Well Being

Pulling Out Works

By  | 

The world's oldest method of birth control is more effective than you might think. While the withdrawal method—aka “pulling out“—is pretty much universally panned, studies have shown that, done properly, it's nearly as effective as condoms at preventing pregnancy. Emphasis on done properly.

I'm going to let Planned Parenthood—which describes pulling out as “safe, easy, and convenient”—define this contraceptive method for you, because really, I couldn't do better than this:

A man who uses withdrawal will pull his penis out of the vagina before ejaculation — the moment when semen spurts out of his penis. Withdrawal is also known as coitus interruptus and the pull out method.

Spurts! Eww. But anyway: This definition explains why pulling out gets so much slack—it requires a man to know and control when he's about to cum. This is something teenage boys are not good at, which is why you don't hear the pull out method being taught in sex education classes. This also requires a woman to just trust her partner will pull out in time. That's not something a lot of people want to risk in a casual sexual encounter (besides which: pulling out doesn't protect against sexually transmitted diseases).

But if you're in a monogamous relationship, with a grown-up man, then the pull out method isn't an absolutely terrible idea. Particularly if you dislike condoms (and who doesn't?) and can't deal well with hormonal birth control (ahem). According to Planned Parenthood:


  • Of every 100 women whose partners use withdrawal, 4 will become pregnant each year if they always do it correctly.
  • Of every 100 women whose partners use withdrawal, 27 will become pregnant each year if they don't always do it correctly.

While those odds might not sound especially auspicious to you, they're relatively comparable to your odds of getting pregnant relying on condoms for birth control:


  • Each year, 2 out of 100 women whose partners use condoms will become pregnant if they always use condoms correctly.
  • Each year, 18 out of 100 women whose partners use condoms will become pregnant if they don't always use condoms correctly.

How could someone whose partner always pulled out in time still wind up pregnant?

Some experts believe that pre-ejaculate, or pre-cum, can pick up enough sperm left in the urethra from a previous ejaculation to cause pregnancy. If a man urinates between ejaculations before having sex again, it will help clear the urethra of sperm and may increase the effectiveness of withdrawal.

Pregnancy is also possible if semen or pre-ejaculate is spilled on the vulva.

[Spilled! … I think Planned Parenthood needs a new copywriter.]

You can always combine the pull-out method with “fertility awareness methods” of birth control for greater effectiveness. Fertility awareness (or ‘natural family planning) just means keeping track of your monthly menstrual cycle so you know the days when you're most and least fertile. That way, if you're trying to avoid pregnancy, you avoid sex or take extra contraceptive precautions during the days around ovulation.

According to a 2009 study from the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, relying on a mixture of birth control methods is fairly common. More than one in five women (21%) reported using the withdrawal method within the four weeks prior, but very few women used either solely withdrawal or solely condoms. The majority of withdrawal users (68%) reported sometimes using condoms, and 42% of condom users reported sometimes relying on pulling out.