What Is Precum?

Precum is a clear fluid produced by a person with a penis when they are sexually aroused but before they climax (orgasm). The fluid exits the tube that urine goes through to leave the body (urethra) and appears at the tip of the penis.

Also Known As

  • Pre-ejaculate
  • Pre-seminal fluid
  • Cowper’s fluid

Precum is a natural lubricant during sexual intercourse. It looks similar to semen—the white fluid that comes out of the penis during an orgasm. While precum makes it easier for sperm to leave the body, it does not contain sperm. However, precum can pick up sperm that was left in the urethra as it passes through.

This article will go over what precum is and its function. You'll also learn about how much precum is normal and whether you can get pregnant from precum.

Wearing a condom can reduce risks from precum and semen
bagi1998 / E+ / Getty Images

What Is Precum?

Precum is one of several sexual fluids made by the body of someone with a penis. The most common fluid is semen, which contains sperm. When a person with penis orgasms, the fluid (ejaculate) is released from the penis.

The term "precum" makes sense because this fluid is released before semen. Precum is made in the Cowper’s glands. This pair of pea-sized glands are behind the penis on the inside of the body. They're about half an inch in diameter and connected to the urethra by ducts.

While semen has sperm in it, precum usually does not. It's mostly made up of nutrients and other substances that help keep semen healthy. Even though precum isn't made to have sperm in it, the sperm can contaminate the fluid as it's leaving the body.

What Does Precum Do?

Sperm cells can be killed by the pH in urine. Since ejaculate and urine exit the body through the same tube, it's possible that sperm can be affected by the acidity level.

Pre-ejaculate is an alkaline mucus. That means it can neutralize acidity in the urethra, which clears the way for sperm to travel through it safely.

Precum is also a natural lubricant for sexual intercourse. It's similar to the fluid that's secreted by people with a vagina when they are aroused.

How Much Precum Is Normal?

The amount of precum that a person produces varies. There's no "normal" or "abnormal" amount of precum.

A person does not control how much precum is released or when it comes out. On average, most people leak up to 4 milliliters (ml) of fluid. Most people don't notice when precum is released.

Can You Get Pregnant From Precum?

Sperm are produced in the testes. The body also makes a nutrient-rich fluid (seminal fluid) that helps sperm move.

Precum is made in the Cowper’s glands. It usually does not have live sperm in it. However, studies have found that if a person has intercourse after a recent sexual encounter, precum can mix with sperm that was left behind in the urethra (cross-contamination).

The chances of getting pregnant from precum are low, but it's not impossible. If precum comes in contact with the outside of the vulva, pregnancy is not likely to happen—but it could.

In one study, 41% of people had precum that contained sperm that were moving, which suggested they would be capable of reaching a partner's Fallopian tubes and possibly fertilizing an egg.

The ability of sperm to get picked up by precum is why withdrawal ("the pull-out method") is not a reliable way to prevent pregnancy. A 2017 study found the withdrawal method had a 20% failure rate (compared to 13% for condoms and 6% for hormonal birth control).

What to Do If You're Worried About Pregnancy from Precum

If you think you were exposed to precum and are concerned about pregnancy, know that it takes a fertilized egg (embryo) takes 10 days to implant into the uterus. You may want to take a pregnancy test around that time, especially if your period is late.

If you had sex without protection and are concerned about pregnancy from precum, you may want to use emergency contraception, such as:

  • The morning-after pill (Plan B): You can buy this form of emergency birth control without a prescription. It's available at pharmacies and online. Plan B is most effective at preventing pregnancy if you take it within three days of having unprotected sex.
  • The ella pill: This type of emergency contraception works better than Plan B if you take it within five days of having unprotected sex, but you need a prescription from a healthcare provider.
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs): Paraguard, Mirena, and Liletta can be implanted within five days of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. The IUDs can then be left in place as long-term reversible contraception (IUDs last from seven to 10 years before needing to be replaced).

Can Precum Transmit STIs?

Precum can also carry bacteria, viruses, and organisms that cause sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

To protect yourself, use a condom for any sexual contact with a penis and get screened for STIs regularly.

STIs don't always cause symptoms. However, see your provider if you have green or yellow penile or vaginal discharge and symptoms like pain and itching, as these can be signs of an STI.

HIV

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can be spread through blood, vaginal fluid, breast milk, semen, and precum.

If you’re having any form of sex with a partner who is HIV-positive, protect yourself by wearing condoms and taking Truvada (pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP). This drug reduces the risk of HIV transmission by 44%.

If you have unprotected sex, get tested regularly for HIV. It's also important to know the sign and symptoms of HIV, which include fever, chills, headache, sore throat, fatigue, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and mouth ulcers.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common STI in the United States. The bacteria that cause it can live in vaginal fluid, semen, and precum.

Many people do not have symptoms of chlamydia. When symptoms do occur, they include vaginal or penile discharge, itching, burning, pain during sex, and painful urination.

Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics, but the only wait to find out if you have it is to be diagnosed by a provider.

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is another common bacterial infection that can be transmitted through semen, vaginal fluid, and precum.

People with gonorrhea don't always have symptoms. However, yellow vaginal or penile discharge; itching, burning, redness, or pain during sex or urination, can be symptoms of gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, but you'll need to see a provider to get tested for it.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a highly infectious virus that affects the liver. It is the only strain of hepatitis that can be transmitted through precum.

Symptoms of hepatitis B typically show up a few months after transmission and include joint pain, fever, nausea, fatigue, weakness, and jaundice.

If you think you might have hepatitis B, see your provider. Hepatitis B can be treated but there is no cure. Most cases clear up in a few months. If not, there are also medications that can slow down liver damage from hepatitis B.

You can also get vaccinated against hepatitis B to protect yourself.

Summary

Precum plays a key role in arousal during sexual intercourse. By neutralizing acid and lubricating the urethra, precum makes it easier for semen to leave the body during orgasm.

Precum usually doesn't contain sperm, but it can pick up leftover sperm in the urethra. It can also carry organisms that cause sexually transmitted infections. If a potential pregnancy is a concern, use contraception whenever you have sex—even if there is no ejaculation.

A Word From Verywell

Precum is not the same as ejaculate, but it still carries risks. Use condoms to prevent STIs and other forms of birth control to minimize the risk of pregnancy. It's also important to have an open and honest conversation with your partner(s) about their sexual and testing history. While it's best for this conversation to happen before a sexual encounter, it's never too late.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can precum cause pregnancy?

    Precum can cause a person to become pregnant, but the chances are low. It usually does not contain sperm; however, precum can pick up live sperm that's left over from an earlier ejaculation, which could potentially fertilize an egg.

  • What is precum caused by?

    Precum is an involuntary response to sexual arousal before an orgasm. It lubricates the urethra of the penis and neutralizes acid to make it safer for sperm to travel through.

  • How do you know if precum happened?

    You or your partner may not notice precum—it's easy not to feel the little bit of wetness at the tip of the penis from precum during sex. A person with a penis can't control precum and there's no way to tell if it has sperm in it.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By S. Nicole Lane
S. Nicole Lane is a freelance health journalist focusing on sexual health and LGBTQ wellness. She is also the editorial associate for the Chicago Reader.