Is Pulling Out a Safe Method of Contraception? Sexual Healing


ColumnA new book called “Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Get Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control” has sparked a controversial discussion about sex, contraception, “pulling out,” and “pregnancy ambivalence.”

I haven’t read the book yet, but I agree with part of its premise, that the pill can wreak massive havoc on women’s bodies. I’ve experienced it, as have dozens of my friends and colleagues. That doesn’t mean that the pill isn’t the right choice of contraception for some women; it is and will remain so. In the meantime, from New York Magazine to Jezebel and Slate, we’re talking about the delicate balance of politics, pleasure and the responsibility of being a sexually active woman. And that’s a very good thing.

I’m a pro-sex feminist, and when asked about contraception, especially from teens, college students, and young women, I take an “all of the above” approach. Truly – the most important thing is that women know what their choices are and how their bodies work. For the sake of this post, let’s establish that we’re talking about women in long-term, monogamous relationships, where STIs aren’t an issue. For singles or others with multiple partners, hands-down, condoms are the best (if not the only) choice. (Remember, wrap it up if you’re unsure of your partner’s STI status. Period.)

Over at New York Magazine, The Cut’s recent post, “No Pill? No Prob. Meet the Pullout Generation” generated hundreds of comments after suggesting that legions of women in their thirties have given up on birth control and just let their partners pull out after sex. Reasons cited: hatred of condoms because of the way they feel, disgust with the pill, (unwarranted?) fear of the IUD, and more. A recent study suggests that of the one in three women between the ages of 15 – 24 who used the pull out method, 21 percent had accidental pregnancies. Those statistics aren’t exactly fabulous.

For those of us who live on kale, quinoa, and yoga (hello, lovely EcoSalon readers), the pill’s myriad dangers aren’t exactly news. From cancer to low libido to breakthrough bleeding and depression, hormonal birth control comes with so many minuses, it’s easy to forget about the one big plus: pregnancy avoidance. The pill liberated women in the 1960s, putting them in control of their own sex lives. For that, it’s profoundly revolutionary. But fifty years on, we know how it makes us feel, and many of us don’t want that anymore. Being in control of our reproductive lives means being in control of our bodies overall. Women no longer automatically believe everything their doctors dictate. We openly question the side effects of pharmaceuticals and do our due diligence; research is part of the process getting and staying well.

Are You Part of the Pullout Generation?

If you’re pulling out willy-nilly, consider these facts: there can be sperm in pre-cum. You can get pregnant ANY time in your cycle, even if you use a period tracker. Thank goodness that Plan B exists. But you know what? Plan B is NOT fun to take. Plan to be super nauseous if you need to take Plan B. If you had an unwanted pregnancy, the constitution still affords us the legal right to an abortion (at least for now). It’s there for you if you need it — but I’m sure you’d prefer not to need it, right?

Amanda Marcotte expanded on the pull out fray in her piece on pregnancy ambivalence. Women who’ve seriously contemplated having kids (or already have them) seem, to me, to be in a different category altogether. Not everyone is in that situation, and even if some women feel emotionally ambivalent about having kids, screwing around with birth control probably isn’t the smartest way to deal with it.

My take on the recent spate of articles about the pull out method and pregnancy ambivalence is that they reveal how little women really know about their bodies. If you really want to avoid pregnancy, you need more than a period tracker app – you need to know how your lady business really works. If your period came on day 28 last month, there’s no reassurance that it’s going to happen again, exactly like that, next month. Say you and your guy have hot sex and he pulls out – but just a moment later than he should. You can ovulate earlier and later than you typically do any month, without warning – so you need to know more than just the last time you bled. Fertility Awareness can work very well – but only if you do it right.

If the IUD isn’t for you, if your guy isn’t ready to get the snip, and if  an accidental pregnancy is something you can work with right now, take the time to learn about your cervical mucus, the height of your cervix throughout your cycle, and track your basal body temperature. This is the way that women who WANT to get pregnant do it – and those of you who DON’T necessarily want to get pregnant should take your body just as seriously.

Truly safe, healthy, non-invasive birth control that no one has to think much about may be a part of our future. But until it is, a combination of open communication, health and awareness of options must be the starting point for our reproductive lives. When we talk about sex, the discussion about what women want often gets swept under the rug. That’s why it’s taken so long for us to start this dialogue.

Revolutions come in waves — let’s hope the next one honors the depths of women’s desires and our health, wellness,  emotional and intellectual needs — all on equal footing.

Got a question for Stefanie? Email her at stefanie at ecosalon dot com, and she’ll answer it in her next Sexual Healing column.

Related on EcoSalon:

What Women Want Matters, A lot: Welcome to the Sexual Revolution 2.0

For 2012, Pleasure is the Revolution We’ve Been Waiting For

Keep in touch with Stefanie on Twitter: @ecosexuality

Image: Ariadna Bruna


Stefanie Iris Weiss

Stefanie Iris Weiss is the author of nine books, including her latest title–Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable (Crown Publishing/Ten Speed Press, 2010). She keeps her carbon footprint small in New York City, where she writes about sustainability, sexuality, reproductive rights, dating and relationships, politics, fashion, beauty, and more. Stefanie is a regular contributor to British Elle, and has written for Above Magazine, Nerve, The Daily Green, Marie Claire, EcoSalon and Teen Vogue, to name a few. Her HuffPost blog is sometimes controversial. Stefanie is an on-and-off adjunct professor when not busy writing and teaching about sustainable love. A vegetarian and eco-activist since her teen years, Stefanie has made her passion into her work, and she wouldn't want it any other way. She believes that life is always better when there's more pleasure, and sustainable satisfaction is the best kind. Learn more about her various projects at and follow her on Twitter: @ecosexuality.