When Does Precum Occur

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

What Is Pre-Ejaculate?

Pre-ejaculate is also called pre-cum, and is a liquid that squeezes out of the penis when aroused. It is formed by the accessory sex glands. These glands are different from the prostate and testes that make semen. The accessory sex glands do not produce sperm. You can’t feel pre-ejaculate coming out of your penis, and there’s no way to control it.

What Is Precum?

It is a clear, mucus-like liquid that appears at the tip of the penis during sexual excitement. It is produced by the accessory sex glands—the Cowper’s gland, the glands of Littre, and the glands of Morgagni. The amount can be a few drops to 5 milliliters. These glands open into the urethra at different places.

The amount can vary in the same person at different times, depending on the intensity of sexual excitement.

What Does Precum Look Like? It is usually a clear, sticky liquid.

When Does Precum Occur? It occurs when you’re feeling sexual excitement.

Pre-Ejaculate Meaning: Pre-ejaculate shows excitement. It means you feel desire for your partner.

Pre-Ejaculate—Functions

The Cowper’s gland is the main source of the pre-ejaculate fluid. It is situated below the prostate and is also called the bulbourethral gland. It produces an alkaline, mucus-like fluid during sexual stimulation.

  • Pre-ejaculation fluid neutralizes the acidity in the urethra. Urine is often acidic and leaves an acidic residue in the urethra. Sperm don’t thrive in an acidic environment. Pre-ejaculate provides a basic (alkaline) pH for the semen and urethra.
  • It contains glycoproteins, which provide lubrication during intercourse.
  • The environment in the vaginal vault is chemically unsuitable for sperms. The pre-ejaculate fluid provides a neutralizing buffer and helps them survive and remain active.

Can Pre-Cum Cause Pregnancy?

Pre-ejaculate is released all through the sex act and it enters your partner’s vagina. Any sperm in it can travel up through the cervix and find the egg in the fallopian tube.

The withdrawal method (also called coitus interruptus) refers to the withdrawal of the penis from the vagina before ejaculation. It’s an ancient method, costs nothing, and has no side effects. But it is undependable. A pregnancy may happen because of sperm in the pre-cum.

The secretion from the Cowper’s gland does not contain any sperm. However, the pre-ejaculate collected at the tip of the penis shows the presence of sperm.

Some studies have shown that more than 40% of men have sperm in their pre-ejaculate fluid. Some men always have sperm in their pre-ejaculate, while others never do. This always or never phenomenon probably explains why some men are successful at birth control by the withdrawal method. But the possibility of sperm in pre-ejaculate is high. The way to avoid pregnancy is to wear a condom from the first moment of genital contact.

For withdrawal to work as birth control, you must pull out when ejaculation is about to happen. It is difficult to do so every time. It is impossible to know about pre-ejaculate fluid entering your partner’s vagina. Withdrawal works best with another birth control method like condoms, oral contraceptive pills, or a vaginal ring.

There’s a belief that the sperm in pre-ejaculate fluid are leftover sperm in the urethra from the last ejaculation. But even after passing urine several times after the last ejaculation, the pre-ejaculate contains sperm. Passing urine to wash out the urethra does not work to keep sperm out of pre-ejaculate.

What Are the Alternatives to the Withdrawal Method?

If you don’t want a pregnancy, the withdrawal method should not be your only form of birth control. You should combine it with another method. If you’ve completed your family or otherwise decided not to have children, male or female sterilization are dependable, permanent methods. The temporary methods are:

Diaphragm or cap. This covers the cervix of the uterus and doesn’t allow sperm to enter the uterus.

Oral contraceptive pills. Also called “the pill.” These pills contain both types of sex hormones, estrogens and progestins. The pill works by preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg at all. Oral contraceptive pills are more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Contraceptive implant. A doctor places a small plastic rod under a woman’s skin. It releases the hormone progestin for three years and prevents pregnancy.

Contraceptive injection. A slow-release injection of progestin is given to women. It prevents pregnancy for three months.

Contraceptive patch. A woman can stick it to her skin, and it releases progestin for a week. It has to be replaced every week for three weeks. It helps with heavy periods and painful periods and is effective even if you have nausea and vomiting.

Condoms. They prevent semen from entering the vagina. Apart from pregnancy, they also prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Female condoms. Worn inside the vagina, they prevent sperm from entering the uterus.

Intrauterine device (IUD). These are small devices placed into the uterus. They release copper or hormones and prevent pregnancy. An IUD works for several years.

Vaginal ring. These are placed inside the vagina. They release hormones slowly and prevent pregnancy.

Can Pre-Cum Cause HIV Infection?

Yes, it can. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is present in the pre-ejaculate fluid. The concentration of the virus is less than in semen, but the infection can happen.

What if You Have Excessive Pre-Ejaculate Fluid?

