The Pullout Method: A Legitimate Form of Birth Control?

by Brenda Pitt


To some, birth control pills and condoms are no longer the gateways to women’s liberation that they were in they days of Margaret Sanger and her colleagues. New York Magazine’s Ann Friedman recently wrote a piece entitled “No Pill? No Prob. Meet the Pullout Generation” in which she discusses the possible benefits of “pulling out,” especially for women. 


My response to this idea was something along the lines of “What?!” From the stories I’ve heard, it seems that pulling out is far from liberating: we are warned against the man who says, “I don’t like condoms. Trust me.” One young women tells Friedman, “I feel like [the method] was used by older men who didn’t want to use condoms [… and] I didn’t advocate for a more reliable method […] and it was hella stressful.” So how can relying on a man to pullout (a method that has proven to prevent less pregnancies than correctly used condoms) be a reclaiming of female sexual power? 



Surprise: it’s not only men who don’t like condoms. One thirty-two year old reports, “The more I connect with my sexual desire, the more I want to have sex without a condom.” Direct contact, for many women, is more intimate and pleasurable. And I don’t need to tell you about the struggles of women on the pill: many “[jump] from brand to bland […] always feeling crazy or depressed” and the pill can have physical consequences, like nausea or loss of sex drive. 


Women are feeling more and more dissatisfied with the bearing much of the burden of pregnancy prevention; after all, it is the woman who has to pop the pill each day or get an IUD, and unfortunately, it is also sometimes the woman who must insist on condom use (even if she herself doesn’t enjoy the method). The pullout method, in the minds of some women, takes the pressure off of the heterosexual lady and forces the man to share responsibility. One woman who prefers the pullout method explains to Friedman that while her partner feels the pressure of remembering to pull out, she herself feels more at ease than she has with any other birth control method: “[pulling out] comes with the benefit of sharing the burden of preventing pregnancy,” writes Friedman. 


So is the pullout method the pathway to further liberating women sexually? In order to address that question, we must consider it effectiveness. It still is a far cry from reliable, but apparently newly invented period-tracker apps can help. And consider this: Friedman reports that “A 2009 study found that, when you compare typical condom use to typical use of the pullout method (rather than the ideal usage of each), the withdrawal method is only slightly more likely than condoms to result in pregnancy.” A lot of women report success with using only coitus interruptus as a means of birth control, using condoms only when they’re ovulating. A study by Dr. Annie Dude of Duke University reports that about one third of women ranging from ages fifteen to twenty-four have used the pullout method at some point in their sexual histories. 


Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect method of birth control. One woman can happily take the pill, while another can place her trust in the pullout method. Whatever a gal chooses, it’s important that she knows all the facts about her preferred method of birth control. Pulling-out isn’t the safest method: you run the risk of STDs, especially if you don’t know your partner’s sexual history, and it has a relatively high rate of failure. But maybe, just maybe, it works for some couples. Each woman is different in her sexual preferences as well as in her physiology, and I say that as long as she and her partner are well-informed, whatever method makes the two of feel satisfied and safe is one to be trusted. And hopefully someday soon we will have birth control methods that suit every woman (and man) out there!



Is the pullout method totally unsafe and ridiculous, or is it the gateway to female sexual freedom? Let us know what you think in the comments!


Thanks to New York Magazine

Images via Addicting Info and Toon Pool

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