‘Pulling Out’ Is Quickly Becoming Moms’ Preferred Method Of Birth Control

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I did some stupid things in my teens and 20s, but having unprotected sex was not one of them. In fact, I was all about doubling up on the protection (pill and condom; condom and foam – remember foam?). Sure, I had my share of drunken sex and one-night stands. Then, at one point, there was a serious boyfriend whom I thought I’d marry, maybe pop out a couple of babies with one day in the future. Throughout it all, my little purple packet of birth-control pills (Diane-35) lay on the bathroom counter alongside the staples (tweezers, toothbrush, hair straightener). In my mind, birth control was a given. It didn’t matter if you were banging some random frat boy in a dirty bathroom stall – so long as you used protection, you were golden.

Fast-forward two decades and, well, I use the “withdrawal” method (a.k.a. “pull out method” – when a man pulls out before he ejaculates). I say this sheepishly because, back in the early 90s, I would have judged anyone who actually considered “pulling out” to be a form of birth control. I would have called them stupid and naive. Because, really, you’re going to trust a 20-something guy not to come inside of you each and every time you have sex? What if he’s drunk? Or lazy? What if he miscalculates? (One woman I know got pregnant after her no-strings-attached ‘fuck buddy’ pulled out a bit too late; she had an abortion.) In other words, it’s risky. And it’s been a long controversial of method of birth control even among the medical community for as long as I can remember.

Now that I’m married with kids, birth control is the last thing on my mind. It shouldn’t be, but it is. My story is similar to so many moms I know. It goes a little something like this:

  • Get boyfriend, go on pill.
  • Think about starting a family, go off pill.
  • Get pregnant!
  • Have baby, use condoms, realize condoms suck.
  • Figure pull-out method is fine (if you have a little “oops,” oh well).
  • Get pregnant!
  • Have baby #2, stop having sex altogether.
  • Get tipsy one night, realize halfway through intercourse that you’re not using any birth control, whisper to partner to “please pull out.”
  • Continue with this method for years and years. Add IUD and/or vasectomy to your giant to-do list.

This sums up my life and pretty much the lives of all 30- and 40-something moms I spoke with for this piece. In fact, the pull-out method is quickly becoming mom’s preferred method of birth control. These are women who have no desire ever to use a condom again – “Condoms are for kids,” is what they say – but who don’t like the permanency of a vasectomy, or the invasive nature of an IUD. In some cases, they’re not opposed to either but simply haven’t found the time (as in, they’re not making it a priority).

Most women I know – and many doctors, too – don’t consider the withdrawal method to be all that effective. That’s why so many were reluctant to admit it’s their form of birth control (one went so far as to say she’s “ashamed” and declined to be interviewed for this story). In 2009, a team of researchers published a report – based on several studies and data from the Guttmacher Institute – suggesting that the withdrawal method of birth control is nearly as effective as condoms in preventing pregnancy. They got a lot of criticism at the time, but lead researcher Rachel K. Jones stands by her claims. She found that in perfect use (meaning the man pulls out every time), withdrawal has a 4% failure rate as compared to condoms, which have a 2% failure rate.

“Although withdrawal may not be as effective as some contraceptive methods, it is substantially more effective than nothing,” Jones said the report. “It is also convenient, requires no prior planning and there is no cost involved.”

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