Can You Get Pregnant from Using the Pull-Out Method?

By Staff 9 Min Read

Yes. You can get pregnant from the pull-out method.

The pull-out method, also called withdrawal — or coitus interruptus if you wanna get fancy — involves pulling the penis out of the vagina before ejaculation. In theory, one can see how this might work, but there’s more to it.

If you’re relying on the pull-out method for contraception or considering it, read on to learn what can go wrong and why it’s probably not a good idea.

Yep, still possible.

While it’s true that your chances of pregnancy are higher when you’re ovulating, that doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant when you aren’t ovulating.

Sperm can live in your body for as many as seven days. Even if you aren’t ovulating when you have sex, if there’s sperm in your reproductive tract, it may still be alive when you do ovulate.

The perfect-use failure rate for the pull-out method is 4 percent. This means that, when done perfectly, the pull-out method prevents pregnancy 96 percent of the time.

Still, it’s estimated 18 to 28 percent of couples using the method will get pregnant within the first year. That’s largely because it’s hard to pull off a perfect pullout.

Contraception success rates are measured in typical use versus perfect use. Typical use refers to how people realistically use the method, while perfect use refers to, well, perfect use.

The person with the penis has to pull it out of the vagina when they feel they’re about to ejaculate and offloading away from the genitals. It sounds simple, but timing can be hard to control, and this doesn’t even take pre-ejaculate into account (yep, you can get pregnant from pre-cum, too).

Perfect use also involves taking precautions before having sex again. To make sure the penis is totally free and clear of any residual semen, the person needs to urinate and clean off the tip of their penis before going in for another round. This can be a bit of a mood killer for some.

Perfecting the pull-out method is indeed tricky and practice is unlikely to make it much more effective. If you’d still like to give it a try, you need to work on perfecting your timing.

To do this, practice while wearing a condom. As you approach orgasm, try to pay attention to any signals or signs that will help you better identify when you’re about to orgasm in the future.

Don’t attempt to try this method without a condom until you’re confident in your timing. And even then, it’s wise to use a backup method.

A couple of things. For one, it’s hard to withdraw when you’re in the throes of ecstasy. The pull-out method also doesn’t provide protection against STIs.

Pre-cum is another risk. This is the clear fluid that’s released by the penis when a person becomes sexually aroused. Most people only release a small amount, and it doesn’t typically contain sperm. But sperm cells lingering in the urethra from a recent ejaculation can mix with the pre-cum.

Even if you manage to nail your timing and pull out before ejaculating, even a tiny bit of the fluid can get lead to pregnancy.

The pull-out method isn’t reliable, but there are a few things you can do that might make it slightly more effective.

Track ovulation

You can lower the risk of pregnancy by tracking ovulation. Just remember that you can still get pregnant before and after ovulation.

The ovulating partner can use the fertility awareness method to track when they’re most fertile. Once you know when your fertile window is, you can avoid sex or the pull-out method during this time.

There are also a number of fertility apps that you can use to track your periods and ovulation.

Use a backup method of birth control

Withdrawal isn’t recommended as a primary method of birth control due to its high failure rate, but it makes a great secondary method.

Using a backup method along with withdrawal can significantly reduce the risk of pregnancy.

Use it along with other birth control methods, such as:

Don’t panic. If you’re worried your partner didn’t pull out in time, you have some options.

First, head to the bathroom and:

  • sit on the toilet to bear down, using your vaginal muscles to push out any ejaculate that may be inside
  • urinate to help remove semen that may be on the outside of your vaginal opening
  • wash your genitals thoroughly

You’ll also want to consider emergency contraception. This can be used to prevent pregnancy if your birth control fails or you have unprotected sex. To be effective, it should be used as soon as possible. There are two main types available.

Emergency contraception pills (ECPs)

ECPs are what’s commonly called “the morning after pill.” They’re available with or without a prescription depending on the type you choose.

There are several kinds you can purchase at any age without a prescription. They include a single pill that usually needs to be taken within 72 hours of the sexual encounter.

You can usually find them in the same aisle as the pregnancy tests and ovulation kits.

Some brands to look for include:

  • Plan B One-Step
  • Next Choice One-Dose
  • My Way
  • Take Action

Past the 72-hour point? You can still take ulipristal acetate, sold under the brand name Ella. It can be taken up to 5 days after sexual activity.

The only catch is that you’ll need a prescription, which you can get from:

  • your healthcare provider
  • family planning clinics
  • urgent care centers
  • campus and student health centers

Though emergency contraception isn’t meant to be used as primary birth control, it’s a good idea to have it on hand if you’re relying on the pull-out method.

Copper T IUD

The copper T intrauterine device (IUD) is the most effective type of emergency contraceptive when used within 5 days of sexual activity. It’s implanted into the uterus and works by releasing copper into the fallopian tubes and uterus, acting as a spermicide. The downside is that it requires a prescription and needs to be inserted by a healthcare provider.

If you’re worried your partner didn’t pull out properly, then yes. But you’ll need to wait until the first day of your missed period to get a reliable result.

Pregnancy tests detect a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). The hormone is only present once a fertilized egg is attached to the uterus.

Even if you feel you’ve used the pull-out method perfectly, you should take a pregnancy test if you notice any signs of early pregnancy, like:

Overall, the pull-out method isn’t very reliable unless the ejaculating partner has extreme self-control. And even then, things can still go wrong. If you want to use it, consider doubling (or tripling) up with other methods, such as spermicide and ovulation tracking.

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