Our Sex Sense service receives lots of questions from people wondering “can I get pregnant if….” Here you’ll find answers to common questions about how a pregnancy can occur. If you have any other questions, call Sex Sense at 1-800-739-7367 or 604-731-7803 in the lower mainland, ask via a web form at sexsense.org, or send us an email at sexsense@optbc.org.

Can I Get Pregnant If...

Yes, but it is rare. If semen or pre-ejaculate (pre-cum) comes into contact with the opening of the vagina or the vulva, the sperm may survive and travel up the vaginal canal, through the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes. If a person is ovulating, or about to ovulate, there is a possibility that the sperm can fertilize an egg in the fallopian tubes, resulting in pregnancy. The best way to keep sperm from fertilizing an egg cell is to make sure that no semen comes in contact with the genitals (vulva and vaginal opening). For more information about various methods of preventing pregnancy (birth control options), click here.

The anus is part of the digestive system. This system begins in a person’s mouth, and ends with the anus. Since the reproductive system and the digestive system are not connected, sperm that enters the anus cannot swim through the body to reach an egg cell in the reproductive system.

It is possible to get pregnant if someone has anal intercourse and the semen or ejaculate leaks out of the anus and into the vagina; or if ejaculated semen is near the opening of the vagina and that semen happens to work its way deep into the vaginal opening. So if the person who ejaculates does not wear a condom, or it slips off, or is worn incorrectly, there is a chance that some sperm may get into the vagina and a pregnancy could occur.

For tips on safer anal sex, click here.

There is no risk of pregnancy associated with oral sex. This is because when semen enters the mouth and is swallowed (which is not a necessary step), it enters the digestive system. The digestive system is completely separate from the reproductive system, which is the part of the body responsible for pregnancy. For some tips on safer oral sex, click here.

Yes, this is technically possible, and has to do with the life cycle of the sperm and egg cells. The egg cell can live for about 24 hours after it has been released from the ovary (this is called ovulation). On the other hand, sperm can live from five to seven days inside of a vagina, particularly in the presence of fertile cervical fluid (this looks like egg-white).

Sometimes, fertile cervical fluid can be present towards the end of someone’s period. Since sperm can live up to seven days in this fluid, it is possible for pregnancy to occur if they ovulate within that time frame. For example, if someone has unprotected sex on Sunday and still has their period with some fertile cervical mucus present, sperm can live in their body until the following Saturday. If they ovulate during that week, there could be sperm available to fertilize the egg, which could result in pregnancy.

Sometimes people are worried that they could possibly get pregnant from sitting in a hot tub that someone may have ejaculated in. The good news is that sperm die once they hit the hot tub water, before they could reach someone’s vulva and vagina.

However, having actual intercourse in a hot tub, hot shower, or in any kind of watery environment does not protect against pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

Yes; emergency contraception lowers the risk, but does not completely eliminate it.

The Emergency Contraceptive Pill (ECP) usually refers to a progestin pill like Plan B, Contingency 1, Norlevo, Next Choice, or Option 2. These pills can prevent a pregnancy from occurring if taken within five days after having unprotected sex (or any other incident that might result in sperm entering the vagina), but the sooner someone takes them after sex the more likely they are to work.

Plan B and other pills like it can reduce the risk of pregnancy by approximately 50%. They will not work if someone is already pregnant or if too much time went by after unprotected intercourse.

A prescription is not needed to purchase emergency pills like Plan B. They are available for free at youth clinics, or at low cost at Options for Sexual Health clinics, walk in clinics, and doctor’s offices. They are also available from a pharmacy without a prescription for approximately $40.

There is also a new kind of emergency contraceptive pill available in Canada called Ella. It is available by prescription and can also be taken up to 5 days after sex. It is approximately 60% effective and does not lose effectiveness as quickly over time as progestin based emergency pills like Plan B.

If someone has had unprotected sex, and is concerned about the risk of pregnancy, an emergency insertion of a copper IUD is the most effective method of emergency contraception (99% effective when inserted up to 7 days after unprotected intercourse). For more information on emergency IUD insertion click here.

