In the withdrawal method, the penis is taken out of the vagina before ejaculation to prevent pregnancy, but it's very unreliable.
This article is part of our Contraception Series!
What we're covering
Note: the information below was sourced from references (1-5), unless stated otherwise.
What is it?
The withdrawal method is also known as “coitus interruptus”. It’s based on the idea that a person with a penis can feel when they’re about to orgasm, and they can withdraw their penis from the vagina before this happens. This way, they ejaculate outside the vagina, and hope to prevent pregnancy. This method is not recommended, as it provides the least protection and is least predictable. Luckily, there's lots of other birth control options that work great! Check out our contraception series to learn about other ways you can protect yourself against an unwanted pregnancy.
How does it work?
The withdrawal method is only moderately effective if the man or person with the penis can accurately detect when they’re close to ejaculating. This is often more difficult than you’d think, especially if you’re in the heat of the moment. Additionally, the moisture released from the penis before ejaculation (so-called “pre-cum”) can contain older sperm cells from recent ejaculations. These can cause pregnancy as well, and it’s not possible to predict whether or not these are still present in this moisture.
How effective is it?
The withdrawal method is not very effective, at least not how it’s typically used. In that case, the withdrawal method is only about 73% effective, meaning around 22 people* out of 100 become pregnant within a year.
With perfect use, effectivity is thought to be around 96% (leading to 4 pregnancies per 100 people* per year), but it’s nearly impossible to do it perfectly. This is because you don’t know whether your pre-ejaculate (“pre-cum”) contains live sperm cells, and this moisture is released throughout arousal and sex.
What are possible side-effects?
There are no side-effects to the withdrawal method.
When can't I use it?
In general, this method isn’t suitable for people at all, because it’s not a reliable method.
Does it work immediately?
Yes, you don’t have to wait or prepare anything to use the withdrawal method.
What happens to my fertility if I stop using it?
Since nothing in your body changes when using this method, nothing’s different when you stop using this method. You’ll have a higher risk of pregnancy compared to when you’re using this method.
Does it protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
No, the withdrawal method does not protect against STDs. If you’re having sex with someone new or untested, use a condom instead.
*People, here, means anyone who is able to become pregnant, including girls, women, and non-binary people and transgender men who still have their uterus, vagina, and ovaries.
Are you curious about other methods to protect yourself from an unwanted pregnancy? Read about other birth control options here!
This article is pending medical review.
Written by Juliëtte Gossens
Reviewed by Sophie Oppelt and Selina Voßen
Edited by Juliëtte Gossens
McFarlane I (ed.). Seeing the unseen: The case for action in the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy. United Nations Population Fund. 2022. Available from: https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/EN_SWP22%20report_0.pdf
Hacker NF, Gambone JC, Hobel CJ (eds.). Hacker & Moore’s Essentials of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2016.
Hoffman BL, Schorge JO, Halvorson LM, Hamid CA, Corton MM, Schaffer JI (eds.). William’s Gynecology. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education; 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, 2016 (US MEC). Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/mmwr/mec/summary.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016 U.S. Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use (U.S. SPR). Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/mmwr/spr/summary.html
Please note: the information we provide to you here is for educational purposes only. If you’re experiencing any discomfort or have any complaints or questions about your health, please contact your doctor or other relevant health professional. We don’t provide medical advice.