When it comes to birth control, there’s no single, magic method that works perfectly with zero side effects (except, you know, not having sex). So until science blesses us with a hormone-free, risk-free, foolproof option, most women will rely on the Pill, an IUD, or condoms to prevent pregnancy.
But there’s a pretty dated strategy that more and more women seem to be turning to: pulling out, or the withdrawal method (a.k.a coitus interruptus, if you want to be fancy about it). “I’ve been hosting my podcast, Sex with Emily, for over 10 years, and in the past year, I’ve definitely witnessed an influx of questions about the pull-out method,” says sexologist Dr Emily Morse. “I was surprised how many couples cop to using it as their main method of birth control.”
Chances are you’re either gasping or nodding right now. To those who prefer to play it safe (both in terms of pregnancy and STDs), unprotected sex is a firm no-no. But those who embrace the pull-out method, including the ladies and gent we spoke with, say that it simply hasn’t failed them (yet).
Here's what pull-out fans and experts have to say about why people are choosing this iffy form of contraception—and what the risks might be.
Sure, some birth control options might come with unfortunate side effects—but skipping them might come at the price of an unplanned pregnancy or STD. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists(ACOG), the withdrawal method has a 4 percent likelihood of resulting in pregnancy over the course of one year when executed perfectly every time. When you consider that the condom has a two percent failure rate, the numbers don’t seem drastically different. However, there’s a great deal of human error that can happen. “A guy has to be able to tell when he's about to ejaculate, and then also have the discipline to withdraw in time. This takes a level of experience and self-control that many men don’t possess,” says Morse. That’s why ACOG lists the failure rate of the withdrawal method at 18.4 percent withtypical use. So, yeah, that's not great.
Even if your partner does have a Jedi-like level of self-awareness and willpower to pull out before he ejaculates every time, there’s another issue: pre-ejaculate. Many of the pro-pull-out folk we spoke with believe that it’s harmless. “There is no sperm in pre-come,” says Matt. But Whelihan says that’s not true. “There are a few drops of pre-ejaculate that leak out during excitement and contain thousands of sperm.” Between exposure to sperm in pre-come and the likelihood of timing mistakes during ejaculation, a responsible adult not looking to conceive is putting herself at risk for life-changing consequences.
If you ever find yourself relying on the pull-out method, which the pros don’t condone, there are extra steps you can take to make it safer. “Consider the addition of a product like the sponge, spermicide, or birth control film for a second backup. The sponge goes in in advance and doesn't interfere in the moment,” says Whelihan.
When it comes to the moment of truth, it’s safest to allow a pause after he pulls out before ejaculation. “I tell women that I prefer for them to see a second or two of nothing once he pulls out before sperm is coming,” she adds. “If he is releasing during withdrawal, all bets are off!”
Bottom line: Don't hate on condoms. They could save you a lot of trouble.