Can You Get Pregnant Without Having Sex?

Virgin pregnancies are an extremely rare occurrence. Here's what you need to know about how pregnancy actually happens.

Having unprotected sex comes with the risk of getting pregnant. So, it may be almost impossible to believe that you can get pregnant without having penetrative sex, which involves inserting a penis into the vagina. 

But when it comes to penetrative sex, only a penis can result in pregnancy. When semen enters the vagina, sperm may fertilize an egg. The fertilized egg later attaches itself to the uterine wall, where pregnancy occurs.

But some healthcare providers report that virgin pregnancies can happen. A virgin pregnancy is a self-report of pregnancy without penetrative vaginal sex.

Here's what you should know about how virgin pregnancies occur, how likely they are, and how to prevent pregnancy.

Concerned woman taking pregnancy test

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Can You Get Pregnant if You Haven't Had Sex?

According to a study published in 2013 in the BMJ, researchers found that of 7870 women, about 0.5% reported having had virgin pregnancies. Also, those women reported that their pregnancies were unrelated to assisted reproductive technology (ART). Examples of ART include in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI).  

But a notable caveat, according to the researchers: getting pregnant without having sex is usually a hard thing to prove. Therefore, the study had significant limitations.

Also, keep in mind that beyond the study, there is limited data to confirm that virgin pregnancies are possible. In fact, they are not highly possible.

Can You Get Pregnant With an Intact Hymen?

Still, some healthcare providers have seen virgin pregnancies, Lauren Streicher, MD, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, told Health.

"Many obstetricians have stories of having delivered someone who states she is a virgin and has an intact hymen," said Dr. Streicher. "There are definitely virgin births."

The hymen is the small circular ring of thin tissue surrounding the vaginal opening. However, using an intact hymen to determine virginity has no validity. The hymen can tear or stretch with non-sexual activity, such as from using tampons or getting gynecological exams.

If a person has an intact hymen and says they've never had penetrative sex, their virgin pregnancy story may be more likely, added Dr. Streicher. However, remember that there are many reasons a person may classify their pregnancy as a virgin one. 

For example, some people may consider penetrative vaginal sex as the only sexual activity that can result in pregnancy. However, they may expose themselves to semen from other sexual encounters. 

Also, other people may believe thinking the hymen "breaking" determines virginity while still coming into contact with semen. Or some people may have different definitions of virginity, like calling yourself a "born-again virgin."

How To Get Pregnant Without Penetrative Sex

There are ways to become pregnant without penetrative vaginal sex, including ART and foreplay. Foreplay includes any sexual activity that occurs before penetrative vaginal sex.

Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)

ART is a common treatment for people with infertility who wish to become pregnant. Infertility means you cannot become pregnant after one year of unprotected sex. About 11% of women and 9% of men experience infertility.

But people with infertility may be able to conceive through ART without engaging in penetrative vaginal sex. Some of the most common types of ART include in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI).

In vitro is Latin for "in glass." With IVF, fertilization, or when a sperm and egg come together, happens in a petri dish outside of the body. IVF is a lengthy process that occurs in four-step, including:

  1. Superovulation: Normally, people ovulate once per menstrual cycle. But during IVF, a person takes fertility drugs. Those drugs increase the number of eggs that mature and ovulate at one time.
  2. Egg retrieval: A healthcare provider inserts a thin device through the vagina and into the ovary. The device pulls the mature eggs from the ovary.
  3. Fertilization: Using a sperm sample, a healthcare provider either mixes the sperm and eggs in a petri dish or injects each egg with sperm. The sperm and egg form a single-celled zygote. The zygote multiplies to form a multi-celled embryo. An embryo is an organism in its earliest form. In some cases, a healthcare provider tests the embryos for genetic disorders.
  4. Embryo transfer: A healthcare provider inserts a thin tube through the vagina to transfer the embryos. If an embryo attaches to the uterine wall, pregnancy may occur. Also, if there are leftover embryos, a person may freeze them for later use.

With IUI, a healthcare provider uses a long, narrow tube to inject a sperm sample directly into the uterus. A healthcare provider will perform an IUI during ovulation when pregnancy is most likely. In some cases, fertility drugs may help with IUIs.

For both IFV and IUI, a person will take a pregnancy test about two weeks later to determine if the procedures were successful.


Foreplay includes sexual activity before penetrative vaginal sex. People may become pregnant during foreplay if their partner ejaculates very close to the vagina. Also, pregnancy is possible if an erect penis comes into contact with the vagina.

