Monday, October 20, 2008

Q & A: Can a woman or girl get pregnant if... ?

Q. Can a woman or girl get pregnant if _______?

A. A woman can get pregnant when semen (cum) gets inside her vagina. It doesn't matter if she's a virgin. It doesn't matter if she has an orgasm or not. It doesn't matter if you have sex underwater, or douche afterwards. Once the semen is inside the vagina, millions of sperm cells are racing towards the uterus, into the fallopian tubes and looking for an egg to fertilize. Nine months later a fertilized egg is a new baby.

Giving a woman oral sex ("eating pussy") cannot get a woman pregnant. Touching a penis cannot get a woman pregnant. Giving a man oral sex ("blow jobs") or swallowing semen cannot make a woman pregnant. Sperm must meet egg for pregnancy to happen, so as long as no semen gets inside the woman's vagina, there is no way for her to get pregnant.

If a man pulls out before he comes, the woman is somewhat less likely to get pregnant, but it is still a significant possibility. This is because a penis leaks small amounts of precum while erect, and this precum can contain trace amounts of semen.

Semen is composed of sperm, which create the pregnancy if one successfully penetrates an egg, plus a sugary nutritional substance to keep the sperm alive during the journey. In order for pregnancy to occur the sperm must not only be alive, but strong enough to penetrate the egg wall.

Because of this, sperm quickly lose their viability when exposed to the air. And it is statistically impossible for a woman or girl to get pregnant from having a man or boy ejaculate on her clothing.

If she's on her period... There are days a woman can get pregnant and days when she can't. Figuring out those days is the tricky part. One of the most common ways people try to figure out "safe" and "fertile" days is called the rhythm method. Because of the guesswork involved rhythm is not an effective method of birth control.

The first day of your period is called Day 1. You then count all the days till you get your period again. The total number of those days is the length of your menstrual cycle. Fourteen days after you ovulate (when an egg is ready to meet the sperm) you get your period. That means if you ovulate on Day 20, your cycle will be 34 days total (20 + 14). Or, if you ovulate on Day 8, you're cycle will be 22 days long.

You could assume that because your cycles are usually 28 days that you ovulate on Day 14 (28 minus 14) of your period. But how do you know you are going to ovulate on day 14 of this cycle? The truth is, you don't. Your next cycle may only be 18 days. This means you are going to ovulate on Day 4 (18 minus 14). Because sperm live for three days, this means that if you have sex on your period you're going to get pregnant. Or your cycle may be 35 days this time. This means on Day 21, when you think the egg is no longer going to be around, it's actually ripe and ready to get fertilized and make you pregnant!

The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is the best way to know when you are ovulating and when you aren't. The Fertility Awareness Handbook by Barbara Kass-Annese is a great place to start learning how to use this method. It may be a little confusing to understand right away, which is why Planned Parenthood teaches classes on FAM. It takes a big commitment and being (or becoming) very comfortable with your body. It involves taking your temperature every morning before you get up, checking your cervical mucus twice a day, and keeping track of these findings on a chart. If this sounds like something you would like to do (it's a great way to find out more about your body) contact your local Planned Parenthood for a FAM class.

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