Why Are So Many Couples Using the Pullout Method as a Form of Birth Control?


When it comes to preferred methods of contraception, many people are likely to extol the virtues of condoms or tout the benefits birth control medication.

But what about that other contraception method that straight couples use? Y'know, the method in which they avoid unwanted pregnancy simply by having the guy "pull out" before the grand finale? 

Well, new findings suggest that the so-called pullout method is way more common than you think. According to data from women's fertility app Glow, 18% of its users listed "withdrawal" as their primary method of contraception, making it the app's third most popular form of birth control — behind condoms at 32% and the pill at 27%.

Over the years, the withdrawal method has generated its fair share of polarizing opinions. Some believe that it's dangerous and ineffective as a contraceptive method due to the fact that it relies on extreme self-control on the man's part. Others are like, "It's not so bad!" A 2009 study from the Guttmacher Institute found that the method is basically just as effective as using condoms, and yet tales of women who have gotten pregnant from it abound.

Regardless of how effective it may or may not be, the new numbers from Glow indicate that it's being frequently employed nonetheless.

"These Glow stats imply that withdrawal isn't going anywhere," Glow, Inc. wrote of its findings, which it shared with Mic. "And if that's the case, we need better education about withdrawal, good information about how to make the method as smart and safe as possible, and how technology can help. Let's start with the numbers."

The company goes on to cite a number of Centers for Disease Control stats (60% of women and their partners have used the pullout method at some point in their lives; around 4.8% of sexually active women cite it as their primary method of birth control) to prove that it's not just their users who are choosing withdrawal over the pill or condoms.

Specific details from women within the Glow community could give us an idea of why this is. Of the app's pullout-relying users, 88% of them reported being in a relationship, engaged or married, which suggests that it's a form of birth control most frequently used with trusted sexual partners. The company also conducted a public poll of over 94,000 respondents and found that most people rely on it because it "feels better" (nearly 39%) or just because it's the easiest thing to do (about 32%).

(Mic has reached out to Glow for additional comment and will update if we hear back.)

These findings are all in line with past research that Mic conducted, in which a number of IRL women explained why they use the pullout method. Interestingly, not many of them were proud of the decision, largely because of the bad rap it has as a risky game of baby roulette.

"Among friends I was severely embarrassed to admit my partner and I relied on this method," said one 24-year-old woman. "It seems very adolescent and somehow gross to discuss, but it did not feel that way in practice." Others echoed this sentiment, saying things like "any time my friends bring up pulling out, I enthusiastically chime in with condemnation" and "denial, denial, denial."

But while the withdrawal method is by no means risk-free for pregnancy (and can be especially risky if you're looking to prevent STIs), when executed properly, it may not be as bad as we think.

"People call it the 'pull-and-pray' method, but what we found is that if you look at efficacy, or effectiveness, withdrawal is only slightly less effective than condoms," Rachel K. Jones, the lead author of the aforementioned 2009 Guttmacher Institute study, previously told Mic. "Perfect use for condoms has a 2% failure rate; it's 4% for withdrawal. With typical use for condoms, the failure rate is 17% percent, and with withdrawal it's 18%."

As Glow pointed out in its press release, "Choosing a birth control method is a complicated choice, dependent on a variety of factors specific to each woman at each stage in her life." 

Or to borrow a quote from Cher Horowitz, "It's a personal choice every woman has got to make for herself."