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5th February, 20214 min read

Does the pull out method work?

Medical reviewer: Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author: Daniel Piggott
Last reviewed: 03/02/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

The pull out method, also known as ‘withdrawal’, is sometimes used as a method of contraception during sex. It’s when a person removes their penis from a vagina before they ‘come’ (ejaculate). But does the pull out method work?

The short answer is that it’s one of the least effective ways of preventing pregnancy. Although it's better than using no contraception at all, you can still get pregnant when using it. Plus, it doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Read on to learn more about the limitations of the pull out method, and which methods of contraception are more effective.

The pros and cons of the pull out method

First, you should know that the pull out method generally isn’t recommended by healthcare professionals because it isn’t a reliable method of contraception.

One reason for this is that fluid containing sperm (semen) can sometimes be released from the penis before ejaculation actually happens – which can lead to pregnancy. What’s more, it relies on willingness and good timing from both partners – which may be challenging in the heat of the moment.

The pull out method also gives no protection against STIs – condoms are the only method of contraception that do this.

It does have a couple of advantages, however. Unlike some other, more effective forms of contraception, such as the pill, it doesn’t involve any chemicals or cause side effects, such as nausea or mood changes. Plus, it’s free and doesn’t involve any planning, so it can be used at short notice, if nothing else is available.

How effective is the pull out method at preventing pregnancy?

The pull out method is 78% effective at preventing pregnancy. If 100 couples used this method for a year, 22% would become pregnant. When compared with other contraceptive methods, it’s one of the least effective, along with using a sponge and spermicide, which are 76% and 72% effective, respectively. The pull out method is not usually recommended as a reliable method of preventing pregnancy.

Which methods of contraception are more effective?

How effective contraception is sometimes depends on whether you use it correctly, but there are lots more effective ways to prevent pregnancy than the pull out method.

Methods that are more than 99% effective include:

  • contraceptive implant
  • intrauterine system (IUS)
  • intrauterine device (IUD)
  • female sterilisation (hysterectomy)
  • male sterilisation (vasectomy)

There are also some methods that are at least 99% effective when used properly, but are usually less than 95% effective, because they’re not always used correctly. These include:

  • contraceptive injection
  • combined pill
  • progestogen-only pill
  • contraceptive patch
  • vaginal ring
  • natural family planning (fertility awareness) – teaching instructions must be strictly followed

Some other forms of contraception can also be very effective at preventing pregnancy when used properly, including:

  • male condoms – 98% effective
  • female condoms – 95% effective
  • diaphragm or cap with spermicide – 92-96% effective

For more information about these methods, read 15 different types of contraception.

Condoms are the only method of contraception that can protect against both pregnancy and STIs.

How to make the pull out method more effective

Remember, other than deciding not to have sex (abstinence), there’s no method of contraception that’s 100% reliable – but some are better than others.

If you decide to try the pull out method, it might be best to use it alongside another more reliable method of contraception, such as a condom.

Key points

  • the pull out method is sometimes used as contraception and involves removing a penis from a vagina before ‘coming’ (ejaculation)
  • the pull out method is only 78% effective at preventing pregnancy – which makes it one of the least effective contraceptive methods
  • it also doesn’t protect you from STIs
  • there are lots of more effective contraceptive methods available
  • condoms are the only method of contraception that protects against pregnancy and STIs
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