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The Pull-Out Method: How reliable is it really?

The Pull-Out Method: How reliable is it really?

Written by Yoppie

20 Feb 2023

What is the ‘pull-out’ method?

How do I do it?

Do people actually use it as a method of contraception?

What are the benefits?

What about the downsides?

Can I get pregnant while using the pull-out method?

Oh yes… we’re going there. On the Full Stop blog we like to demystify the topics no one else will give the gory details on, and this time we’re covering the ‘pull-out method’. We’re breaking down everything you need to know, from how it’s done, to the benefits and drawbacks, and of course its reliability as a method of birth control. 

Let’s dive deep on this confusing and commonly misunderstood form of birth control… completely free from embarrassment or judgement!

What is the ‘pull-out’ method?

The pull-out method, withdrawal method, or if you’re feeling really fancy, coitus interruptus, is a type of contraception where — during penetrative sexual intercourse — the penis is removed from the vagina before ejaculation occurs. Ejaculation may then happen outside the vagina. 

The idea is without semen entering the vagina, pregnancy may be avoided — key word being may

How do I do it?

It sounds simple, but the pull-out method can be pretty difficult depending on the sensitivity of the penis. In a perfect world, sex would continue until both partners are close to climax, then the person with the penis would withdraw at the last second and continue their ejaculation outside of the vagina… if only it were that simple! 

Fans of the first season of Bridgerton will have seen a perfect pull-out demonstration, but outside of the movies and TV shows where it is depicted (albeit rarely), it’s usually a little messier. It’s important not to feel bad if it doesn’t work the first few times you try. It’s all about figuring out penis sensitivity and the sweet spot between arousal and climax. 

The pull-out method requires the person with the penis to remove it just as ejaculation is about to happen, and letting ejaculation happen elsewhere. You may want to have a conversation with your partner beforehand to discuss where to ‘finish’, i.e. elsewhere on the body, onto bedsheets, or somewhere else. 

Remember, if you’re going to have more sex immediately afterwards, it’s best that the person with the penis urinates and removes any leftover semen from the penis so it doesn’t make its way into the vagina. 

Do people actually use it as a method of contraception?

Yes. Research from the journal titled Contraception found around 60% of Americans aged 15-44 will use the pull-out method at some point in their life. Keep in mind this may be with or without a secondary method of contraception. 

Does it work? 

The pull-out method can work. In theory, removing the penis before ejaculation means no semen is left inside, which means no sperm can fertilise an egg. While this is true, even if you do manage to perform a perfectly timed pull-out and think you have avoided internal ejaculation, there’s a spanner in the works called Cowper's fluid. More on this later. 

While the pull-out method can provide some form of protection against pregnancy, it does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Condoms are required for this. 

What are the benefits?

Even though the pull-out method has its disadvantages when used as a method of birth control, it does have some benefits:

  • It does not require any fitting of a device or a prescription 
  • It does not affect hormones, like other birth control methods can 
  • It is a completely free method of contraception 
  • It has no side effects 

What about the downsides?

Like every method of contraception, the pull-out method has its drawbacks too. Here are a few:

  • It offers no protection against sexually transmitted infections
  • It is less effective as contraception than other birth control methods 
  • It can sometimes disrupt enjoyment during sex 
  • It can leave a mess behind to clean up!

How reliable is it? 

Short answer? Not very. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), the effectiveness of the pull-out method changes drastically depending on how well you use it. With perfect use (i.e. expert timing every single time!) the pull-out method is 96% effective, however with common use its effectiveness falls to just 73%. This is likely the case for two reasons. 

The first is you are relying on you and your partner’s self-control and ability to pull out before any ejaculation takes place. The second is no one can control if they produce Cowper's fluid, otherwise known as pre-cum. 

What is pre-cum?

Cowper’s fluid is sometimes called pre-ejaculate, or pre-cum, and it’s basically a type of semen that leaks from the penis before the main event. There is debate in the science community about whether Cowper’s fluid contains working sperm; one 2003 study found no active sperm in their samples, while a 2010 study found viable sperm in 11 out of 27 samples. 

A person with a penis cannot control whether or not Cowper’s fluid is produced, so this adds another complication for the pull-out method. 

Can I get pregnant while using the pull-out method?

Many a high school rumour says if you just pull-out you can’t get pregnant, so let us make it very clear; this is not true. If you have a uterus, have gone through puberty, and are having sex, you can become pregnant even if your partner pulls out before they ejaculate, and even if you are not ovulating. Remember, sperm can live in the body for several days so you can become pregnant days after having sex. 

OK, so I shouldn’t use the pull-out method? 

The pull-out method offers much less protection against pregnancy than other methods, but it is of course better than having no contraception at all! It may be worthwhile exploring other methods you can double up with to reduce your chances of pregnancy, such as an IUD (intrauterine device), hormonal birth control pills or spermicide. 

If you want to avoid hormonal contraception or you prefer not to have anything interrupt sex, then also incorporating natural temperature-based fertility tracking could offer a good additional form of protection. This means you can still use the pull-out method, but avoid having sex near ovulation. 

Our website has a short Learn Your Phase questionnaire to help you discover more about your cycle. We love to help people tackle the symptoms associated with the entire cycle — not just the bleed days — so whatever your symptoms or cycle goals are, we’ve got you. 

Do you have a question about the pull-out method? Ask in our Full Stop FB group, or reach out to the team on IG at @itsyoppie so we can help. 

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