Can You Get Pregnant Without Having Sex? The Answer Might Surprise You
Women are claiming that this has happened to them—are they for real?
As everyone who sat through a basic sex ed class knows, having unprotected sex comes with a risk of getting pregnant. That's why it's almost impossible to believe that a woman can get pregnant without having penetrative sex. Turns out, it’s not—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 said she started feeling crampy at her prom and realized her period was a week late. Though she was a virgin at the time, she took a pregnancy test—and it was positive. “And that is how I have a 5-year-old son,” she wrote in the caption.
In a later TikTok, Isabel insisted she wasn’t making her story up. “I want people to know that it’s a possibility,” she said.
Isabel is hardly the first woman to say this happened to her. 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.
It’s easy to write these stories off as hoaxes. But ob-gyns swear these so-called virgin pregnancies are actually a thing.
More women than you'd think say they’ve become pregnant without having sex
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 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 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 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.
But Lauren Streicher, MD, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, tells Health that plenty of 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.”
The use of an intact hymen—a small amount of extra tissue around the vaginal opening—to determine virginity is controversial, given that the hymen can tear or stretch over time from using tampons, getting gynecological exams, and doing intense exercise. 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 gynecology 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 and an egg, among many other factors. Those two usually come together with penetrative sex, but Dr. Shepherd points out that they can join up 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 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,” 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 tend to be pretty fertile, Dr. Minkin says. Adds Dr. Streicher: “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 what can people do to prevent a virgin pregnancy?
FWIW: This is a rare thing, 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 his 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 fooled 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.