5 Myths About Pulling Out, Busted

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.

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.

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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Originally published on bedsider.org


Valerie B.
Valerie B4 years ago

ahem...i know someone...ahem, who must be really good at the pull out method! 12 years as the only "contraception" and the only pregnancy was at first try to get pregnant! Guess it depends on the skill of the man lol

Pronatalist Pronatalist

To Dale O.: Why do you claim that the planet can not support an immense unlimited "free flow of human life"? It is already a surging tsunami, you claim? So what? That is your wrong opinion. World population growth is now very sluggish compared to what it would be if people had more rejected the RAMPANT CONTRACEPTIVE PUSHING of the "mad scientists" or population phobics. Do you realize how much you sound like an evil statist? What if many people still want large families? Do you not care for human rights, which have to be individual if they are to be protected human rights?

A world population crisis? Yawn. How many 100s of times have I heard that "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" (to get attention) false claim? Would population growth be a "crisis" at all, if governments were not taxing and regulating economies to death, when there is a severe housing shortage in many populous regions of the world? Build more cities, let them overfill with people and build still more sprawling suburbs and cities.

Who said anything about ceasing and desisting from having sex? I merely said to leave open the prospect of pregnancy to not defile sex. I believe the world should have MORE sex going on, but also MORE pregnancies as well, so human life can freely grow and spread, without restraint. More and more people would be glad to live, even if upon a human-teeming planet.

Dale O.

Suba G, it appears that Pronatalist P is more interested in the ideology of having massive numbers of humans on the planet along with the concept of procreation for the very sake of procreation.

Not everyone has that kind of narrow scope when it comes to a pleasurable sexual act which happens in human life for many other reasons rather than always having children. It is preferable in general that children are a result of planning for having a family when they can best take care of children and not to fulfill the desires of the Quiverfull Movement.

Dale O.

This is hardly a reliable method that can be trusted if one wishes to avoid pregnancy. It sounds like pregnancy roulette. Maybe yes, maybe no, but no one knows for certain.

Pronatialist P pontificates:

"God designed sex to propagate human life. Some selfish humans sought to defile sex into a carnal pleasure-craving act, devoid of reproduction...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."

Sex is 'defiled' unless the purpose is to have children? Rather a prudish concept.

Dale O.

Oh me, oh my! The concept of sex as pleasurable and supposedly 'selfish' if one is not engaged in the act of having children? Why even have sex unless it does contain pleasure? Oh...to merely reproduce? So pleasure is 'allowed' only when we propagate the human species, otherwise we must 'cease and desist?' What is this, the Quiverfull Movement?

There is something called overpopulation which is a major global crisis.
If some find the fact that other people find sex pleasurable whether one aims to have children or not as somehow a negative occurrence, then that is their problem and not one else's who prefers to use birth control.

Dale O.

Pronatalist P, you state: "As a pro-lifer I very much favour a greater spread of human life and a much stronger flow of babies into the world. Large families should be encouraged worldwide, so that more people can experience life."

That position is highly irresponsible as the planet cannot sustain an immense unlimited 'free flow of human life'. It is already a surging tsunami. There is a point where overpopulation will destroy all forms of life. 'Experiencing life' is hardly going to be joyful if half the planet is starving to death because there is not enough food to feed the teeming masses. Unlimited reproduction equals global suicide and in the end is the very opposite of pro-life.

Dale O.

Labelling others who have sex without the intent of having children as 'selfish' is bizarre. A baby is fine if a family wants to have one, but hardly a requirement every time someone happens to have sex. Sex is also a bonding between two people and does not require having a baby or marriage. A very narrow and limiting definition of the human experience. Birth control prevents unwanted pregnancies.

You state that 'sex feels best when the procreative purpose is not hindered.'
Where are the peer reviewed studies on that rather odd claim? I hardly believe that people would support that claim. Did the Alfred C. Kinsey and all the other studies on sex cover that one?

John M, people wishing to have sex are not going to find other methods such as abstinence, you sound like a broken record when most people are not nuns or priests.

Nimue P.

Certainly a ridiculous way to try and prevent conception. Buy a packet of condoms you eedjits.

Vicky L.
Vicky L5 years ago

I think it's too stressful for the woman. Not only one really needs to trust the guy to pull out in time but expecting sudden end of the intercourse can disrupt her ability to enjoy it by following her own rhythm.

Kathy Johnson
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

awesome info! happy safe sex everyone!