To learn more about Emergency Contraception please click here.

Yes, it is absolutely possible to become pregnant after having vaginal sex for the first time. It has been a long standing myth that someone cannot get pregnant the first time they have sex, and this has led to many unplanned pregnancies.

Anytime a person with sperm and person with an ovum (egg cell) have penis-vagina intercourse, it is possible for pregnancy to occur – all that needs to happen is for a sperm to get to an egg cell. The risk of pregnancy is greatly reduced through the use of birth control.

Yes. This is called the withdrawal method of birth control, but it is only ~73% effective in actual use because the person with a penis may not pull out in time before ejaculating; also, there may be sperm in the drops of fluid that comes out of the penis before ejaculation (pre-cum).

It is more likely that sperm will be present in pre-ejaculate if a man has ejaculated in the last few hours. This is because leftover sperm may still be present in the urethra. If ejaculation has occurred prior to intercourse, the person who ejaculated should urinate and wipe off the tip of their penis before intercourse to remove any sperm from the previous ejaculation, as sperm could have been trapped in the urethral lining or folds of skin and can therefore be present when subsequent acts of intercourse take place.

No matter what position a couple is having sex in, if ejaculate enters into the vagina, there is the possibility of pregnancy. The effect of gravity will not affect a person’s risk of pregnancy. However, couples can enjoy sex in any position that feels good for them and use condoms and other methods of birth control to prevent a pregnancy from occurring.

Thankfully, no! Pregnancy can only occur if there is sperm to meet the egg cell. By touching genitals for pleasure with hands or toys, someone is not at risk for becoming pregnant (unless there is fresh wet ejaculate that has been recently ejaculated onto their hand or toy).

Can I Get an STI (sexually transmitted infection) If…

When used correctly during penetrative sex (inside the genitals including anal sex) external condoms are a great option to help reduce the transmission of STIs, however, it is important to know that not all STI transmission can be fully prevented with condoms.

Some STIs are transmitted differently than others. Some STIs are transmitted through genital fluid, anal fluid and/or blood, but others are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.  A condom can act as a barrier for fluids but it does not eliminate all skin-to-skin contact.

Transmission of STIs such as herpes, HPV, syphilis, pubic lice, or scabies could occur even if a condom is used during genital sex as a condom cannot cover all skin-to-skin contact. However, even with these infections, using an internal or external condom will help to protect some skin areas that are covered by the condom. For instance, internal condoms that are used during penetration can also cover more genital surface area.

Sometimes a condom may not be used correctly, is used after initial sexual contact, or a condom may fail by breaking, tearing, or falling off. In these instances, the risk of getting an STI is the same as if a condom is not used. In these instances, getting tested can be a helpful way to know your sexual status.

Condoms when used correctly during penetrative sex (inside the genitals including anal sex) are an effective way to practice safer sex in helping to prevent most STIs.

Condoms (whether internal or external): can be used on body parts and/or sex toys or sex supplies that are being shared during penetration inside the genitals.

Remember that for an STI to pass, an STI must be present in the first place. For example, if people have sexual activity and no one has chlamydia, then chlamydia cannot just pass. However, because we can’t always know if sexual partners have an STI as STIs often do not have symptoms and people may not have been tested or know their sexual status, condoms and other safer sex barriers, can be helpful in protecting and preventing most STIs.

There are some STIs that cannot be fully prevented even if a condom is used.

Some STIs are transmitted differently than others. Some STIs are transmitted through genital fluid, anal fluid and/or blood, but others are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.  A condom can act as a barrier for fluids but it does not eliminate all skin-to-skin contact.

Transmission of STIs such as herpes, HPV, syphilis, pubic lice, or scabies could occur even if a condom is used during genital sex as a condom cannot cover all skin-to-skin contact. However, even with these infections, using an internal or external condom will help to protect some skin areas that are covered by the condom. For instance, internal condoms that are used during penetration can also cover more genital surface area.

