The Pullout Method Is Making a Comeback. But Why?

pullout method
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

"Pulling out": the contraceptive of choice for high schoolers the world over; and commonly touted as the absolute dumbest strategy around for pregnancy prevention. Yeah, many of us have used it. But it's a REALLY bad idea. Right?

Well… it appears pulling out isn't just for horny 17-year-olds too immature to wander into a CVS for a pack of condoms. Despite years of sex ed, magazine articles, and personal experience warning against it, the pullout method is gaining popularity among actual adults. So why the comeback?

Pulling out is rebellious

"[The pullout method] allows for impulsive, spontaneous sex," says Dr. Robert Axel, a New York sex therapist. "It's a rebellion against traditional values. Men and women have been using the pullout method for centuries. It can account for preventing births, as well as to reckless conception and pregnancies because it does not work much of the time -- many, many times."

"There's no perfect science to controlling orgasm and ejaculation."

As a means of acting out and pushing (very literal) boundaries, it's not surprising that teenagers choose pulling out as their second-most common form of birth control. But 60% of ADULT WOMEN in the US have used the pullout method at least once. For the latter, what's more believable is that a lot of us get caught up in the heat of the moment and can't be bothered to think rationally. Except...

It's better than you think -- if you do it right

Here's one you didn't hear in sex ed: pulling out can be just about as effective at preventing pregnancy as condoms. But hang on -- for this statement to ring true, the practice has to be done perfectly (aka BEFORE ejaculation). So long as a man pulls out before his full arsenal of swimmers leaves the gate, only 4% of couples using this method will get pregnant within a year. If guys withdraw too late, the number jumps to 18%.

I don't know about you, but something that's only 82% effective doesn't feel sexy… and doesn't take into account the whole STD issue, because nothing rains on your sex-filled parade like an open sore.

It's easy to rationalize pulling out

"The pullout method becomes an easy way to rationalize that you are doing something to prevent pregnancy," says Dr. Madeleine M. Castellanos, a holistic psychiatrist who specializes in sex therapy and functional medical counseling. "If a person convinces themselves that the pullout method is enough for them, they don't have to have the more difficult conversation about using an effective barrier method, like a male or female condom, that prevents both pregnancy and transmission of STIs."

Dr. Castellanos calls this "a false sense of security," because "there's no perfect science to controlling orgasm and ejaculation. So there's a high chance of not being able to pull out in time every time, especially if you're trying to keep the action going to the last possible moment. Most people aren't aware that there can be live sperm present in pre-ejaculatory fluid that is present way before ejaculation, and is being secreted during sexual arousal and activity."

Women are going off birth control

Many women, present company included, initially got on birth control for reasons having nothing to do with the bedroom: skin problems, mood swings, ovarian issues… and while the pill still manages to be the leading form of contraception used by women in the US, a lot of women are now uneasy about being indefinitely on a synthetic birth control that messes with their bodies' natural cycles. That -- paired with changing relationship statuses, transitioning feelings about getting pregnant, and a host of other personal reasons -- means countless users are deciding every day to ditch the tablets in favor of alternative forms of protection. Or lack thereof.

"I was on the birth control pill for seven years before I decided to take myself off of it," says Mel, 26. "I had just gotten out of a relationship at the time and decided I wouldn't really need it anymore, or at least not for a while. It also made me moody and I didn't like it. I wasn't planning on jumping back into anything, so I stopped taking it."

Of course, this doesn't cover one-night stands

"I remember using the pullout method once," Mel says. "I never liked condoms and the guy wasn't exactly begging to put one on, so we had at it. I woke up the next day pretty freaked out and incredibly guilty. But when nothing happened -- I got my period on time and came out STD-free -- it was way easier for me to do it again."

Pulling out can help with sexual issues

The easiest solution to the age-old condom problem (you know the one: "I can't get hard with this damn thing strangling my penis!") is to ditch it altogether. In short: the pullout method is helping your sexual prowess when men need it most. Let's also not ignore the fact that condoms aren't women's favorite feel, either.

"A huge plus to having sex is having everything work correctly."

"Sensitivity of skin-to-skin of the penis and vagina increases if there is no barrier," explains Dr. Axel, "and with that comes a greater sense of intimacy. If a man fears that taking the time to put on a condom will decrease erectile function or take away from the spontaneity of the sex, it may seem easier and less distracting to enter [a woman] without a condom, then pull out as orgasm nears. For women who want the contact, who want to feel the man inside, then the pullout method helps."

I'll grant that a huge plus to having sex is having everything work correctly. But again, it just seems like such a small price to pay until you're in a committed relationship, both tested for STDs, and on birth control.

Ultimately, though, pulling out doesn't replace condoms

Even if pulling out can help prevent pregnancy, it's doing nothing to prevent STD transmission. Bottom line? Until both partners have up-to-date testing done, it's still advisable to adhere to the "no glove, no love" rule. And although we're making advances every day in STD prevention and treatment, we're just not there yet.

So before you go running out touting the benefits of pulling out or using any of this information to enjoy some skin-to-skin contact, it would behoove you to spend some serious time mulling over the very real possibility of pregnancy; and just how pleasant you'd find a chlamydia, syphilis, or herpes diagnosis.

Maybe it's not time to give up on condoms or birth control just yet, after all.

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Alexa Lyons is a writer and editor living in New York who credits WebMD for her sporadic hypochondria. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @alyons104.