If you’re using the pull-out method to prevent pregnancy, we get it. It’s basically the easiest (and cheapest) form of birth control out there if you want to ditch condoms and get up close and personal.
But the pull-out method isn’t foolproof. And having sex sans protection comes with risks beyond an unexpected pregnancy.
Here’s everything you need to know about the pull-out method — plus more effective ways to prevent pregnancy.
How effective is the pull-out method?
The pull-out method isn’t very effective in preventing pregnancy.
According to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH), about 22 in every 100 people will get pregnant each year using the pull-out method as their only form of birth control.
It also won’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The pull-out method (aka coitus interruptus or the withdrawal method) is a form of birth control used during penis-in-vagina sex to reduce the risk of an eggo getting preggo.
Essentially the penis is pulled out of the vagina before ejaculation occurs and the partner with a penis ejaculates elsewhere. This reduces the risk of sperm reaching an egg, but conception is still possible.
The pull-out method can prevent pregnancy by keeping sperm out of the vagina. If no sperm enters the vagina during sex, those swimmers can’t reach an egg during ovulation for prime-time babymaking. No sperm, no baby.
The problem is sperm can still make its way into the vagina even if you pull out.
Pulling out isn’t that effective at preventing pregnancy thanks to precum, ejaculation timing, and general human error.
Planned Parenthood estimates 4 out of 100 people will get pregnant when using the pull-out method flawlessly. But obviously, most people aren’t perfect, so realistically you’re looking at about 22 out of every 100 people getting pregnant a year (or 22 percent effective). That means about 1 in 5 people are probably getting pregnant using the pull-out method.
If you want to compare to other birth control methods, the Office on Women’s Health notes condoms are about 82 percent effective, the pill is 91 percent effective, and an IUD is 99 percent effective.
Yes, even the perfect pull-out can lead to pregnancy — and it’s more likely you’re not doing it perfectly.
Miscalculated or premature ejaculation timing can accidentally release sperm into the vagina during the pull-out. And even ejaculating near a vagina puts you at low, but still possible odds of sperm making its way to an egg.
If your pull-out game was a 10/10, there’s still a chance you can get pregnant from precum. This fluid released from the penis during arousal doesn’t naturally contain sperm like semen does, but it can transfer sperm lingering in the urethra left after masturbation or sex.
The pull-out method can never be 100 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. But there are some ways you can reduce your risk.
- Timing. The withdrawal method is all about timing. The penis must pull out before ejaculation. Try practicing with masturbation or a condom to help you learn your body’s cum cues.
- Spermicide. This handy-dandy chemical can immobilize and kill sperm. It comes in jelly, cream, foam, and suppository form. Just keep in mind, it works best when combined with other forms of birth control.
- Use a birth control sponge or diaphragm. You’ll still get the skin-on-skin sensation with an added safety bonus. The birth control sponge contains spermicide while a diaphragm can block sperm from reaching the eggs.
- Communicate. You should always discuss the potential risks before you use the pull-out method. Make sure you and your partner are totally comfortable before you get your freak on.
Not sure if the pull-out method is right for you? No worries! Here’s a rundown of more effective birth control options.
- Condoms. When used correctly, condoms work 98 percent of the time. They’re also a top-notch way to reduce your risk of STIs, including HIV.
- Birth control pills. These hormonal pills prevent pregnancy 99 percent of the time when used perfectly. But according to Planned Parenthood, the real rate is closer to 91 percent due to imperfect use.
- Birth control implant (aka Nexplanon). This thin rod is inserted into the arm and releases progestin. It’s 99 percent effective and can prevent pregnancy for up to 5 years.
- Intrauterine Devices (IUDs). These T-shaped devices are inserted into the uterus. The copper kind can prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years while hormonal brands can last 5 to 7 years. They’re hella effective and work more than 99 percent of the time.
- Birth control shot. This hormonal injection prevents ovulation and makes cervical mucus thicker. The downside is that you need to get the shot every 12 weeks. When used correctly it’s more than 99 percent effective. FYI: The success rate goes down if you don’t get your shots on time.
Nope! The pull-out method does not protect you from STIs.
Talk with your partner about STIs and opt for a barrier method like condoms or internal condoms (aka female condoms) for safer sex.
Psst. Even if you use protection every time you have sex, you should still get tested on the reg. We’ve even made it easy and rounded up the best at-home and in-person STI testing options.
Accidents happen, but if you do find yourself in an oopsie situation, there’s still a plan B (literally).
The morning after pill (aka Plan B) is an effective way to prevent pregnancy post-sex. According to the package insert, it’s 95 percent effective if taken within 24 hours of sex and 61 percent effective if taken 48 to 72 hours after sex.
Keep in mind, these stats might not be totally accurate. Some studies suggest Plan B doesn’t work as well on peeps who have a body max index (BMI) over 25. In that case, ella emergency contraception may work better for you.
According to Planned Parenthood, ella emergency contraception is about 85 percent effective in preventing pregnancy for up to 5 days after sex. It is also more effective for folks who weigh more than 155 pounds (but it may not work well if you weigh over 195 pounds).
You can also have a copper intrauterine device (IUD) inserted within 5 days after sex to prevent pregnancy. And this doubles as a birth control method that can last up to 12 years.
PSA: When in doubt, call your doctor ASAP after unprotected sex. They can give you the best advice for your unique sitch.
The pull-out method can be used for birth control, but it’s def not the best way to prevent pregnancy.
It has a roughly 22 percent failure rate and doesn’t protect you from STIs. And even if you do it perfectly every 👏 single 👏 time 👏 , there’s always a chance of pregnancy when sperm is near a vagina.
More effective birth control options like condoms, IUDs, or the pill will give you better odds of pregnancy prevention.