'Pulling Out' Method Gets New Respect

'Pulling out' gets new respect; study says it's not reproductive roulette.

ByABC News
May 27, 2009, 1:16 PM

May 28, 2009— -- When sex researcher Rachel K. Jones published a report that suggests the much-maligned withdrawal method of birth control was nearly as effective as condoms in preventing pregnancy, she was showered with criticism.

And it wasn't evangelicals who had taken virginity pledges who pulled out the big guns.

Those whom Jones said could benefit from this information -- couples in monogamous relationships who are not at risk for sexually transmitted diseases -- reacted in "sheer disbelief," she said.

"I don't know anybody who does the 'pull out' method, as we call it," said one 23-year-old who is in a monogamous relationship but didn't want her name used. "Most of us have had enough sex education courses to know that doesn't work very well."

The act of withdrawal -- the male pulling out before ejaculation -- is a long controversial method of birth control, one many sex education classes have condemned as risky.

But Jones' findings, based on several studies and data from the Guttmacher Institute , a nonprofit organization focused on sexual and reproductive health where she is a senior research associate, were just the opposite.

Her studies found that in perfect use -- meaning the man pulls out every time -- withdrawal has a 4 percent failure rate, as compared to condoms, which have a 2 percent failure rate.

"But nobody's perfect," said Jones, who published her commentary in the June issue of Contraception magazine.

In typical use, when used consistently and correctly, coitus interruptus and condoms have an 18 and 17 percent failure rate, respectively.

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

Jones noted that one persistent myth often cited as a drawback to withdrawal -- that there is mobile sperm in pre-ejaculate -- is actually contradicted by two studies cited by the National Institutes of Health.

"In two small studies there is no sperm in the fluid," she said. "If the guy has had sex in the last couple of hours is the only way it gets in pre-cum. But if you go to the bathroom, it flushes the sperm out."

"Withdrawal gets a bad rap," according to Jones, who urges sex educators and health professionals to discuss the method when teaching about birth control.

Her research set off fireworks in the blogosphere as both women and men assailed the withdrawal method as "reproductive roulette."

On Jezebel.com, which reports on celebrity, sex and fashion for women, a blog on the study had nearly 14,000 pages views and 337 comments, out-performing its popular column, "Slutty Feminists."

"Yeah," wrote Macloserboy. "The very fact I'm even writing this is proof it doesn't work. Thanks dad, for sharing that piece of information in a drunken, bonding moment 30 years ago."

"Should we start dropping off products of failed withdrawal techniques at the local ATM?" asked fireflyinjuly.

"A co-worker of mine refers to this as the 'pull and pray' method," wrote one commenter, saintbernadette.

Even sex educators like Dr. Judy Kuriansky from Columbia University's Teachers College said that "very little could be worse."

"Teens will misuse the data and boys will use it as an excuse not to wear condoms," she told ABCNews.com. "It is also not good for monogamous couples, especially those who are religious and against abortion, who may have more unplanned pregnancies."

Jones, surprised by the thrust of her critics, responded with a letter she hoped would be widely published.

"I've grown used to promoters of abstinence only-until-marriage programs dismissing the effectiveness of contraception," said Jones. "However, I'm surprised to see such disparagement of withdrawal among a crowd that is presumably younger, more diverse and open-minded."

"Perhaps because most of us have been told for so long that withdrawal doesn't work, we are unable to embrace scientific evidence that counters what we 'know,'" said Jones.