Teaching Withdrawal

Despite the taboo against unprotected sex, it turns out that the withdrawal method, a.k.a. pulling out, is nearly as effective as condom use when used properly. As more evidence surfaces about the reality of withdrawal, should we include it in comprehensive sexual education?

According to a report in the June issue of Contraception, using withdrawal perfectly will result in about 4 percent of couples becoming pregnant within a year, but typical use will result in about 18 percent conceiving. Using condoms in a perfect manner, however, will result in 2% becoming pregnant, but the typical use will yield about 17 percent of couples become pregnant. Condoms are more effective—and also prevent STIs—but for a monogamous couple, it’s virtually the same.

So this raises the question of whether or not the method should be taught as part of comprehensive sex ed to teens. It’s only effective when used properly, and it would seem that teaching the specifics would make those inclined to use it more successful. An article on The Frisky claims that "a significant portion of the female population is ‘pulling and praying’—56 percent have used withdrawal at some point in their life, while 21 percent are using it now." So wouldn’t it make sense for sexual education to include a discussion of proper practice?

Perhaps it should be discussed, but certainly not encouraged. In a Broadsheet article yesterday, Scarleteen: Sex Ed For the Real World founder Heather Corinna says this isn’t an optimal option for teens.

"Younger men have less awareness and control over ejaculation, and younger women are more fertile than older women. And if we’re being really forthright, we also can safely say this is probably the most-sabotaged method by male partners. In other words, it’s the one male partners will most often agree to, then not comply with, either by talking a female partner into just letting them ejaculate, or by saying they did so on accident when it wasn’t at all accidental."

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it shouldn’t be talked about in a school’s sexual education program—as long as it’s kept taboo and mysterious, teens will be curious and potentially unsafe. If the facts are laid on the table, withdrawal can be treated as a viable option for birth control for certain people, not an unmentionable act.

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  • heather-corinna

    My understanding is that that new information is from one 2002 broad, self-reporting census about all methods of contraception, not a specific study on withdrawal alone.  As well, the number of people reporting use of withdrawal in that census as a sole method was very small.  That census also showed different rates of typical use effectiveness than we normally see for condoms.  Point is, the differences may have been in the way the data was collected and compiled more than anything else.


    So, I think it’s absolutely information that should steer us towards more specific, controlled and targeted study, not so much to making strong proclomations about how withdrawal is suddenly more effective than numerous stiudies in the past have shown it to be.  When one source of information is suddenly very different that multiple sources, and than multiple sources with a more reliable means of study, it’s pretty questionable for anyone to quickly affix to and endorse one new piece without further study to support it.


    But at the same time, there’s never been any reason to exclude it when talking about all methods of birth control (and in sex education which discusses contraception in depth, it’s typical to talk about all current methods, not just some: including withdrawal would not be new).  We discuss spermicides, too, and those used alone are understood to be even less effective.

  • amanda-marcotte

    That condoms are incredibly more likely to be used correctly than withdrawal.  Millions of women can tell you stories of men promising to pull out and then not doing it.  Sometimes it’s mean-spirited, and sometimes it’s just that they calculated wrong.  But what’s nice about the condom is that it’s easier to control.

  • heather-corinna

    By the by, I’d really suggest reading the paper/piece itself and taking a look at the citations with a keen eye.   Same goes for the 2002 census piece, particularly seeing the big disparity in the numbers of women reporting use of withdrawal vs. condoms.


    Because unless I’m missing something, reporting new efficacy rates for withdrawal and condoms based on this paper is seriously problematic and potentially…well, grossly incorrect. 


    Even the author uses “might be”  and “may be” throughout and talks about what estimates (based on that one census) indicate, while I’m seeing people reporting “is,” which troubles me.  It seems to me like a lot of reporting on this is about nothing but the first paragraph of the piece only.  The meat of the piece is more about discoveries on how many people are using it, experiences in using it, and suggestions for study and healthcare approaches to it,  rather than about efficacy.

  • http://www.sleeprequired.com/2009/04/marpac-sleepmate-980a-sound-conditioner-review-does-it-work/ invalid-0

    I think that these types of reports will only make teens think that they can have unsafe sex. Pulling out doesnt protect against STDs and it is said that the lubricant can sometimes have sperms in them

  • saraz

    I think there is a pos and cons effect using this kind of method. Well, for me it’s good to know some techniques in order to prevent pregnancy especially when both parties are not ready for commitment. Now, that we are in recession we should try to think more wider since we should really limit our expenses. Also lets focus first in regaining back our economy to its solidity, since many public/private establishment result into bankruptcy due to economic downturn and you don’t want to suffer most because of early or unwanted pregnancy. You have 2 choices not to have sexual intercourse or try effective contraceptive. In relation to this, did you hear the news about Sunshine Dodge? She was among the dealership closed by Chrysler as they entered bankruptcy. The owner, George Joseph, has posted an open letter to Chrysler, in which he explains his situation. His inventory will be taken and redistributed, including vehicles and parts, and he won’t be getting any compensation. The company won’t pay off the guaranteed loans he got to renovate the dealership at Chrysler’s request, and he’ll be left holding the bag. This only means bankruptcy for him and his family, unemployment for his employees, and no debt consolidation for Sunshine Dodge.

  • http://momstinfoilhat.wordpress.com invalid-0

    This is not the first time I have seen a comparison of birth control that looks realistically at withdrawal and compares it favorably to other methods of birth control. I think it is obviously not the most effective method, especially when it comes to STIs.

    However, many forms of birth control have failure rates. I have a condom son and a contraceptive film son. The failure rates for real use of the sponge and the cervical cap for parous women are probably lower than those for withdrawal.

    It is a method that I know people use. Not just pull and pray teenagers, but grown, educated women. I have, among my friends, a woman who has a master’s degree and a midwife(!) who use this as their primary method of birth control.

    I am incredibly fertile, and am very thankful for my IUD. But, different methods of birth control work better for different people. A realistic discussion of failure rates is what we need, not automatic pooh poohing of withdrawal and other alternative methods like symptothermal (natural family planning). If women want options and are going to exercise these options, we need to look at them realistically.

  • invalid-0

    Withdrawal is not a very effective method, especially for young couples. Is not safe!

  • invalid-0

    …is WHEN USED PROPERLY. As long as there is a whole ton of emphasis on the “when used correctly” part, I’m fine with advocating withdrawal. The perfect use efficacy might be the same as condoms, but typical use efficacy? Who are we trying to kid? Condoms don’t have the same gap that behavioral methods do.
    Honestly, condoms with fertility awareness as an adjunct is what I would advocate – as in, using condoms, but abstaining completely on high-fertility days.

  • invalid-0

    ….withdrawal might be the only thing available that even approaches contraception.

  • invalid-0

    A problem with withdrawal can be (and you won’t know)is pre-cum.

    I would not advocate withdrawal as a practice but probably most of us have used it. A condom is much more effective and you see that it has done its job.

    My wife and I have always used condoms as a back up contraceptive without any problems.. The key ingredients are a strong hard-on and a bit of lube.