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Does the Pull-out Method Really Work?

By HERWriter
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Will the Pull-out Method Really Work? rocketclips/Fotolia

If you have intercourse with someone who has a penis, perhaps you have heard of the “pull-out” or “withdrawal method.”This is a technique that some people believe will protect them against pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections by removing the penis before ejaculation.

Perhaps you were like me, as a young and idiotic sexually active person, and you perused some of the more reputable safer sex websites and noticed that the probability of becoming pregnant while using the pull-out method was really not THAT high.

Planned Parenthood explains that the statistical probability of becoming pregnant if withdrawal is practiced correctly every time is 4/100 and 27/100 when practiced incorrectly.[1]

Perhaps you are, like I was, one of those people who thought, “It won’t happen to me!” Or, “My partner knows exactly WHEN to remove his penis and will never make a mistake, miscalculate or forget!”

Well folks, it did happen to me. And while I trusted my partner, I was still faced with a difficult decision that could have been easily prevented by using a more effective, consistent form of birth control.

The situation forced me to think — why would I want to use anything that was LESS successful?

Would I buy a car that crashed in 27 out of every 100 times it was driven? Would I let a doctor who failed at brain surgery 27 percent of the time operate on me?

I hope it makes you think, too. While you’re considering, let’s break down the basics.

Semen, as you likely know, includes sperm — the squiggly tadpole-shaped DNA carriers that can create a zygote if they find a female egg to penetrate. (The first step in the process that causes females to become pregnant!)

Semen is also made up of other bodily fluids and organelles, including viruses, bacteria and parasites.

When semen finds its way to another person's mucous membranes — like the ones lining a vagina, anus or mouth — organelles are able to easily penetrate this membrane and access the bloodstream.

This means that in addition to causing pregnancy, semen can pass sexually transmitted infections from one person to another.

“So what?!” you say, “I don't need to use a barrier method to protect myself. I am very careful about NOT letting anyone ejaculate inside of me. No sperm, no foul, right?”


A penis does not go from zero to orgasm immediately — although it sometimes may feel like it does — but instead is erect and secreting pre-ejaculate long before the big release.

So even if you believe a person removes their penis before orgasm, if he has been inside of you for any amount of time, he has still deposited plenty of pre-ejaculate fluid — sperm, STI and all.

Therefore, even practiced “correctly,” the pull-out method only prevents SOME semen from reaching an egg to fertilize, or your bloodstream to colonize an infection. You are still at risk of pregnancy or STI.

OK, so you didn’t use a condom, and your partner used the withdrawal method. What do you do now?

GET TESTED for STIs. If you are concerned about pregnancy, and the intercourse happened within the last 72 hours, you may consider using Plan B.

Investigate options for safer sex practices. If your partner is reluctant to use a condom, there are many other options to prevent pregnancy and several alternative barrier methods as well.

Check out the Planned Parenthood website for more information on your MANY options. Feel free to post questions below as well! But take it from me — it’s worth the conversation and the consideration.

Reviewed March 1, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Read more in Being HER

1) “Withdrawal (Pull-Out Method.)” Planned Parenthood.Accessed February 26, 2016.

2) "What Is In Semen." New Health Guide. Accessed  February 25, 2016.  

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Add a Comment7 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

If you're practicing the pull-out method with a teenage boy who's still learning how to maneuver his equipment and who has only recently gone through puberty, I'd say those risk percentages would likely be much higher. On the flip side, if a woman is aware of how her menstrual cycle works and familiar with her own body and how it presents at different times during her cycle--most efficiently and effectively understood by maintaining a regular practice of charting your cycle--then she's already likely aware of exactly when she's *likely* to be fertile and can thus make educated decisions about which level of contraception would be the most responsible one for her body at any given time. When charting over a long term, we start to see signs and notice symptoms that tip us off to what is happening in our bodies during different parts of our cycles... for example, learning about the consistency of your discharge, different moods you have at different stages of your cycle.. I found I was often getting mild back pain and cramping mid-cycle and after I'd been charting consistently for about a year, I realized that was always happening on or within a couple days of when I was likely to be ovulating.. and that's because I was! I've since learned that is a common sign of ovulation, called "mittelschmerz," and there are SO many other signs we can learn about to empower us to know when we're fertile. Also, if we are practicing the pull out method with a long term partner whom we know and trust, that would also lower that odds too, I would think.

Just an FYI for any nay-sayers...In the 20+ years I've been sexually active while ONLY practicing the pull out method of contraception, I've had exactly ZERO accidents. Not one.. and I've had a LOT of sex! I also became pregnant within 2 months when we did decide to conceive, so avoiding an unwanted pregnancy for 20 years with only my partner pulling out unlikely boils down to mere luck.

I can't recommend cycle charting enough, it's the most empowering thing a woman can do for herself health-wise. I bet cancer mortality rates among women in the US would bomb within a couple years if every woman began charting.. We are far more likely to detect something wrong much sooner if we are charting and paying attention to our bodies.

September 30, 2018 - 3:27am
EmpowHER Guest

We never use condoms. Rubbing a bear penis to cervix feels amazing.

July 24, 2018 - 5:50pm
EmpowHER Guest

Yeah, it has worked fine for me too. I lower the probability even more by keeping him drained. Can't do anything shooting blanks.

July 4, 2017 - 8:17pm
EmpowHER Guest

My husband and I have used the pull out method for 7 years and so far it's worked.

June 5, 2017 - 4:28pm
EmpowHER Guest

Hi my name is Bree and I have a comment about the pull out method my partner and I have been using that method for about roughly two years my thoughts on that if your partner really knows his body then it can be a successful form of birth control

April 7, 2016 - 7:49am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

It's a million times more important that YOU know about YOUR body, HELLO!!! Your body would be the one getting pregnant, so what he does or doesn't "know" about his is irrelevant. You need to chart your cycles every month, girl.. there are a million apps for it and it doesn't have to take up any more than 1-2 minutes of your time each month if you keep it minimal.

September 30, 2018 - 3:35am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.