5 myths about the pulling out method, busted by science Some people don’t consider it a "real" method of birth control, even though 60% of couples have used it at least once. Prepare to be surprised.

The withdrawal method, a.k.a. pulling out, sometimes gets a bad rap—some people don’t even consider it a “real” method of birth control, even though 60% of couples have used it at least once. Because pulling out is often dismissed as “better than nothing” by researchers, we don’t know as much about it as we do about some other methods. But before you write it off, make sure you’ve got your facts straight.

Myth 1: Pulling out doesn’t work, so don’t even bother

Out of 100 couples who were withdrawal rock stars—meaning they pulled out correctly every time they had sex—about four of them would get pregnant in a year. But it can be a challenge to pull out for lots of reasons, and most people have days when they’re not feeling like rock stars of any kind. That’s why out of 100 average couples using withdrawal, 22 will get pregnant in a year.

It’s not that pulling out doesn’t work in principle—it’s that it’s challenging to pull out just right every single time. Condoms and the pill aren’t so different that way—they’re great in a world where we always use them perfectly—but the reality of our lives is often busy, complicated, and not so perfect. Still, pulling out is a lot better than nothing—in fact, it’s nearly as effective at preventing accidental pregnancy as condoms alone.

Myth 2: Pre-cum is safe—it doesn’t have sperm in it

First off, we have very limited scientific information about pre-cum so there can be confusion about it even among experts. Three small studies from years ago found no sperm in pre-cum, but there were only 43 guys in all of these studies combined. Some of the men in the studies had health problems, and it appears that the pre-cum samples they provided were not analyzed immediately so it may have been it difficult to tell if their sperm were swimming normally.

Related: The male birth control pill: a timeline of failure

A more recent study had 27 healthy guys, some of whom gave multiple samples of pre-cum. The researchers analyzed the samples immediately and found that about a third contained live, swimming sperm. Popular advice says that sperm found in pre-cum may come from a previous ejaculation and can be flushed out when a guy pees, but the guys in this study who had peed after their last ejaculation still had sperm in their pre-cum. The bottom line is that this study can’t tell us whether pre-cum can cause a pregnancy, but it does tell us that it might. It also suggests that pulling out may work better for some guys than others—but unless you have a pre-cum sample and awesome microscope skills, you can’t tell which group a guy is in. This may be part of why even withdrawal rock stars sometimes have accidental pregnancies.

Myth 3: Only irresponsible people use the “pull out” method

Sixty percent of women ages 15-44 in the U.S. have used withdrawal at some point. In the most recent U.S. national survey, 5% of couples using any type of birth control were relying exclusively on pulling out. If you count couples using another method plus pulling out, about 10% of people use withdrawal. Because people sometimes don’t consider pulling out a method, they may not mention it when asked about birth control use, so even this number may be low. In other words, people of all ages in all types of relationships are using withdrawal to prevent pregnancy.

Myth 4: There’s nothing good about pulling out

Pulling out may not be the most effective method, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have perks. No hormones, no cost, no advance preparation, no prescription, no visit to the store or clinic, can be used spontaneously, great option when you don’t have another plan… people have all kinds of reasons for using it. For women who have struggled with vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis, pulling out may also help prevent recurrent infections.

Related: The condom conundrum: a prophylactic history with surprising origins

Myth 5: Pulling out is easy

It takes practice, learning, communication, and back-up plans to use withdrawal like a pro:

  • Do some withdrawal dress rehearsals while your guy is wearing a condom. Does he know when he’s about to cum? Can he pull out in time? If not, consider another method.
  • Know your STI status, and make sure your guy knows his. Withdrawal can work for pregnancy prevention, but it does not offer protection against STIs (sexually transmitted infections).
  • Communicate! Talk about what the plan is in the event of an accident, an accidental pregnancy, or an STI.
  • Have back up supplies. Keep emergency contraception around for those times when accidents happen, and condoms for times when pulling out doesn’t seem like the right choice for a particular guy.
  • Know your cycles. If you have a smart phone, check out some of the apps that help you track your fertile times. Consider using condoms in addition to pulling out during high fertility days of the month.

If effectiveness is your #1 priority, withdrawal might not be right for you—maybe not right now, maybe not ever. But a lot of your sisters are out there doin’ it for themselves, and not everybody hates it or gets pregnant on it. Is it perfect? Nope. But it is an option that you can use any time, anywhere.

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6 thoughts on “<span class="entry-title-primary">5 myths about the pulling out method, busted by science</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">Some people don’t consider it a "real" method of birth control, even though 60% of couples have used it at least once. Prepare to be surprised.</span>”

  1. Interesting as always very interesting.I can't remember where it appears in the O.T.but a withdrawer incurred divine displeasure for his act.Pronatalist could possibly tell us where it occurs..

    • Genesis 38:1-10 Onan and possibly Er.

      God designed sex to propagate human life. Some selfish humans sought to defile sex into a carnal pleasure-craving act, devoid of reproduction. Lesbian witch bedhopper communist-radical contraceptive-queen Margaret Sanger promoted unlimited sex without the "burden" of "unwanted" children. Back in the day if a family had "just too many" children, they might be DONE having sex. But the "no more sex" option wasn't thought to be very practical, so families were commonly large. Besides, the planet was huge, and needed filling anyway. Well people liked the "unlimited" sex part, but many people are finding that they have practical or "religious objections" to birth control. So why aren't naturally-large families still an obvious and expected remedy to promote? Rampant selfishness of a modern wicked age that has conveniently forgotten God?

      "It is high time, to accept as forever gone, the sparsely populated past, and to move on, in an orderly transition, to the populous future." Pronatalist

      "How can there be too many children? That is like saying there is too many flowers." Mother Teresa

      "Pro-life is more consistently prolife, when it is also pro-human population growth." Pronatalist

  2. It works fine if the guy know when he is about to come.
    Im not sure how it works if the guy have much pre-cum.
    It is not safe to have sex again tough.
    30 years with this method.

    • Why do you think that guys always know when they are about to cum? It is probably easy to misjudge. Pre-cum, according to some sources, contains sperm. Is there any way to know if excessive pre-cum oozes?

      The point is, babies are a blessing, so let families grow freely. No need to "pull out" nor "limit" the natural family growth. Sex feels best when the procreative purpose is not hindered. Get married before enjoying sex, so as to better prepare for providing for the children.

    • Why does it say that you left me a comment? Is there a way to address comment replies to a specific person? I presume you were telling ME thank you? Could you be a bit more specific? What part of what I said, do you most agree with, and why? Do you also think all forms of "birth control" are disgusting? Do you think world population level should grow much higher?

      I am not suggesting irresponsibility nor promiscuity. I certainly do not think more people should be naturally mating solely because coitus feels so good. Rather, people ought to form stable, loving marriages, and welcome the natural family growth, and trust family size to God. Sex feeling so good, is part of God's reward for reproducing, and a strong nudge to remind us of our duty to marry and procreate, as most people are called to do.

      Curious that the article talks about "pulling out," when who does not already know?, that guys do not like condoms, and do not like the pressure to pull out. If they are husband and wife, they are supposed to enjoy sex, it is supposed to be the naturally procreative sort, and there is just no need to pull out. Birthing babies is just as natural and proper, as breathing or the heart beating. Procreation is a vital life function. Families come in all sizes. We should expect some families to become quite large, as more people find practical or "religious objections" to birth control.

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