Misconceptions about Conception

Merely Me Health Guide
  • We get a lot of questions here on Health Central's Sexual Health site and the numbers are growing daily.  A majority of our reader question have a common theme.  This theme usually consists of variations of asking whether or not one is pregnant or if such and such a situation occurs, what are the chances of becoming pregnant.  Over time it has become clear to me that there are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there about how one does or does not become pregnant.  I am hopeful that this article will be helpful in this regard to helping clear up some of the confusion about conception.


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    How normal conception occurs:  If there are no fertility problems the typical way conception occurs is that a woman will release an egg about two weeks after the first day of her menstrual cycle.  The egg travels from one of the ovaries and through the fallopian tubes toward the uterus.  The egg lives about 24 hours so this is a critical time for sperm to meet up with the egg.  The male ejaculation will contain between 30 to 300 million sperm which all strive to swim the distance to meet up with the egg.  The sperm can live inside a woman's body for up to 72 hours.  Out of all these millions of sperm it only takes one to get you pregnant. 



    What are the chances of my getting pregnant if my partner and I do not have any fertility issues?



    Even if there are no fertility problems the odds of becoming pregnant will vary from cycle to cycle and also greatly depend upon the woman's age.  This fertility site gives us these statistics:  "If you are 20-25, your chance per cycle are about 25%. From there they begin to fall off. At 25-30 your chances are about 20%. At 30-35 they are about 15%. After 35 they may be about 10% per ovulatory cycle, and the chances continue the downward trend."


    So this is why they will tell you that if a woman who is under thirty years of age is not pregnant after trying for a year then it is time to go see a fertility specialist.  The average woman who is of this age group will become pregnant within six cycles.  They say that women in their early thirties will usually become pregnant within nine cycles and women in their mid-thirties will usually conceive within a year.  If you are over thirty-five and have been trying for six months or longer, it may be time to seek the help of a fertility specialist as you don't have as much time as someone who is younger. 



    And now for the questions about circumstances...





    Can I get pregnant if he doesn't penetrate all the way or if he pulls out before ejaculation? 


    The answer is yes you sure can!  Pre-ejaculate can include sperm and as stated earlier it takes only one resilient sperm to get you pregnant.  The withdrawal method is probably the least effective of all forms of contraception and Planned Parenthood tells us that out of every 100 women who have a partner who uses withdrawal, that 27 of those women could become pregnant.  In comparison only 2-8 of every 100 women who use some sort of birth control pill will become pregnant.  It is clear that the withdrawal method is not a very reliable method at all and you are definitely taking a risk. 


    Planned Parenthood does offer advice for those who do choose to use this method that the man should urinate between ejaculations before having sex again.  This will help decrease the chances that sperm will be left in the urethra and be present in pre-ejaculation.


    To be very clear about this the man does not have to ejaculate to get you pregnant.  And there is also a possibility of pregnancy whenever any semen or pre-ejaculate spills onto the vulva area.





    Can semen travel through clothing? 





    This is one of those questions which there really are no studies for but we can deduce through logic that it is extremely unlikely.  Sperm are actually very fragile and are not able to go through clothing.  I suppose if the woman were wearing mesh underwear or something where there are holes for semen to leak through then I could see a possibility.  But semen is not going to travel through normal attire.  Likewise, "dry humping" with your clothes on is not going to get you pregnant.

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    Can I become pregnant if I have sex during my period?  Yes it is possible.  On this pregnancy site they say that sperm can live up to five days in a woman's body.  For some women with irregular ovulation the egg may be released before bleeding has stopped or shortly after her period.  So there are no guarantees that you would not become pregnant if you have sexual intercourse during your period.



    Can I get my female partner pregnant if get ejaculate on my hand and then touch my partner's genitals? 


    This is one of those questions where there are many variations on the theme.  Someone will ask if they masturbated using their hand and some ejaculate got onto their hand, they washed their hands, played basketball and then saw their girlfriend and touched her vagina and then want to know if she will become pregnant.  Or someone might ask if dried sperm can come back to life when moistened. 


    I will do my best here to answer the many versions of this question as it comes up so frequently on our site.


    The American Pregnancy Association is pretty clear in stating that once sperm is dry it is dead.  Sperm cannot be brought back to life by being re-moistened.  So if the sperm has dried it is not going to get anyone pregnant.  


    Sperm can live up to five days if it stays within a warm moist environment such as a woman's cervix.


    But outside of the human body sperm have a much shorter existence.


    There is much variability in the answers given as to how long sperm can remain alive outside of the human body such as on a hand.  It seems to depend upon how exposed the semen is to air and humidity and this pregnancy site tells us that sperm can last from twenty minutes to an hour outside of the body.


    But then there are sexual health organizations such as this one which say that sperm are able to live for up to four hours outside of the body. 


    So basically if the sperm is dry then there is no chance for pregnancy.  But if you have ejaculate on your hands which is not dry or washed off completely and you get that ejaculate anywhere near your female partner's vagina then perhaps there is a slight risk for pregnancy. 


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    Your best bet is to always wash your hands thoroughly if you have any seminal or pre-ejaculation fluids on them before touching your female partner's vulva or vagina.


    I do hope this has helped some.  Remember that no question is a dumb question here.  Keep in mind too that your doctor or gynecologist may be the best person to ask about conception, fertility, or pregnancy.  They have heard it all and will not be shocked by your questions.  It is better to ask questions and be safe than sorry. 


    For more information, be sure to check out:

    Types of Emergency Contraception

    What You Can Expect After Taking the Morning After Pill

    Emergency Contraception: How Much Do You Know About the Morning After Pill?

    The Morning After Pill

    Understanding the Risks of an IUD


Published On: July 20, 2009