6 myths about the “pull-out” method, busted

By Maya Khamala

The “pull-out" method, aka the withdrawal method: many of us have been party to it, and still are. You know, it's when a guy pulls out just before he ejaculates—as a contribution to the crazy cause that is contraception. While some pairs use it in tandem with other tactics like the pill or IUD (13 %), or condoms (11%), others use it as a tactic unto itself, the harsh judgment of others be damned. On the surface, now is an exceptionally good time to be a woman in need of contraception, what with the availability of the IUD (99% effective), and hormonal birth control—if you happen to tolerate these well. So why do many straight women still turn to the rudimentary AF pull-out method? The reality is of course, that 2019 though it may be, to many, it really seems like the best option available to them. 

Here are 6 myths about the ever-popular method that could use a little dispelling. They offer both pros and cons to anyone currently using the method or considering it. 

1. Pulling out is ineffective contraception, period 

Perhaps surprisingly, research indicates that pulling out is almost as effective as condoms at preventing pregnancy. The perfect-use failure rate for condoms is about 3%, and for withdrawal it's 4%. One investigation found 18% of couples who use withdrawal for 1 year will get pregnant, compared to 17% among couples using condoms. Planned Parenthood, however, puts the chances of pregnancy higher, at 27%. Of course, neither method comes close being as effective as the pill or an IUD, but the numbers do suggest that pulling out has an unfairly negative rep. Among couples who correctly use withdrawal every single time they have sex, just 4% will result in pregnancy.

2. Pulling out is simple and easy to do 

Speaking of which, pulling out correctly requires a great deal of self-knowledge, self-control and trust between partners, and on the part of the person doing the pulling out. And as Planned Parenthood notes, it basically means that men have to completely pull out of their partner just at the point when sex starts to feel the most euphoric. Maybe that’s why some find it very difficult to do perfectly every time.

3. Pulling out decreases the likelihood of STIs 

Pulling out does not, I repeat, does not decrease the likelihood of transmitting or contracting a sexually transmitted infection. Condoms and other barrier methods really are your go-to on that one, making the pull-out method more of an option for lovers and couples who’ve been tested and aren't having unprotected sex with anyone else. And by unprotected sex, I mean sex without said barrier methods.

4. There are no benefits to pulling out 

Pulling out may not be the most effective method out there, but it does offer a few advantages: no hormones, no cost, no advance prep, no prescription, no medical procedure or surgery, can be used spontaneously—people have all kinds of reasons for using it. And for women who have struggled with vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis, pulling out may even prevent recurrent infections.

5. Pre-cum doesn’t have sperm in it 

There is limited scientific information about the substance known as pre-cum, so there can be some confusion, but 3 small studies from years past found no sperm in pre-cum. That said, there were only 43 guys in all of these studies combined. A more recent study of 27 found that about a third of pre-cum contained live sperm. Popular knowledge says that sperm found in pre-cum comes from a previous ejaculation and can be flushed out when a guy pees, although several guys in the study who did peed after their last ejaculation still had sperm in their pre-cum. Hmmmm, right? The bottom line here is that pulling out may work better for some guys than others, and it is possible, however unlikely, for pre-cum to cause a pregnancy.

6. Pretty much everyone who uses the pull-out method is being irresponsible 

Women who rely on the pull-out method are often judged as irresponsible, apathetic, or even downright negligent by sex educators as well as the population at large. Of course, most don’t tend to scrutinize men's use of contraception the same way. But the fact is, many women have negative reactions to hormonal birth control, and actively seek healthier alternatives. The withdrawal method is just that alternative for many. Estimates suggest that nearly 60% of American women have relied on their partners to withdraw at some point in their lives, and around 3% of women aged 15 to 44 are currently using the method at any given time—of course, researchers believe the actual number is much higher.

For men, while condom use and vasectomy rates have held steady since 2002, men who say they use pull-out method increased from about 10% in 2002 to 19% by 2015. While on the surface of things, this is at least partially due to men's dissatisfaction with condoms, it's a little more complex, as the pull-out method has grown in popularity as a go-to tactic among women as well. Some experts even view the rise of pulling out among men as a sign that they are increasingly willing to take some responsibility for contraception.

Bottom line 

The pull-out method is a hard thing to navigate, and that's why communication is key. Men who ejaculate prematurely or who can’t sense with great consistency when they’re about to ejaculate might find it difficult. Learning to properly withdraw can take time. So ya may want to use another method until the puller-outer feels he can properly withdraw every time. If you use withdrawal as a form of birth control, it might be a good idea to keep emergency contraception around, just in case.

Safer, safest sex for all.


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