessary for pregnancy, and while pregnancy is more common if a male orgasms and ejaculates, it is not required. 

How to get pregnant without penetrative sex

If you’re trying to get pregnant but penetrative sex is painful for you, then you may want to consider alternative options. One clear situation in which you could get pregnant without penetrative sex is through fertility treatments. Two common procedures are:

  • IUI (intrauterine insemination), which is when sperm is collected into a sterile container, washed, and concentrated, and then placed into the uterus during ovulation. 
  • IVF (in vitro fertilization), which is when eggs and sperm are separately harvested and exposed to each other in a petri dish to see if fertilization occurs. If fertilization occurs, one or more embryos is then placed into the uterus

How to prevent unwanted pregnancies by practicing safe sex 

Following safe sex guidelines can drastically lower the likelihood of unintended pregnancy occurring. When used correctly, birth control is extremely effective. Common options include:

  • An Intrauterine Device (IUD). An IUD is a small, t-shaped device that a physician inserts into the uterus. Currently, two types are available: a copper IUD that is non-hormonal, and the hormonal–levonorgestrel IUD. Copper IUDs are effective for up to 10 years, and hormonal IUDs for three to five. The chances of becoming pregnant with an IUD  is between 0.1% and 0.8%
  • Birth control pills. Oral contraceptives are 99% effective when used correctly. However, proper use entails taking the pill every single day at the same time. Because it’s easy to forget or miss pills, stats suggest that the pill is about 91% effective across all users. 
  • Condom use. When used correctly, condoms are approximately 98% effective in preventing pregnancy. They also protect against sexually-transmitted infections unlike other birth control options. However, for optimal protection, pair condoms with another form of birth control.  

Other methods of contraception include contraceptive implants, shots, skin patches, vaginal rings, and abstaining from sex. 

The bottom line

Ultimately, while conception from non-penetrative sex is extremely rare, it is possible. Gersh describes it as “not a serious worry,” but notes that “having sex just outside the vagina can quickly evolve into penetrative sex, and so in that way, unintended pregnancies occur.”

In order to prevent unintended pregnancies, experts recommend researching birth control methods and finding something that works best for you.

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