Getting Pregnant Without Having Sex—The Facts About Virgin Pregnancy

Having unprotected sex comes with the risk of getting pregnant. That's why it's almost impossible to believe you can get pregnant without having penetrative sex—known as a virgin pregnancy. Turns out, it's not impossible—and some people online claim it happened to them.

Sammi Isabel shared her story in a TikTok video that quickly went viral. In the video, Isabel talked about feeling crampy at prom, later realizing that her period was a week late. Although a virgin at the time, Isabel took a pregnancy test—and it was positive. "And that is how I have a 5-year-old son," Isabel wrote in the caption.

In a later TikTok, Isabel insisted that the story was not fake. "I want people to know that it's a possibility," Isabel said.

Isabel is hardly the first to say this happened to them. Wathoni Anyassi also talked about becoming pregnant as a virgin on the YouTube channel LoloTalks. "I was like, 'Wow, pregnant. How did this happen?'" Anyassi remembered thinking, according to the video.

It's easy to write these stories off as hoaxes. But healthcare providers advise these so-called virgin pregnancies can actually happen.

Virgin Pregnancy Numbers

A data analysis published in the BMJ in 2013 found that of the 7,870 individuals who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, 45 said they had a virgin pregnancy that wasn't related to reproductive assistance, like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI).

The researchers found that these reports were more common with people who signed chastity pledges or whose parents didn't talk to them much—or at all—about sex and birth control.

A notable caveat, per the researchers: Getting pregnant without having sex is usually 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.

An Intact Hymen

But Lauren Streicher, MD, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, told Health that plenty of healthcare professionals have seen this. "Many obstetricians have stories of having delivered someone who states she is a virgin and has an intact hymen," Dr. Streicher said. "There are definitely virgin births."

The use of an intact hymen—a small amount of thin, extra tissue around the vaginal opening—to determine virginity is controversial, given that the hymen can tear or stretch with non-sexual activity, such as from using tampons or getting gynecological exams, according to 2019 research published in Reproductive Health.

However, if a person has an intact hymen and says they never had penetrative sex, Dr. Streicher said it makes their virgin pregnancy story more likely.

Other healthcare professionals agreed that virgin pregnancies could happen. "Indeed, this is possible," Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School, told 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," Jessica Shepherd, MD, an Ob-GYN in Dallas, Texas, told Health. "However, it is still possible and has occurred in women."

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How Pregnancy Happens

For a pregnancy to occur, there needs to be sperm and an egg, among many other factors. In general, sperm comes together with an egg during penetrative sex. However, pregnancy may be able to occur in a few other ways without sex.

Assisted Reproductive Technology

For individuals who have had problems getting pregnant, a person may be able to conceive through assisted reproductive technology (ART) without engaging in sex, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). ART entails treatments and procedures that are used to ensure pregnancy as an outcome. The most traditional ART options are intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF), per the NICHD.

With IUI, a sperm sample is placed into the uterus by a doctor using a long, narrow tube in a low-invasive procedure. This treatment is designed to be carried out during an individual's ovulation cycle, using fertility medication if necessary to aid the process.

IVF is a longer treatment than IUI. It takes place in a four-step process, per the NICHD, which includes:

  1. Superovulation
  2. Egg retrieval
  3. Fertilization
  4. Embryo transfer

By the end of the process, a healthcare professional places a laboratory-produced embryo from sperm and eggs into the uterus.

For both treatments, pregnancy test administration occurs two weeks following the placement of the sperm after IUI or the embryo after IVF to determine if the procedures were successful.

Foreplay

Dr. Shepherd pointed out that eggs and sperm can join up with sexual foreplay, 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 example if] the male ejaculates near the vaginal opening, or if a partner's erect penis comes into contact with the body near the vagina," Dr. Shepherd said.

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 said, adding, "They just need to find their way up into the vagina and up to the cervix."

How To Prevent a Virgin Pregnancy

Virgin pregnancies are more likely to happen to younger people who tend to be pretty fertile, Dr. Minkin said. Dr. Streicher added: "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."

So first, know a virgin pregnancy is a rare occurrence—you shouldn't worry too much that you're pregnant if you didn't have penetrative sex. 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 advised. "It's really no different."

Barrier birth-control methods (like condoms with spermicide) can be helpful, Dr. Shepherd said. Plan B is also an option if you're unsure how safe you were when you engaged in sexual foreplay, Dr. Shepherd added. And long-acting reversible contraception, such as an IUD or the birth control implant, can help provide protection when you don't want to think about birth control, Dr. Minkin said.

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Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Herring AH, Attard SM, Gordon-Larsen P, Joyner WH, Halpern CT. Like a virgin (Mother): analysis of data from a longitudinal, US population representative sample survey. BMJ. 2013;347(dec17 2):f7102-f7102. doi:0.1136/bmj.f7102

  2. Mishori, R., Ferdowsian, H., Naimer, K. et al. The little tissue that couldn’t – dispelling myths about the Hymen’s role in determining sexual history and assaultReprod Health 16, 74 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-019-0731-8

  3. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Assisted reproductive technology (ART).

  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Intrauterine insemination treatment (IUI).

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