"[Pregnancy] can happen when sperm get into the vagina by having semen or pre-ejaculate on the fingers and close contact with the vagina," Jessica Shepherd, MD, an OB-GYN based in Dallas, told Health. But the risk of becoming pregnant during low is very low, pointed out Dr. Shepherd. Sperm can only live for a short time outside of the body.

The first few drops of seminal fluid, the fluid that transports semen out of a man's penis, "has plenty of sperm," Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School, told Health. "[The sperm] just needs to find their way up into the vagina and up to the cervix."

How To Prevent Pregnancy

Besides abstinence, which means not having sex, preventing pregnancy is possible by using a reliable method of birth control. There are hormonal, barrier, or intrauterine methods of birth control.

When you're considering the right birth control method for you, consider the following factors:

  • How your birth control method affects your menstrual cycle
  • Any potential side effects 
  • How long your birth control methods will prevent pregnancy

Be sure to do your research and talk to a healthcare provider to find the best birth control method for you.

Hormonal Methods

Hormonal methods include:

  • Oral contraceptives: Also known as birth control pills or "the pill," oral contraceptives contain hormones. Those hormones are estrogen, progestin, or a combination of both. Typically, you take the pill on a 24- or 28-day cycle to match the length of your menstrual cycle.
  • Patch: Like the pill, estrogen and progestin comprise birth control patches. After placing the patch directly onto the skin, your body absorbs the hormones. 
  • Vaginal ring: This birth control method also contains estrogen and progestin. You insert the ring into the vagina, where the body absorbs the hormones. Normally, people who use birth control vaginal rings take the device out every three weeks. Then, menstrual bleeding occurs during the following week. After seven days, you can insert a new ring. 
  • Implant: This birth control method is a small rod that a healthcare provider inserts under the skin, which lasts three years. 
  • Injection: Like the implant, injections are less common than other forms of birth control. A healthcare provider administers an injection, a high hormone dose, every three months. 

Barrier Methods

Barrier methods of birth control include:

  • Male condom: This single-use thin material covers the penis, preventing semen from entering the body. Male condoms also help reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Female condom: Like the male condom, the female condom is a single-use thin material. The female condom looks like a pouch, which you insert into the vagina. The pouch blocks semen from entering the body and prevents the spread of STIs.
  • Spermicide: This foam, jelly, cream, suppository, or film kills sperm cells. To be effective, you should apply spermicide into the vagina and near the uterus no longer than 30 minutes before having penetrative vaginal sex. Leave spermicide in place six to eight hours after having sex.
  • Diaphragm: This flexible cup blocks semen from entering the body. You insert the diaphragm into the vagina before having penetrative vaginal sex. To be effective, you must use spermicide along with a diaphragm. After having sex, leave the diaphragm in place for six to eight hours and remove it within 24 hours. A diaphragm requires a prescription from a healthcare provider.
  • Cervical cap: Like a diaphragm, you insert a cervical cap into the vagina to prevent semen from entering the body. But a cervical cap is smaller and more rigid than a diaphragm. To be effective, use spermicide and leave the cervical cap in place for six to eight hours after having penetrative vaginal sex. Remove the cervical cap within 48 hours.  
  • Sponge: This sponge consists of spermicide that blocks semen from entering the body and kills sperm. You insert the sponge into the vagina before having penetrative vaginal sex. Leave the sponge in place for six hours after sex, and remove it within 30 hours.

Intrauterine Contraception

Intrauterine contraception methods include either a levonorgestrel intrauterine system (LNG IUD) or a copper T intrauterine device (IUD). Both devices are small, shaped like a "T," which a healthcare provider inserts into the uterus. An LNG IUD and copper IUD last several years.

An LNG IUD releases hormones that prevent pregnancy. In contrast, a copper IUD prevents sperm from reaching an egg during ovulation. A copper IUD can also prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall.

Other Forms of Birth Control

Other forms of birth control include:

  • Fertility awareness-based
  • Breastfeeding, which may stop menstrual bleeding and ovulation
  • Emergency contraception, like Plan B 
  • Tubal ligation, or removal of the fallopian tubes
  • Vasectomy, or male sterilization

A Quick Review

Although rare, a virgin pregnancy may occur without penetrative vaginal sex. Someone can become pregnant without penetrative vaginal sex through ART and foreplay.

You can prevent pregnancy by using an effective method of birth control. Taking precautions, even if you're not having penetrative vaginal sex, is important.

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  10. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What are the different types of contraception?.

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