Some Surprising News about the “Pull Out” Method

In college I once made a slideshow of terrifying STDs and made all 6 of my housemates sit down and watch it. This was sparked by the realization that one of my roomies, who had been on oral contraception for 4 years, had no idea that birth control pills don’t protect against STDs.

Even in a culture where we can find anything with the click of a Google search button, we often still remain wildly under-informed. And then there are the times we think we know our shit, and something comes up that rocks us sideways. This is what happened to me with the recent news that the “pull out” method is apparently only one percent less reliable than condoms. Say what?

Recent research put out by the Guttmacher Institute aimed to find out how many women use the “pull out” method to prevent pregnancy. The study results were published in the journal Contraception (Yep, that’s an actual journal), and found that that 30 percent of women have used the withdrawal method of birth control in the past month. However, most of these women pair pulling out with another method of contraception. They’re doubling up – batten down the hatches and build an extra wall, sergeant! No one’s getting in!


Only about 12 percent of the women relied solely on withdrawal to prevent pregnancy. However, here is the bit of information that really rocked me: According to the study, pulling out is nearly as effective as condoms for preventing pregnancy! Pulling out has a failure rate of 4 percent, compared to 3 percent for condoms. Wait, what?

I’ve always heard—from sex educators to friends and randos on the Interwebz—that the “pull out” method is not really a contraception method at all, and will undoubtably eventually end up in pregnancy. So to hear that it’s nearly as effective as slapping on a rubber is news to me.

Now I’m not saying everyone should ditch condoms and start pulling out instead, but I am wondering why I’ve always been told condoms are one of the most reliable methods of contraception, after the pill.

Obviously, it’s extremely important to stress that pulling out only prevents pregnancy, while condoms prevent STDs – that’s not a fact to be overlooked. (Remember my lovely college slide show story?) But it does make me wonder if the condom industry just that – an industry?

What do you guys think? Are you shocked to find out that condoms and pulling out are nearly equal method of effective contraception?

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5 Responses to Some Surprising News about the “Pull Out” Method

  1. maud says:

    I am surprised to hear they have about the same success rate, which is not to say that I haven’t had a relationship relying mostly on that method. However, I only used it with a partner after we had both been tested for STDs so YES only condoms work there.
    Also, I am currently with a partner who has had problems with premature ejaculation and I think that it’s important to mention that not everyone has the same ability to tell when they are going to ejaculate, and not everyone can be trusted to pull out in time. I just feel safer using a condom because I have more control over where the come, um, goes.

  2. Dan says:

    Just hope he doesn’t blow a load early :/

  3. Kammer says:

    I think the whole deal is the preseminal fluid bringing forth old sperm from the urethra.

  4. Jess says:

    Huh, that is interesting. I’d read that it was somewhere around 70% effective, but this was years ago. Currently, we use a combo of pull-out and condoms (not simultaneously), but we are planning on trying to conceive within the next year and are waiting for mostly superficial reasons, so it would be far from a tragedy if I got pregnant. I would have to see a whole heck of a lot more studies before I relied on the pull-out method during a period when I really didn’t want to get pregnant.

  5. Hazel says:

    I went off hormonal contraceptives a few months ago, because of the side effects. I started using the sympto thermal method and I love it, it absolutely suits us. Within the community of FAM users withdrawal is a common back-up method which was really strange for me at first.

    Love your blog!

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