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How does a woman become pregnant?
A woman usually becomes pregnant after having sexual intercourse. This is where a man puts his erect penis inside a woman's vagina. The friction caused by moving his penis in and out of her vagina will cause him to get increasingly excited until eventually he ejaculates (or 'comes') and releases a sticky white substance called semen. This semen contains millions of tiny sperm cells, which then swim up the woman's vagina, into her uterus (womb) and then into her fallopian tubes where they may join with the tiny egg that she releases from one of her ovaries every month. If this 'joining' (also known as fertilisation or conception) occurs, then she will become pregnant. For more information about reproduction and fertilisation, please visit our puberty, pregnancy and sex page.

How can I prevent pregnancy?
If you don't want to become pregnant, you will need to use contraception. There are lots of different forms of contraception available. The most well known are the contraceptive pill and the condom. To find out more about how these and other contraceptive methods work, please visit our contraception FAQ or birth control pages.

Is there a "safe time" to have sexual intercourse?
There is unfortunately no 'safe' time to have unprotected sex if you wish to avoid getting pregnant. Even unprotected sex during a girl's period can result in pregnancy. Although women are generally only fertile for a few days every month (usually around the middle of the menstrual cycle) most women have no definite way of knowing when this is. Sperm can also survive inside the body for several days, meaning a woman can potentially become pregnant over quite a long period of time. If she has irregular periods, "safe" days can be particularly difficult to predict. Some couples do use the so called 'rhythm' method as a form of contraception, but the success rate is not high, and it also offers no protection from STDs such as HIV.

What are the chances of becoming pregnant from a single act of sex?
The likelihood of becoming pregnant from a single act of unprotected sex (for example, from a one night stand) varies from person to person, and also depends on the stage of a woman's menstrual cycle. The probability is highest around the time of ovulation (when the egg is released), when, on average, up to one third of women will become pregnant from having sex once.

What is the best way to get pregnant?
Many women spend much of their life trying not to get pregnant, and then find that when they actually try to have a baby, it takes a lot longer than they had hoped. If you are trying for a baby and don't get pregnant the first time you try, it is important not to panic. Many perfectly healthy women can take up to a year or more to become pregnant. Your best chance of getting pregnant will be if you have frequent sex around the time of ovulation. For women with a regular 28-day menstrual cycle, this will be approximately 14 days after the start of their last period, although it can vary from woman to woman. In some countries it may be possible to buy an ovulation testing kit from a chemist to help you work out when you're most fertile. 

If you continue to have problems, you should contact your doctor for advice. They will be able to refer you for tests to ensure that there are no physical problems that are preventing you from conceiving. 

If a man pulls his penis out before he comes or doesn't put it in all the way, can a woman still get pregnant?
Unfortunately even if a man doesn't insert his penis all the way, or withdraws his penis before ejaculation, a woman can still become pregnant. This is because 'pre-cum' (the lubricating fluid that leaks out of a man's penis before and during sex) can contain sperm. If this fluid gets in or around a woman's vagina, it can find its way inside, and she can become pregnant.

Can a woman become pregnant as a result of anal sex?
A woman cannot become pregnant as a result of anal sex directly, although if any sperm leaks from the anus and enters the vagina, pregnancy could occur. Anal sex is therefore not the best way of avoiding pregnancy on a long term basis. It is better to use regular contraception such as the birth control pill or condoms. 

Anyone wanting to try anal intercourse should be 100% that their partner willing too, as the idea of anal sex makes many people very uncomfortable. It also carries a higher risk of transmission for HIV and other infections, so it is a good idea to use a condom if you do decide to try it.

Can a woman become pregnant through oral sex if she swallows sperm?
No, a woman cannot become pregnant as a result of oral sex even if she swallows. A woman can only become pregnant if sperm get inside her vagina.

Can sperm pass through clothes?
No, generally clothing acts as a barrier against sperm.

Are there any ways to tell if you are pregnant without using a pregnancy test?
The first sign of pregnancy is usually the absence of a period. Other symptoms of pregnancy can include tender breasts, nausea and tiredness but not everybody experiences these. If you suspect you are pregnant you should take a pregnancy test. This can be done at a clinic, or you can buy a home testing kit from most major supermarkets and pharmacies. If you use a home test kit it is important to get the result confirmed by your doctor or healthcare professional at a local clinic.

How long should I wait before carrying out a pregnancy test?
It depends on the type of test you buy. Most tests recommend testing on the day your period is due, although you can buy some that can detect the pregnancy hormone in your urine up to four or five days before this. Make sure you read the instructions thoroughly to find out how long you should wait. If you are not sure when your period is due, the best idea is to wait for at least a 10 days after having had unprotected sex before testing (although it is worth remembering that it can take up to nineteen days or more to show a positive result). If you get a negative result but your period still doesn't arrive, you should test again at three-day intervals, until your period starts or you get a positive result. The sooner you find out you are pregnant, the sooner you can start thinking about what to do next.

The test result was negative, but my period still hasn't arrived. Could I still be pregnant?
If you have tested too soon (see above), then yes, you might still be pregnant. However if you are sure you haven't tested too soon, then it may well be stress that has delayed your period. Worrying about pregnancy (or anything else) can drive your stress hormones up, and this can in turn interfere with your menstrual cycle. If you have lost or gained a lot of weight recently, have undertaken lots of vigorous exercise or you have irregular periods generally, these could also be to blame. Girls who have only recently started their periods often experience very irregular cycles too, so if you've only been menstruating for a couple of years or less, try not to panic! If your period is more than a week or two late when you're normally regular however, you should probably think about seeing your doctor.

I'm pregnant! What can I do?
If you were planning to get pregnant, then finding out you're expecting a baby can be a wonderful surprise. However, if you weren't, it is more likely to be a big shock. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone, and you do have more than one option. The first thing you should do is go to your doctor or your local sexual health or family planning clinic. They will be able to discuss your options with you and help you to decide what to do next. Whether you decide to keep the baby, put it up for adoption or have an abortion (in places where it's legal), it's essential that you do what's right for you and don't feel pressurised into making a decision. Our help and advice page can provide you with some links to services and sources of information that may be of use.