Should Sex Educators Teach The Withdrawal Method?

In an upcoming issue of Contraception, Rachel K. Jones of the Guttmacher Institute makes the case that sex educators should start teaching the withdrawal method as a form of birth control. Jones argues that when practiced properly, the withdrawal method is quite effective at preventing pregnancy, and only four percent of those who use it “perfectly” will get pregnant in the next year. The method, like birth control pills, however, has no proven effect when it comes to preventing the transmission of STDs, although researchers are hoping to study that, too.
The recommendation is controversial. Teaching people how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy without the use of condoms, IUDs, or birth control pills? That’s crazy talk! But the fact is, statistics show that a significant portion of the female population is “pulling and praying” — 56 percent have used withdrawal at some point in their life, while 21 percent are using it now. Because withdrawal has never been a part of sex education, many do it wrong. Only four percent of those who use it perfectly will get knocked up, but 18 percent of couples who rely on withdrawal as a birth control method but are not doing it “right” will get pregnant this year. The fascinating part? Seventeen percent of couples who rely on condoms as their birth control method of choice will have an unintended pregnancy this year. “In other words,” writes Jones, “With either method, more than eight in 10 avoid pregnancy.”

Megan at Jezebel asks, “Can we stop shaming women who practice withdrawal now?” Sure, this study shows that withdrawal has the same rate of effectiveness as condoms in preventing pregnancy, but has there really been “a lot of finger-pointing at women who practice withdrawal, as though they’re just playing Russian roulette with their reproductive systems”? I don’t think withdrawal gets as much scrutiny when the people practicing it are in a relationship and the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy isn’t as much of an issue as it might be for single women who use the method with casual sex partners. If there has been “finger-pointing,” it’s been at women (and men) who pull and pray with random sexual partners — a pretty stupid idea, especially since it doesn’t prevent STDs. I’ve practiced withdrawal in the past — idiotically, I might add. I came out of it unscathed, but I don’t think I deserve a pat on the back for what was a stupid move. Did I just shame myself?

What do you think? Should medical providers talk to their patients about withdrawal, its effectiveness, and how to practice it correctly? [via Salon’s Broadsheet]