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An Objective Look At The Withdrawal Method Of Birth Control

By Susan Donaldson James

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 Lizzy Holmgren, a 23-year-old graduate student from Denver who has been a monogamous relationship for more than two years. "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.

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Note from Ben Kim: If you're in a mutually monogamous relationship and the withdrawal method is of interest, you may want to consider combining it with the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM).

The FAM is comprehensively outlined in Toni Weschler's Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and can be a highly effective natural birth control method for folks who prefer not to use physical barriers or medication that disrupts the endocrine system.


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My husband and I have used this method for 21 years, with only one incident. He's 18 now! I personally think it is a little risky for younger couples. As you get older, I think it is easier to control your actions and easier for the woman to count between periods. You need to have a regular cycle for this to be effective. I would recommend this before any kind of pill or other chemical birth control. It's much more healthy. Just be careful! :) Sue.

I only used this method one time. I had been on the pill since I was 14 and I was 29 and wanting to give my body a break from pills.. Unfortanelty, I did get pregnant, from one time.. So I wouldnt recommend it, at all.. I am deeply regretting that I was not more responsible about my birth control ..

Here is where I've learned about natural family planning. They do classes and one on one consultations.