Coitus interruptus: let’s talk about the pull-out method

The pull-out method is a form of contraception that has existed since, well, forever. 

While the exact origins of this method are difficult to trace, historical evidence suggests that various cultures and societies across different time periods have employed this technique as a means of birth control. People in the Greek and Roman empires were found to have preferred small families and used this method of contraception, which was called ‘Coitus Interruptus’, translated from Latin to mean ‘interrupted sex’. 

But is pulling out a form of contraception that’s smart, safe, or effective? Let’s pull up some facts and figures. 

What is the pull-out method? 

Also known as withdrawal, the pull-out method is a form of contraception that involves a person with a penis pulling out before ejaculation during sex with a person with a vagina, thus preventing the sperm from entering the cervix and possibly fertilising an egg and leading to pregnancy. 

So why might someone choose the pull out method over other forms of contraception? For one, it's free! Unlike some other methods, you don't need a prescription or any special equipment to use it. Additionally, it doesn't involve hormones like some other methods do, which can be a plus for those who have experienced negative side effects from birth control pills or other hormonal methods. 

Effectiveness of the pull-out method 

According to Planned Parenthood, if it's done perfectly every time, it can be 96% effective in preventing pregnancy. The catch? It’s difficult to do consistently every time. In reality, the effectiveness rate drops to 78% with typical use, meaning that about 22 out of 100 couples who rely on the pull out method will experience a pregnancy within a year. You also might have heard of the mysterious ‘pre-cum’ in warnings not to use the pull out method, which is the likelihood that liquid can come out of a penis before ejaculation and may contain semen. Compare the effectiveness of this method with condoms (98% effective with perfect use), and medical forms of contraception like the Pill, Intrauterine devices (IUD) and contraceptive implants (99% effective) and it’s clear there are more effective ways of preventing pregnancy.

It's also important to note that the pull out method does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so if you haven’t both been recently tested, it could save you from a pregnancy but not from other complications that come with unprotected sex.

If you choose to use the pull-out method… 

Make sure your sexual partner/s are someone you can trust and effectively communicate with and ensure you are on the same page about using this as a method of contraception. Be aware of your partner’s body and any surprise finishes or pre-ejaculate. 

Consider using additional methods of birth control. For example, some people choose to use the pull out method in combination with a barrier method like a condom, the Pill, or an IUD, or if you can’t access those, the morning after pill is a last resort and can be accessed from your local pharmacy. 

The pull-out method is far from a perfect form of contraception, but oftentimes when it comes down to it in the moment, it’s definitely better than nothing when it comes to preventing pregnancy. Speak to your doctor if you have questions or concerns about birth control options, and remember that staying informed, listening to your body and communicating with your partner is key to making the best decisions for your sexual health.

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