The pull-out method involves your partner pulling their penis from your vagina before they ejaculate. About one in five people who rely on the pull-out method become pregnant. It also doesn’t help protect against STIs like condoms do.
With the pull-out method, your partner pulls their penis out of your vagina and away from your genitals (vulva) before ejaculating. During ejaculation, sperm gets released from the penis in a fluid called semen. The pull-out method is also called coitus interruptus or the withdrawal method.
Still, the pull-out method is better than no birth control if you want to have sex, but you want to reduce your chance of pregnancy.
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With the pull-out method, your partner’s penis is in your vagina until before ejaculation. Your partner withdrawals their penis so that the semen remains outside your body. The goal is to prevent sperm from reaching your vaginal canal so sperm can’t make the journey to your fallopian tubes.
The pull-out method is about 80% effective. About one in five people who rely on the pull-out method for birth control become pregnant.
In the best-case scenario, where your partner pulls out on time, the pull-out method still doesn’t prevent pregnancy 100% of the time.
The reality is that many things have to go perfectly for best-case scenarios. Even if you’ve used the pull-out method for years and have avoided pregnancy so far, there’s no guarantee that the next time won’t lead to pregnancy. All it takes is one slight miscalculation on your partner’s part.
There’s a lot of room for error with the pull-out method.
It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when ejaculation will happen. Usually — but not always — ejaculation happens right before orgasm, at the height of sexual pleasure. It can be challenging to switch on the logical part of the brain that says, now’s the time to pull out, when the pleasure is most intense.
If your partner isn’t sexually experienced, they may not be familiar enough with their bodies to know when they’ll likely ejaculate. Even with experienced partners who can usually predict when they’ll ejaculate, distractions like stress or the influence of alcohol can lead to mistakes.
Getting the timing just right is always a gamble with the pull-out method.
Sperm can still enter your body even if your partner pulls out on time. Before ejaculation, your partner releases a pre-ejaculate fluid that may contain sperm. This fluid doesn’t have as much sperm as semen, but it may still contain sperm. Pre-ejaculate that contains sperm can get you pregnant if the fluid enters your body.
Semen on your upper thighs and genitals can potentially cause pregnancy, too. Your partner may pull out in time to keep sperm from entering your vagina. In the process, the fluid can land on your genitals (vulva) or upper thighs. Sperm are excellent swimmers. If there’s a fluid passageway leading from your genitals or thighs to your vagina, sperm can make the journey.
The pull-out method isn’t a reliable form of birth control. In addition to the biological reasons that cause pulling out to go wrong, the pull-out method:
Despite the risks involved, many couples still rely on the pull-out method for various reasons:
Some people use the pull-out method with other forms of birth control as an added safeguard to prevent pregnancy.
If you decide to use the pull-out method, try the following to improve its effectiveness.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The pull out method is better than no birth control at all if you’re trying to prevent pregnancy. Still, it’s important to know the risks. There’s a one in five chance you’ll become pregnant if you’re not pairing the pull-out method with a more effective form of contraception. You’ll still need to protect yourself against STIs. Weigh the pros and cons of using the pull out method against other birth control methods with a healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/15/2022.
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