The amount of this fluid is variable. Some men have large volumes. This can be socially embarrassing, as just being out on a date or kissing results in soaking of the pants.

Excessive pre-ejaculate is not a medical problem or a threat to health. But if you want to reduce it, you should talk to your physician. Medicines like finasteride can relieve such symptoms.

Sperm leaks into the pre-ejaculate fluid in some men. The number of sperm is less than in semen but can probably cause pregnancy. If you’re using the withdrawal method to avoid pregnancy, you should know that it alone is not enough protection. Even if you possess an iron will and withdraw before ejaculation each time, your pre-cum may cause a pregnancy. It’s best to combine the withdrawal method with another method of birth control.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
Columbia University. Go Ask Alice: “Is this pre-cum, or something else? Is this normal?”
Human Fertility: “Sperm content of pre-ejaculatory fluid.”
Journal of Andrology: “Copious Pre-Ejaculation: Small Glands—Major Headaches.”
Mayo Clinic: “Birth Control — Can you get pregnant from pre-ejaculation fluid?”
National Health Service: “Your contraception guide.”
Planned Parenthood: “Withdrawal (Pull Out Method).”

What Is Precum?

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.

Updated on October 02, 2022

Matthew Wosnitzer, MD, is a board-certified urologic surgeon and physician scientist. He specializes in male infertility.

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Precum is a clear fluid that comes out of the penis during arousal but before climax (orgasm). While this fluid is a lubricant and doesn’t contain sperm, there may already be sperm in the urethra that mixes with precum.

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If precum is released into the vagina, there’s a risk of pregnancy before ejaculation.

Also Known As

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

Precum looks similar to semen—the white fluid that comes out of the penis during an orgasm. In addition to reducing friction during intercourse, precum makes it easier for sperm to leave the body.

This article will go over what precum is and its function. It discusses how much precum is normal and the chance of getting pregnant from precum.

Wearing a condom can reduce risks from precum and semen

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 a 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?

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.

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).

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.

See also  Is Butter Bad For You

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.

11 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.

  1. Killick SR, Leary C, Trussell J, Guthrie KA. Sperm content of pre-ejaculatory fluid. Hum Fertil (Camb). 2011;14(1):48-52. doi:10.3109/14647273.2010.520798
  2. International Planned Parenthood Foundation. What is pre-ejaculate?.
  3. Chughtai B, Sawas A, O’Malley RL, Naik RR, Ali Khan S, Pentyala S. A neglected gland: a review of Cowper’s gland.Int J Androl. 2005;28(2):74-77. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2605.2005.00499.x
  4. Lee MY, Dalpiaz A, Schwamb R, Miao Y, Waltzer W, Khan A. Clinical pathology of bartholin’s glands: a review of the literature. CUR. 2014;8(1):22-25.
  5. Planned Parenthood. What’s the Plan B morning after pill?.
  6. Planned Parenthood. What’s the ella morning-after pill?.
  7. Planned Parenthood. How do IUDs work as emergency contraception?.
  8. Pudney J, Oneta M, Mayer K, Seage G, Anderson D. Pre-ejaculatory fluid as potential vector for sexual transmission of HIV-1.Lancet. 1992;340(8833):1470. doi:10.1016/0140-6736(92)92659-4
  9. Grant RM, Lama JR, Anderson PL, et al. Preexposure chemoprophylaxis for hiv prevention in men who have sex with men.New England Journal of Medicine. 2010;363(27):2587-2599. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1011205
  10. Planned Parenthood. Can you get pregnant from precum?.
  11. Planned Parenthood. Can you feel it when you pre-cum?.

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.

Is Male Discharge Normal?

When Does Precum Occur

Male discharge is any substance (other than urine) that comes from the urethra (a narrow tube in the penis) and flows out the tip of the penis.

Is it normal?

  1. Normal penile discharges are pre-ejaculate and ejaculate, which occur with sexual arousal and sexual activity. Smegma, which is often seen in uncircumcised men who have the foreskin of their penis intact, is also a normal occurrence. However, smegma — a collection of oil and dead skin cells — is more a skin condition than a discharge.

Pre-ejaculate

Pre-ejaculate (also called precum) is a clear, mucoid fluid that is made by the Cowper’s glands. These glands sit alongside the urethra. Pre-ejaculate is secreted from the tip of the penis during sexual arousal.

Most men secrete anywhere from a few drops to up to a teaspoon, notes the International Society for Sexual Medicine, although some men can expel much more.

Pre-ejaculate helps to:

  • lubricate the penis in preparation for sex
  • clear acids from urine out of the penis (lower acidity means more sperm survival)

Ejaculate

Ejaculate is a white, cloudy, gooey substance that comes out of the tip of the penis when a man reaches orgasm. It contains sperm and fluids produced by the prostate, the Cowper’s glands, and the seminal vesicles in the testicles.

