6 Ways You Probably Won't Get Pregnant When Having Sex

How hard is it to get pregnant? The chances of conception depend on various circumstances, ranging from your menstrual cycle to your birth control. Here, experts share the scenarios where you're least likely to conceive.

Many people spend the better part of their fertile years actively trying not to get pregnant, so it might be surprising to learn that conception isn't that easy. Indeed, there's a relatively short window during the menstrual cycle that's ideal for conceiving, whether or not a person is on birth control or actively trying, says Anate Brauer, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at the Greenwich Fertility and IVF Centers and assistant professor of OB-GYN at NYU School of Medicine.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 85 out of 100 people of reproductive age who are sexually active and do not use any kind of contraception will become pregnant within a year. Of course, every person is different, and you should always use protection if you're not trying to conceive. But if you're wondering which occasions make for the least likely opportunity, check out these expert-stamped scenarios where your chances of pregnancy are the lowest.

You're on Birth Control

Hormonal birth control methods—whether it's the pill, patch, ring, implant, shot, or IUD—greatly decrease your chances of conception but don't eliminate your chances altogether. These methods work in various ways. For example, IUDs block sperm from reaching the egg, while the pill, ring, and patch prevent ovulation, explains Dr. Brauer. Even if you're committed to taking your birth control, you still have to use it correctly and consistently.

Also, if you rely on contraceptive pills, take note: Some pill packs contain four to seven days of inactive pills that don't contain any hormones. On rare occasions, this may be long enough to allow for the recruitment of a mature egg. "This is often referred to as 'escape ovulation' and is one reason for oral hormonal contraception failure," says Dr. Brauer. Missing doses of hormonal contraception could also increase the chances of accidental pregnancy.

How hard is it to get pregnant on birth control?

If you're on the birth control pill and following all instructions, then your chances of getting pregnant are generally less than 1%. The effectiveness decreases with "typical use" (i.e., not using the method correctly and consistently for every sexual encounter). According to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), about 9 out of 100 people will become pregnant while on the pill within a year with typical use.

You're on Your Period

While it's not impossible to get pregnant while Aunt Flo is in town, your chances are pretty darn slim. If you consider what's actually happening inside your body, it's easy to see why: The egg that was growing inside your ovaries wasn't fertilized, and, as a result, your uterine lining sheds (this is the "blood" that's released) and prepares to grow new follicles (eggs) for your next cycle. In other words, the egg that was viable for fertilization has now been flushed along with your period.

Your lowest chance of getting pregnant while on your period is during the first day of bleeding. But the chances increase with each passing day as you get closer to your ovulation window. If your typical menstrual cycle is close to the average 28- to 30-day cycle, then the likelihood of getting pregnant while on your period is low, but if your cycle is shorter, your chances of getting pregnant while on your period go up.

The only way you can get pregnant on your period? Having a particularly short cycle with ovulation that occurs soon after menstruation. "Sperm can live in the uterus for up to five days, so if you have intercourse towards the end of your period, sperm can still hang around long enough to fertilize an egg that is released days after your period ends," explains Dr. Brauer.

How hard is it to get pregnant while on your period?

It is possible to get pregnant by having sex on your period, but the chances are extremely low. The exact risk depends upon the length of your cycle. Though length can vary from cycle to cycle, you can get an estimate of when you are typically most fertile by tracking your cycle.

You Use the 'Pull Out' Method

The pull-out method may be the world's oldest form of birth control, but like all methods, it's not foolproof. When used alone, it has a moderate rate of failure as a form of birth control, but it can significantly decrease your chances of getting pregnant—especially when used with other methods.

The pull-out method, also known as withdrawal, involves pulling the penis out of the vagina before ejaculation. The problem, however, is that pre-ejaculate or precum, the bodily fluid released from the penis before actual ejaculation, can contain active and viable sperm. Successful withdrawal also relies on the male partner to have a high level of bodily awareness and control, right at a moment when inhibitions are understandably much lower.