The helpful thing to note is that with the STIs that can still pass through skin-to-skin contact, most are treatable. For example, syphilis, pubic lice, and scabies are all treatable. With HPV, there are many different viral strains and most strains are not serious, have no symptoms and in a majority of people who are non-smokers and who do not have a compromised immune system, HPV infections can clear on their own within 2 years. Some people also consider the HPV vaccine for additional protection and getting regular Pap screening. While herpes is a virus that cannot be cured, symptoms can be managed and in most cases herpes is not a serious condition but rather a non-serious skin condition/sores (although this is not to take away from the fact that herpes can carry a social stigma and can have an emotional impact on people). For more information about herpes, please click here: https://smartsexresource.com/topics/herpes-simplex-virus.

Sometimes a condom may not be used correctly, is used after initial sexual contact, or a condom may fail by breaking, tearing, or falling off. In these instances, the risk of getting an STI is the same as if a condom is not used. In these instances, getting tested can be a helpful way to know your sexual status.

Even if safer sex barriers are always used, it can be helpful to have STI testing to know your sexual status. You can check with your health care provider about how often you should be tested.

Remember that most STIs are treatable, do not have always have symptoms and if left untreated, could cause more problems down the road.

For more information, please visit: https://smartsexresource.com/sites/default/files/Anal-Vaginal-Sex-Table-v3.png

Alternate links:

For harm-reduction tips on safer sex when condoms are not able to be used: (we should include a paragraph on safer sex tips when condoms cannot be used or when people make a choice to not use them. To acknowledge that the use of safer sex supplies can be complicated by various factors such as: knowledge of STIs and transmission, access to safer sex supplies and knowing how to use them, perceptions of risk, willingness to use, safety in sexual relationships/with clients in order to use supplies, lack of pleasure/sensation or other factors that may make safer sex supplies less likely to be used, use of drugs/alcohol during sexual activity which may make safer sex supplies more difficult to use, relationship status-for instance, people may be in sexual relationships where everyone has been tested outside the window periods and are deciding not to use safer sex supplies.

Harm-reduction tips for safer sex (when safer sex barriers are not used) can include (these tips can help reduce chances of contracting STIs but are not as effective as using safer sex supplies):

  • Choosing less risky sexual activities
  • Oral sex: not brushing, flossing before as gums may bleed, avoiding oral if major dental work has just been done
  • Genital sex: avoiding areas where there may be cuts/abrasions, damage to skin, bleeding, avoiding a person ejaculating inside the genitals if possible
  • Getting tested after the window periods
  • PrEP and PEP
  • Use lube on genitals to help prevent skin tearing which can sometimes make it easier for STIs to pass
  • Knowing where to obtain clean needles and other drug equipment
  • Communication about sexual histories: whether safer sex barriers are used or not, it may be helpful to check in with the sexual partner(s) about their sexual history. For more information please visit: http://teenhealthsource.com/sex/talking-partners-stis/

If possible while things are getting sexual, have a look to see if your sexual partner(s) has any signs of a rash, sore, redness or discharge. While this may not necessarily indicate an STI, it may be helpful to avoid those areas. 

Yes.  As mentioned above, some STIs are transmitted just through skin-to-skin contact where penetration is not necessary. Also, abstaining from penetrative sex but engaging in other types of unprotected sex, such as unprotected oral sex, can pose a risk for infections, although the risks are lower for oral sex.

Different sexual activities carry different risks or chances of contracting STIs. For more information please visit:

Yes, you can get an STI from unprotected oral sex because genital fluids are exchanged and direct skin-to-skin contact occurs. 

There are different chances of getting STIs with unprotected oral sex depending on whether someone is the giver or receiver and depending on if it is oral-genital or oral-anal. The types of STI that can be passed with unprotected oral will also vary. Please see this link for more information: https://smartsexresource.com/sites/default/files/Oral-Sex-Table-v3.png

Safer sex barriers like dental dams (link) or a condom that is cut like a dental dam (link) can be used during oral sex to help prevent STIs.

