The withdrawal or “pull out” method of contraception is used in heterosexual sexual intercourse to avoid unwanted pregnancy. As the oldest form of birth control, it has been shown to be only slightly less effective than condoms, but it continues to be debated on its practice and effectiveness. See Kinsey experts discuss withdrawal here.
Is the withdrawal method becoming more popular?
The sexual revolution gave us the oral contraceptive, or the pill, that when used correctly is often considered the most reliable form of birth control. Recently, research has surfaced that many of the 17% of women in the U.S. that use birth control have experienced side effects. Amy Harris writes that many women may now be frustrated with the pill and discontinue due to those unwanted side effects. This may be part of the reason why many women are ditching the pill for a “less innovative approach:” the withdrawal method. Some have even referred to the younger generations as the “pull out generation,” who opt to use the withdrawal method as their main form of birth control, citing less hassle and more pleasure- birth control without the cost and frustrating side effects.
Some have dubbed withdrawal practice old-fashioned, unreliable, the last resort, and even “the worst ever.” Despite its seeming social unacceptability, it may to be more commonly used as a form of birth control than it appears. Whether you are currently using withdrawal as your main form of birth control, frustrated with the pill, unsure of how to avoid pregnancy, or want to try something new, here are 3 things you should keep in mind:
1. The withdrawal method is more common than you think, and may be more effective than you think
A recent Duke University Study examined 2,220 sexually active young women between 2006-2008 and found that at least 31% had used the withdrawal method at least once. Researchers also argue that these numbers may be under reported, because many young people may not even consider withdrawal a valid form of birth control, or may pair withdrawal with other methods, such as condoms or oral contraceptives. It is important to keep in mind that although there may be certain cultural objections to the withdrawal method, including the idea that the male cannot “pull out” in time, it does provide some security and its failure rates are comparable to those of the condom. Rachel Jones and her colleagues explain that “If the male partner withdraws before ejaculation every time a couple has vaginal intercourse, about 4% of couples will become pregnant over the course of a year.” Nevertheless, the authors report that realistically around 18% of couples using this method become pregnant each year.
2. The withdrawal method works best as when the woman knows her cycle
The withdrawal method may be a good strategy for sexual partners that have good communication, mutual trust, and an understanding of the chosen method (It may not be a good strategy for partners that have not discussed birth control!). Although pregnancy can occur at any point of the menstrual cycle, researchers argue that knowing one’s menstrual cycle can be advantageous when paired with this method. Knowing ovulation and fertility can let partners know when is most risky and when is safest for intercourse, therefore decreasing the chance of becoming pregnant while using the withdrawal method. Not to mention, familiarizing oneself with her fertility and cycles can also be empowering. If you are interested in learning more about your cycle, you might try a period tracker application.
3. The withdrawal method does not protect against STIs
While there are benefits to the withdrawal method, health professionals may not want to promote its use because it does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Using the withdrawal method with a trusted partner may be effective at reducing the risk for pregnancy, but it will not reduce the risk of passing along STIs. Because STIs can be transmitted through body fluids or skin-to-skin contact of the infected areas, only properly used condoms can protect against them.
Is it for you?
If used correctly with a trusted and tested sexual partner with whom you have good communication, researchers argue that the withdrawal method can be almost as effective as condoms. People may be more inclined to adopt this method of birth control because it requires less time, energy and money (going to the doctor to get an oral contraceptive prescription, going to the store for condoms), and may increase pleasure during intercourse (many cite discomfort or loss of pleasure with the use of condoms).
Always make sure to discuss your birth control methods with your partner and if you have questions see a healthcare provider.