Additionally, Mark Trolice, M.D., reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at My Fertility CARE: The IVF Center in Winter Park, Florida, explains that most people aren't aware of when they release this precum. "Because it's hard to predict when pre-ejaculation occurs, the withdrawal method is often fraught with peril and certainly not the most reliable method out there," he says.

How hard is it to get pregnant while using withdrawal?

Withdrawal is about 96% effective with perfect use and 82% effective with typical use. If you really want to avoid pregnancy, choose a different contraceptive method (or double up with another method, such as condoms). Planned Parenthood reports that when the withdrawal method is used perfectly every time, 4 out of 100 people will get pregnant. But since it is nearly impossible to get right every time, the number of people who get pregnant using withdrawal is closer to 22 out of 100 people, or 1 in 5.

You Use a Condom

When using a condom to avoid pregnancy (or sexually transmitted infections, for that matter), it's vital to use it correctly. This means the condom is rolled onto the penis (or inserted into the vagina in the case of internal or female condoms) before there's any contact between genitals and skin. You can make condoms even more effective by pairing them with another form of birth control, like an IUD or the pill, or using them in combination with the pull-out method.

How hard is it to get pregnant while using a condom? According to the HHS Office of Women's Health, the chance of getting pregnant with male condoms is about 18% and with female condoms, it's 21%—and that's with typical use (which accounts for human error). With perfect condom use every single time, those odds decrease to 2%, according to Planned Parenthood.

You're Breastfeeding

Some nursing parents use the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) or "breastfeeding method" to prevent pregnancy after giving birth. While it can be an effective method, it's often misunderstood. LAM as a form of birth control relies on the temporary pause in ovulation that often accompanies breastfeeding in the first several months postpartum.

"While breastfeeding, the hormone estrogen, which is responsible for getting your period each month, is suppressed," explains Sherry Ross, M.D., OB-GYN, Women's Health Expert in Santa Monica, and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period. "Additionally, the hormone that stimulates breast milk production, prolactin, also prevents ovulation from occurring because it inhibits the hormone that triggers your ovaries to grow and release eggs."

But using LAM to avoid pregnancy is not as simple as just breastfeeding your baby. In fact, there are certain criteria that must be met to meet the definition of LAM. Additionally, researchers have found that there are certain variables that greatly influence the method's effectiveness such as the baby's age (effectiveness of LAM drops steadily after a baby reaches 6 months of age) and how often the baby nurses (the method is most effective when the baby is exclusively breastfed and they nurse on demand and around the clock).

How hard is it to get pregnant while breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding naturally disrupts a person's hormones and can effectively suppress ovulation, but the absence of periods after giving birth is temporary and they can resume even when a person is still breastfeeding. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), with consistent and correct use fewer than 1 out of 100 people will become pregnant relying on LAM during their baby's first 6 months. But with typical use, that number increases to 2 out of 100.

You're Over 44 Years Old

Thanks to that good-old biological clock, a person's chances of getting pregnant wane over time. People with ovaries are born with some 1 million to 2 million eggs; there are only about 300,000 left when they get their first period and 25,000 left by their late 30s. This means that the chances of becoming pregnant in their early 40s are pretty slim, though not impossible.

"As we get closer to 40, the ticking of our biological clock becomes louder, and by 44, it can be deafening," Dr. Ross says. "Fertility decreases by as much as 95% in women between 40 and 45 years of age."

How hard is it to get pregnant over 44 years old?

According to Dr. Ross, women over the age of 44 have a less than 5% chance of getting pregnant each month. That said, age in and of itself is not an effective method for avoiding pregnancy, and you should continue to use other birth control methods until you've officially entered menopause (not just perimenopause), which varies from person to person.

…But You Still Should Have a Birth Control Plan

Though your chances of unexpectedly getting pregnant are greatly reduced if you fall into one of these categories, they aren't nonexistent. If you want to avoid pregnancy, it's best to have an effective birth control method in place that you will use correctly and consistently.

And since no form of birth control method outside of abstinence is 100% effective, you may also want to have a backup such as emergency contraceptives like the morning after pill on hand.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles