According to New York magazine, sexually active hetero women in their 20s and 30s are heretofore dubbed the “pullout generation.” We’ve earned this moniker because, for various reasons, we’ve turned up our noses at “conventional forms of birth control,” from the the Pill to condoms, and started relying on the withdrawal method to avoid pregnancy. The article suggests some of the reasons why we are shunning BC — from noxious side effects of the Pill, to prohibitive costs, to pressure from men not to use condoms, to putting more focus on our sexual pleasure — but the more troubling part, perhaps, is that we’re “reluctant to admit [it], even after a few cocktails.”
I will attest to this. I only use the pullout method, but am loathe to say so to my Pill loyalist friends or my gyno, who I’m convinced will give me a finger-wagging lecture. I’m in my 30s! While I’m not actively looking to be a parent right this minute, an unplanned pregnancy also would not ruin my life. There seems to be this pervasive idea that it’s ignorant or irresponsible not to use conventional birth control. After all, you’re relying on someone else to act swiftly.
For years, the pullout method was taboo — seen as non–birth control for ignorant risk-takers. Admitting that you trusted a man — granted, a man who was your monogamous partner, but still — to pull out in time? That was ceding too much control.
A 31-year-old woman interviewed for the article admitted to feeling similarly about her choice to use the pullout method:
“I kind of struggled with our method for a while. It seemed kind of embarrassing and definitely felt irresponsible. But after six or so years of this style, we have still never been pregnant.”
In addition, the shame that comes with admitting to practicing the withdrawal method is conflated by the fact that we grew up during the AIDS epidemic and from a young age, a fear of STIs — especially the deadly kind! — was drilled into us. We were taught to use condoms EVERY TIME, to protect us from HIV and other STIs, as well pregnancy. And if that message didn’t get through to you, all you needed to do was watch “Kids” and the fear of God was knocked into you.
Fair enough. STIs are a real and legitimate concern and I get tested religiously for that reason. But we’re not doing ourselves any favors by not talking about not using condoms — even with partners we’re not monogamous with. Let’s get honest about it. Here, I’m saying it. I have used the pullout method with sexual partners I was not monogamous with. Multiple times. I feel so much better having admitted that, though I also admit it’s not responsible to practice the pullout method outside of monogamy. But hiding the fact that I had — that many of you probably have — doesn’t help.
But the truth is, it’s actually not irresponsible if you’re with a monogamous partner. Stats vary, but research has shown that when used correctly, coitus interruptus and condoms have an 18 and 17 percent failure rate, respectively. So, if you’re not worried about contracting an STI — it’s about as effective as condoms. Not bad.
And I don’t need a few drinks to tell you all the reasons why the pullout method is my birth control of choice. Since we’re confessing here, I might as well keep going.
Right around the time that I was 18, my mother sat me down with some words of advice about birth control.
“Don’t ever take the Pill,” she said. “It screwed me up so bad.”
I had only slept with one guy at the time and we used condoms. Mostly. He was my boyfriend, we were both virgins and also, he couldn’t have an orgasm because he was on anti-anxiety meds, so sometimes we skipped the condoms. And then we broke up, I saw “Kids” and my drawers were suddenly stocked with more condoms than I could ever use in a lifetime. And I was sleeping with NO ONE.
In college, I saw what my mom meant first hand when sophomore year roommate unraveled after going on the Pill. She sat in her room and cried all day. She gained 10 pounds and two cup sizes in a month. She was miserable. So not worth it, I thought. I was sleeping with an older guy at this point — but contrary to the 24-year-old featured in the New York article who felt like she was “used by older men who didn’t want to use condoms,” the guy I was sleeping with was insistent upon us using condoms. Not that I was protesting. I later found out this was because he was sleeping with lots of girls, so I thank him for his commitment to prophylactics.
I never thought of going condom-less until I was in my first serious relationship in my 20s. We started out using condoms, but then one of them broke inside me and I had to go to Planned Parenthood to get it removed. From there we ditched the condoms — because, surprise! I could have an orgasm without one — for the rest of our four-year relationship. The pullout method worked for us. We were totally monogamous, my periods were regular, I charted my cycle, and, as a result, we never had a pregnancy scare. This is how successful the pullout method can be when practiced correctly.
By the time I got into my next serious relationship, I was spoiled. We had a really active, satisfying sex life without ever using a single condom. Again, we were monogamous. No pregnancy scares. And when we broke up — when I was in my late-20′s — that’s when it all went to shit.
I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I couldn’t enjoy sex with a condom, I still felt reluctant about taking the Pill and I heard at least five IUD horror stories from friends. Getting a shot, an implant, or taking any kind of hormones seemed like too much of a commitment for someone who was only getting laid sporadically. I did use condoms if I had a one-night-stand or had just started dating someone. But for the most part, I didn’t. I came across a few guys who were very anxious about pregnancy and whipped out a condom the second things started getting hot and heavy. I’m not looking to talk anyone out of using a condom. But the truth is that most of the guys I slept with were comfortable with and proficient at using the pullout method. I’m in a serious, monogamous relationship now. And as you might have guessed, we use the pullout method. So far, no pregnancy scares.
When it comes to sex, contraception and family planning, women (and their partners) should do what works best for them and be able to talk about it openly and honestly without having to be tipsy. Taking shame out of the equation will allow us to have real conversations about sex and reproductive health.