You can make oral sex safer by also avoiding oral sex during a herpes or cold sore outbreak. 

For more information please visit: https://smartsexresource.com/topics/oral-sex

What’s an oral dam?  

A dam is a thin rectangular piece of latex or polyurethane that is used for oral-genital (vulva, vagina*) or oral-anal sex to help prevent STIs.  The dam is placed between one partner’s mouth and the other partner’s genitals.

They are often called “dental” dams because they were originally designed as a protective measure for dentists working on patient’s teeth.

 If you do not have a dental dam you can make one by cutting the ring end off an unused external (male)* condom and cutting up the side of the condom to create a flat, rectangle. You can also make an oral dam by cutting up a latex glove.  

*Vagina – “the medical term for the muscular tube from the external genitals to the cervix, and came with the body at birth. Also can be constructed by a doctor (sometimes then referred to as a neovagina by a healthcare provider).” We know that the word “vulva” or “vagina” is not representative of the words that people may use to describe this part of their body. We use it here only for medical purposes to be as clear as possible. But please feel free to insert the word that you use for your own body. Adapted from: https://lgbtq.unc.edu/sites/lgbtq.unc.edu/files/documents/healthybodiessafersexnatl.pdf

*Vulva refers to the external genitals. This word may not fit for all people. Please chose the word that fits for you.

*External condoms are often referred to as male condoms. We indicated ‘male’ condoms so that people are aware of what we are referring to. However, we prefer to use the term ‘external condoms’ to be inclusive of people of all genders who may use external condoms and not necessarily identify as ‘male’. Adapted from: http://teenhealthsource.com/birthcontrol/external-condom/

Even people who are in long term monogamous relationships who are having unprotected sexual activity can get STIs. For example, STIs often do not have symptoms. So if partners in long-term monogamous relationships have not been tested for STIs and within the right time frame before having unprotected sex in the relationship, they may not know their sexual status and if STIs are present, they may unknowingly pass them to each other.

If sex is protected this will definitely help to reduce most STIs. However, some can still pass through genital skin-to-skin contact even if protection is used (please see ‘we use a condom’ above), although using protection that covers the genital area will help to lower the risks.

(reference: Correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of genital herpes, syphilis, and chancroid only when the infected area or site of potential exposure is protected. While the effect of condoms in preventing human papillomavirus infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer, an HPV-associated disease.”
—CDC. Male Latex Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Atlanta, GA: CDC, 2002. http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/416-condom-effectiveness

Also some STIs, such as herpes or HPV, can lie dormant in a person for months or years and may be passed to another person at any point in the relationship. A person may have one or more of these viruses and not know it until their partner shows symptoms (although we can never really know which partner we may have contracted herpes or HPV from). Herpes and HPV are very common for a majority of people (most Canadians will have at least one type of the herpes virus in their lifetime and not know it) and with HPV (at least 75% of sexually active Canadian will get one HPV infection in their lifetime but most people with healthy immune systems will clear this). Also HPV and herpes often do not have symptoms. There are not always ways to test for all types of HPV and herpes testing is not standard practice. The most common test for herpes is a swab of a suspected lesion. To learn more about herpes and HPV please visit https://www.optionsforsexualhealth.org/sexual-health/sexually-transmitted-infections

Sometimes STIs are spread in ‘monogamous’ relationships because one or both partners is having sex outside the relationship without the other partner(s) knowledge and/or consent (sometimes called ‘cheating’). The sexual activity could result in an STI that is then passed on to the monogamous partner.  

Regardless of how long you have been in your relationship, regular annual screening for STIs is recommended.

Sex can mean different things to different people so it’s important to clarify what that means in answering this question.

If both of you have never done any of the following with another person:

Then it is highly unlikely to have STIs through sexual activity.