About 1 percent of ejaculate is sperm (the typical man ejaculates about a teaspoon of semen containing 200-million to 500-million sperm). The other 99 percent is made up of things like water, sugar, protein, and enzymes.

A variety of conditions produce male discharges that aren’t considered normal. These include:

Urethritis

Urethritis is an inflammation and infection of the urethra. Its symptoms include:

  • a yellowish, green penile discharge
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • an urgent need to urinate
  • no symptoms at all

Urethritis is commonly caused by bacteria transmitted during unprotected sex with an infected partner.

According to the Merck Manual, some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that produce urethritis include:

In some cases, urethritis is caused by normal bacteria that cause ordinary urinary tract infections.

Balanitis

Balanitis is a condition marked by inflammation of the head (glans) of the penis. It can occur in both circumcised and uncircumcised males.

According to research published in the Journal of Nurse Practitioners, balanitis is more common in uncircumcised men, affecting about 3 percent of them worldwide. Symptoms are:

  • red, blotchy rash
  • pain when urinating
  • itchiness
  • oozing discharge from under the foreskin

Balanitis can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Poor hygiene. If the foreskin of the penis is not pulled back and the exposed area regularly cleaned, sweat, urine and dead skin can breed bacteria and fungus, causing irritation.
  • Allergy. Allergic reactions to soaps, lotions, lubricants, condoms, etc. can affect the penis.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases. STDs can cause inflammation in the tip of the penis.

Balanitis often occurs with posthitis, which is an inflammation of the foreskin. It can happen for all the same reasons as balanitis and produce similar symptoms.

When both the foreskin and head of the penis are inflamed, the condition is called balanoposthitis.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

While UTIs are more common in women than men, bacteria — normally from the rectum — can make their way into the urinary tract from improper cleansing after a bowel movement. This can result in a UTI.

Signs of a UTI include:

  • clear or pus-tinged fluid from the penis
  • feeling an urgent need to urinate
  • burning sensation when urinating
  • urine that is cloudy and/or foul smelling
  • fever

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

A variety of STDs can cause penile discharges. Some include:

  • Chlamydia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) notes that chlamydia, which is caused by bacteria, is the number-one STD reported in the United States. Only 10 percent of men (and even fewer women) with documented cases have symptoms, says the CDC. When symptoms in men are present, they can include:
    • urethritis
    • watery or mucus-like discharge from the tip of the penis
    • pain or swelling in the testicles
    • Gonorrhea. Another common and frequently transmitted STD that may have no symptoms is gonorrhea. Men with gonorrhea may experience:
      • whitish, yellowish, or even greenish fluid coming from the tip of the penis
      • pain when urinating
      • swollen testicles

      When to see the doctor

      If you have discharge from your penis that is not urine, pre-ejaculate, or ejaculate, see your doctor. You may have a condition that needs treatment.

      Any penile discharge that is not urine or related to sexual arousal (pre-ejaculate or ejaculate) is considered abnormal and needs medical evaluation. Your doctor will:

      • take your medical and sexual history
      • ask about your symptoms
      • examine your penis
      • use a cotton swab to acquire some discharge, and send the sample out to a lab for analysis

      Treatment will depend on what’s causing the penile discharge.

      • Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics.
      • Fungal infections, such as those that result from yeast, are combated with antifungals.
      • Allergic irritation can be calmed with steroids.

      Penile discharge that occurs with sexual arousal or intercourse is normal. This discharge is generally clear and not associated with pain or discomfort.

      Get checked out by a doctor, however, if:

      • your penis is red or irritated
      • you have a discharge that is oozing, discolored, or foul smelling
      • you have any discharge that occurs without sexual activity

      This discharge could be the sign of an STD, allergic reaction, or UTI, and will need medical treatment.

      Last medically reviewed on October 31, 2018

      How we reviewed this article:

      Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

      • Chlamydia – CDC fact sheet. (2017).
        cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia-detailed.htm
      • Gonorrhea – CDC fact sheet. (2017).
        cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea.htm
      • Imm N. (2016). Balanitis.
        patient.info/health/penis-problems/balanitis
      • LeWine H. (2018). Men and urinary tract infections.
        health.harvard.edu/mens-health/men-and-urinary-tract-infections
      • Nutritional value in a serving of semen. (n.d.).
        goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/nutritional-value-serving-semen
      • Penile discharge. (n.d.).
        playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/2015/02/05/penile-discharge/
      • Porche DJ. (2007). Balanitis. DOI:
        10.1016/j.nurpra.2007.03.016
      • What is pre-ejaculate or precum. (n.d.).
        issm.info/sexual-health-qa/what-is-pre-ejaculate-or-precum/

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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