Can You Get Pregnant Without Having Sex?
How true is the story of pregnant women who have never had sex?
As everyone who sat through a basic sex ed class knows, having unprotected sex comes with a risk of getting pregnant. That is why it is almost impossible to believe that a woman can get pregnant without having penetrative sex. Turns out this has happened to a number of people.
Sammi Isabel shared her story in a TikTok video that quickly went viral. In the video, Isabel said she started feeling crampy at her prom and realised her period was a week late. Though she was a virgin at the time, she took a pregnancy test and the result was positive. “And that is how I have a 5-year-old son,” she captioned.
Later on, Isabel made a video and insisted that she didn’t make her story up. “I want people to know that it’s a possibility,” she said.
Isabel isn’t the first woman to attest to this strange possibility. Wathoni Anyassi said on the YouTube channel LoloTalks that she also became pregnant when she was a virgin. “I was like, ‘Wow! Pregnant? How did this happen?’” she remembered thinking, according to her video.
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It’s easy to write these stories off as hoaxes. But ob-gyns swear these so-called virgin pregnancies are actually a thing.
A data analysis published in the BMJ in 2013 found that, of the 7,870 women who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, 45 women testified that they had a virgin pregnancy that wasn’t related to reproductive assistance, like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI). The researchers discovered that these reports were more common with women who signed chastity pledges or whose parents didn’t talk to them much—or at all—about sex and birth control.
A huge caveat, per the researchers: Getting pregnant without having sex is often a hard thing to prove. “Even with numerous enhancements and safeguards to optimize reporting accuracy, researchers may still face challenges in the collection and analysis of self-reported data on potentially sensitive topics,” they wrote.
However, Lauren Streicher, MD, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynaecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, tells Health that many doctors have seen this. “Many obstetricians have stories of having delivered someone who states she is a virgin and has an intact hymen,” she says. “There are definitely virgin births.”
Determining virginity based on the presence of the hymen—a small amount of extra tissue around the vaginal opening— is controversial, given that the hymen can tear or stretch over time from using tampons, getting gynaecological examinations, and doing intense exercises. However, if a woman has an intact hymen and she says she’s never had penetrative sex, Dr. Streicher says it makes her virgin pregnancy story more likely.
Other ob-gyns agree this is a thing. “Indeed, this is possible,” Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School, tells Health.
“The risk of getting pregnant in this way is very low because sperm can only live for a short time outside of the body,” women’s health expert Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an ob-gyn in Dallas, Texas, tells Health. “However, it is still possible and has occurred in women.”
OK, but how is it possible to get pregnant without having sex?
In order for a pregnancy to occur, there needs to be sperm meeting an egg, among many other factors. Those two usually come together with penetrative sex, but Dr. Shepherd points out that they can come together with fooling around, too.
“This can happen when sperm get into the vagina—by having semen or pre-ejaculate on the fingers and close contact with the vagina, for instance, if the male ejaculates near the vaginal opening, or if a partner’s erect penis comes into contact with the body near the vagina,” she says.
The first few drops of seminal fluid (i.e. the fluid that transports semen out of a man’s penis) “has plenty of sperm,” Dr. Minkin says, adding, “They just need to find their way up into the vagina and up to the cervix.”
Virgin pregnancies are more likely to happen to younger people, who are pretty fertile, Dr. Minkin says. Dr. Streicher Adds: “Women need to know that this is absolutely a real thing and that pregnancies can occur without penetration. All you need is for sperm to be at the opening of the vagina—they’re good swimmers.”
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So what can people do to prevent a virgin pregnancy?
FWIW: Virgin pregnancy is rare, so you shouldn’t lay awake at night worrying that you’re pregnant if you didn’t go all the way. That said, there’s enough of a risk of getting pregnant without having sex that you probably want to take precautions in the future.
If there’s any chance your partner’s penis or semen makes contact with or gets close to your vagina, even if it doesn’t actually go inside, “use the same contraception that you would use if you were having penetrative sex,” Dr. Streicher advises. “It’s really no different.”
Barrier birth-control methods (like condoms with spermicide) can be helpful, Dr. Shepherd says. Plan B is also an option if you’re unsure how safe you were when you played around, she says. And long-acting reversible contraception, such as an IUD or the birth control implant, can help provide protection when you don’t want have to think about birth control, Dr. Minkin says.
Again, this isn’t super common and plenty of women have fooled around with their partners without getting pregnant. Still, it’s important to at least know there’s a risk.
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Let’s look at some misconceptions about getting pregnant without penetrative sex.
- Dry humping: This is the process whereby two people repeatedly move up and down and back and forth on top of each other fully clothed or only missing a few pieces. The penis must not come in contact with the vagina without some sort of fabric separating them. Nonetheless, gynaecologists warn that a woman can still get pregnant without being penetrated or even undressed. This is because sperm can soak through lingerie.
- Breastfeeding: A popular myth is that active or exclusive breastfeeding prevents new mothers from conceiving a second time around. However, physicians warn that this isn’t true! They say that breastfeeding is definitely not a natural contraceptive and it certainly cannot decrease your chances of becoming pregnant soon after giving birth.
- Pre-ejaculation: The pull-out method doesn’t always work. And you can still get pregnant even if your partner hasn’t ejaculated yet. As discussed earlier, pre-ejaculation, also known as semen, contains a lot of sperm, which can fertilise an egg.
- Rhythm or calendar method: Another popular sex misconception is that a woman can’t get pregnant if a couple abstains from sex when she’s in themost “fertile” part of her cycle. However, physicians say a woman can, indeed, get pregnant at any time during her cycle, even when she is on her period.
- Using Contraception: Contraceptive pills aren’t so effective. Therefore, it’s still possible to conceive despite being on the pill or using a condom.