(Please note that if someone has been sexual with the activities noted above, there are different levels of risk or chances for STIs and chances also vary in terms of whether protection is used or not. For more information please visit: https://smartsexresource.com/about-stis/know-your-chances-0)

If there is kissing, herpes, if the virus is present, may pass (https://smartsexresource.com/sites/default/files/Oral-Sex-Table-v3.png). Herpes is a very common non-serious (in most cases) skin infection. This is not to take away from the fact that herpes can carry a social stigma and can have an emotional impact on people.

Some STIs (such as HIV, Hep B, Hep C) can also pass through blood to blood contact with infected blood (even if there is no sexual activity) through: sharing needles or drug equipment, unsterilized tattoo/piercing equipment, needle stick injury, blood or blood product transfusions with contaminated blood, sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail files etc.

Some STIs such as scabies, pubic lice or molluscum contagiosum (most common in children) can also pass through non-sexual means such as in sharing infected towels, bedding, clothes, etc.

Hep A can also pass outside of sexual activity if someone consumes food, water or ice contaminated with Hep A and does not have the Hep A vaccine.  

Oral herpes which presents as cold sores on the mouth are most often obtained from non-sexual means. Oral herpes is often acquired in childhood, and is frequently the result of an adult with oral herpes kissing a child (non-sexually).

Some STIs can also pass through non-sexual means such as pregnancy, childbirth, breast/chest feeding.

Testing negative for STIs is a good indicator that you do not have an infection.  Sometimes false negative results can occur when testing is performed too soon after exposure. It is important to make sure that you are testing after the window periods for each STI. Please see the following for more information:

Also, make sure to ask which STIs your health practitioner is testing for you.  Some infections like HPV, genital warts, and herpes are not routinely tested. Also, do not assume that if you are receiving either an anal and/or cervical pap smear that it is the same as being tested for all the STIs. Please check in with your health care provider so that you are informed on what testing is being done. There are different ways of testing for STIs. To learn more please visit: https://smartsexresource.com/get-tested/tests-and-exams

If your recent STI test results are negative, it can be helpful to have new testing done anytime you:

  • Have a risk of infection (unprotected sex, condom broke/slip, sharing needles, etc.)
  • You notice changes in your body
  • Sexual contact with a person who told you they have an STI
  • You have a new sexual partner/client (if you have multiple new partners/clients every so often, it can be helpful to test every 3-6 months if the sex is always protected. If the sex is unprotected or the safer sex barrier broke/slipped, consider testing sooner)
  • If you are in a monogamous sexual relationship with the same partner and have both been tested, consider testing annually
  • You or your partners have other sexual partners (where sex is protected and/or people have been tested) and it’s been more than three to six months since your last test.
  • Have been sexually assaulted
  • You are pregnant (regardless if you are planning to continue the pregnancy or have an abortion)
  • It is best to check in with your health care provider on how often they recommend you testing based on your sexual life and other activities.

Resources:

* “we recognize the word “men” may not be inclusive of how people identify and use this word to reflect the same language of the resource.

The transmission of STIs that are caused by viruses and bacteria are highly unlikely through the shared use of a toilet, clothes, towels, or utensils with someone who has an STI.  

The bacteria and viruses that are responsible for causing STIs require a living host in order to “live” and multiply. Depending on the type of bacteria or virus, direct skin-to-skin contact or the passing of bodily fluids such as blood, genital fluids or breast milk between an infected person and another person is required for the transmission of an STI.

 The only STIs that can be transmitted by sharing personal items like infected clothes and linens are those caused by parasitic insects. These two STIs are called pubic lice (or crabs) and scabies. Both of these STIs are non-life threatening and can be easily treated.

For more information: https://smartsexresource.com/ask-us/questions/can-u-only-catch-through-sex-just-concerned-u-may-b-able-to

It is highly unlikely/difficult to get an STI through kissing, no matter the type of kissing, whether it’s a peck or deep kissing with tongue. However, there is a risk of being exposed to the herpes virus as the virus can be transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. The risk is highest if your partner has an open sore or lesion on their mouth.  However, the virus can also pass when there are no symptoms. Remember that the herpes virus is a very common non-serious (in most cases) skin infection. Although herpes is not a serious STI, it can carry a social stigma and have an emotional impact on people.

