Go to Content Go to Navigation Go to Navigation Go to Site Search Homepage

Abstinence and outercourse are VERY effective at preventing pregnancy — but only if you don’t slip up and have unprotected vaginal sex or get any semen in the vagina.

How effective is abstinence?

If you never get semen (cum) on the vulva or in the vagina, pregnancy can’t happen. Abstinence is 100% effective as long as you’re actually abstinent. But if you do have unprotected vaginal sex — even just one time — pregnancy can happen.

Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes people plan on being abstinent but end up having sex. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep condoms around, just in case. Being prepared and having protection doesn’t mean you’re definitely going to have sex — it means you’re responsible and taking care of your health.

How effective is outercourse?

Outercourse activities are 100% effective at preventing pregnancy: kissing, massage, masturbation, dry humping with clothes on, anal sex, and oral sex can’t cause pregnancy.

That said, pregnancy can happen, rarely, even if you don’t actually have vaginal sex. If semen (cum) accidentally gets on a vulva, sperm can swim up into the vagina and fertilize an egg.

There are a few ways this can happen:

  • Cum gets on the vulva. It can accidentally drip or be wiped onto the vulva.

  • There’s wet semen on someone’s fingers and/or sex toys, and they touch the vulva or go in the vagina.

  • Semen drips out of the anus and into the vulva after anal sex.

Bottom line: if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, don’t get semen (cum) on the vulva or in the vagina. Pre-ejaculate (pre-cum) can also have some sperm in it, so keep pre-cum away from the vulva and vagina, too.

Do abstinence and outercourse protect against STDs?

Abstinence is 100% effective at preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections. If you don’t have any kind of sexual contact with another person, you can’t get STDs.

Sexually transmitted infections can be spread by touching genitals and sharing sexual fluids (like semen, pre-cum, and vaginal moisture). So there are a few ways outercourse can put you at risk for sexually transmitted infections:

  • Oral sex and anal sex spread most of the same STDs as vaginal sex. Use barriers like condoms and dental dams to help protect each other.

  • Swapping sexual fluids (like if you have semen on your hand and touch your partner’s genitals) can transmit STDs. You can use barriers like condoms, dental dams, gloves, and finger cots to help avoid contact with sexual fluids.

  • Touching your bare genitals together (dry humping) without clothes on can also spread certain STDs (like herpes and HPV), even if you don’t swap fluids.

  • Wearing underwear makes dry humping safer, but it may not prevent all skin-to-skin genital contact or keep sexual fluids away. And some STDs can live on areas that underwear doesn’t always cover (like your upper thighs or butt cheeks).

If you’re going to have outercourse but you don’t want to worry about STDs, avoid all skin-to-skin genital contact, and keep sexual fluids away from each other.

If you’re doing any activity that can pass STDs, get tested regularly. You can also use barriers like condoms, dental dams, and gloves to reduce your risk if you’re having the kinds of outercourse than can pass STDs — this is called “safer sex.”

More questions from patients:

Can you get pregnant without having sex?

Pregnancy can happen when a person ejaculates directly into your vagina or on your vulva

There are also ways to get pregnant without having sex: Some people may choose to have in vitro fertilization (IVF) or Intrauterine insemination (IUI). These are procedures that put an embryo or sperm directly inside your uterus to help you get pregnant.

Was this page helpful?
You’re the best! Thanks for your feedback.
Thanks for your feedback.

Abstinence and Outercourse

  • 100% effective

  • Cost is $0

  • Dedication required

  • Takes willpower

Also protects you from STDs
See All Methods

Get Birth Control Reminders With Our Spot On App


This website uses cookies

Planned Parenthood cares about your data privacy. We and our third-party vendors use cookies and other tools to collect, store, monitor, and analyze information about your interaction with our site to improve performance, analyze your use of our sites and assist in our marketing efforts. You may opt out of the use of these cookies and other tools at any time by visiting Cookie Settings. By clicking “Allow All Cookies” you consent to our collection and use of such data, and our Terms of Use. For more information, see our Privacy Notice.

Cookie Settings

Planned Parenthood cares about your data privacy. We and our third-party vendors, use cookies, pixels, and other tracking technologies to collect, store, monitor, and process certain information about you when you access and use our services, read our emails, or otherwise engage with us. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences, or your device. We use that information to make the site work, analyze performance and traffic on our website, to provide a more personalized web experience, and assist in our marketing efforts. We also share information with our social media, advertising, and analytics partners. You can change your default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of required cookies when utilizing our site; this includes necessary cookies that help our site to function (such as remembering your cookie preference settings). For more information, please see our Privacy Notice.



We use online advertising to promote our mission and help constituents find our services. Marketing pixels help us measure the success of our campaigns.



We use qualitative data, including session replay, to learn about your user experience and improve our products and services.



We use web analytics to help us understand user engagement with our website, trends, and overall reach of our products.