How effective is the pull-out method?
The pull-out method of contraception is also known as the withdrawal method or coitus interruptus. The idea is, the male partner withdraws his penis from his partner before he ejaculates, so sperm do not enter the vagina and therefore the female won’t become pregnant.
That’s how it’s supposed to go but, in practice, the pull-out method is far from perfect when it comes to preventing pregnancy, and it offers no protection against sexually transmitted diseases.
If a couple doesn’t use contraception at all, we’d expect about 85% of them to get pregnant after one year. If they use the pull-out method, we’d expect 20% of them (one in every five couples) to get pregnant within a year1. In comparison, around one in eight couples who use condoms, and one in 14 couples who rely on the pill, would be expected to get pregnant in a year.
Part of the reason why the withdrawal method is unreliable is that sperm may be present in pre-ejaculate fluid. Another part of the reason is, it’s difficult to do the withdrawal method perfectly. Most forms of contraception suffer from ‘user error,’ meaning they don’t work as well in the real world as theoretically possible. That goes for withdrawal, condoms and the pill. So, when you find a contraception method that suits you and your partner, you need to make sure you use it properly every time you have sex.
- Woodhams & Gilliam, 2019. Contraception. Annals of Internal Medicine. https://doi.org/10.7326/AITC201902050