Please visit:

As long as you are only masturbating with your own sexual fluids, there is no risk of STIs. Masturbation, if it is something you like to do, is a very healthy and safe way of practicing sex. Masturbation is one of the most common sexual acts.

To keep masturbation safe for your body, avoid using any fragile, sharp or unclean objects with the genitals as this may cause tearing or infection.

For more information on masturbation: http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/masturbation-healthy-0

Abortion Myths and Facts

Fact:  In January 1988 the Supreme Court of Canada made the decision that any law that restricted a woman’s right to life, liberty, and security of person, as guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 7, was unconstitutional.  This is called the Morgentaler Decision. Since this ruling there have been no laws regulating abortion or protecting rights to abortion in Canada.

Fact:  The decision to have an abortion is not, for most women, a trivial matter.  This, combined with the reality that abortion is inaccessible to many women in Canada prevents it from being a chosen or viable primary method of birth control.  

Fact:   Access to contraception is a challenge for many women in Canada. Even among women who do have access, no birth control method is 100% effective,and all women experiencing pregnancy have the right to choose among the options of parenting, adoption and abortion.

Fact:  Physicians performing abortions are governed by medical practice guidelines and legislation. Canadian Medical Association (CMA) policy permits abortion after 20 weeks only under exceptional circumstances.  Less than 0.4% of abortions occur after this point.

Fact:  Access to abortion is not available equally across Canada.  Thus someone may have to wait to obtain an abortion, resulting in her being in the second term of their pregnancy.

Fact: Abortion procedures do occasionally have complications, just as pregnancy and delivery are not without risks to the health of both the woman and the foetus. But current Canadian data (2004) reports no deaths as a result of surgical abortion performed by an accredited physician. Abortion is safer than carrying a pregnancy to term and giving birth.

Fact:  According to the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties (CPS), the most widely used source of drug information, the drug used in medical abortions (methotrexate) is safe and effective.  Methotrexate has been used in the treatment of ectopic pregnancy since the early 1980s.

Fact:  Abortions performed by qualified physicians have a very low rate of serious complications.

Fact:  Women who have had an abortion experience these pregnancy complications at rates similar to women who have never had an abortion.

Fact:  There is no evidence to suggest that there is any impact on a woman’s ability to conceive and carry a pregnancy to term based upon her therapeutic abortion history.

Inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term is based on many factors (i.e. sexuallytransmitted infections, genetics, environmental factors) and abortion is not a risk factor for infertility or miscarriage.

Fact:  In March of 2003 the National Cancer Institute(NCI) declared emphatically that recent studies consistently show no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk.  Nevertheless, while no causal relationship between abortion and breast cancer has been scientifically established, anti-choice groups attempt to dissuade women from choosing abortion by exploiting their fear of breast cancer.

Fact:  Since the early 1980s, groups opposed to abortion have attempted to document the existence of “post-abortion syndrome” which they claim has traits similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.  The American Psychological Association (APA) conveneda panel of experts to review the data and they reported the studies with the most scientifically rigorous research designs consistently found no “post-abortion syndrome”.  The American Medical Association(AMA) and Centre for Disease Control (CDC) concur that no such syndrome is scientifically or medically recognized.

Fact: Evidence regarding the capacity for foetal pain is limited, but indicates that foetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.

Fact:  The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) is a coalition of national Christian, Jewish, and other religious organizations that support a woman’s right to decide when and whether to have a child.  RCRC educates the public about abortion and teaches that it can be a religiously responsible decision.

Fact: Catholics For a Free Choice (CFFC) gives a voice to the many Catholics who respect a woman’s right to make sound and moral decisions concerning her own body, and who support reproductive choice.

Fact:  Abortions for young women are legal, and can be provided to girls under the age of 16 without parental consent, but with informed consent of the patient.  At abortion clinics in British Columbia, extensive counselling takes place prior to, and following,the procedure.

Have a question about sexual health?