Brittany and Jax on Vanderpump Rules are doing it. An estimated 41 percent of women ages 18 to 24 have tried it. And perhaps you’re using it too—especially considering that “spray and pray” is now the third most-used form of “birth control” in the U.S., right behind condoms and the pill. In fact, its popularity nearly doubled from 2002 to 2015, per the CDC.
Why is this sketchy strategy in which a guy removes his bare penis from a woman’s vagina in the minutes (or sometimes seconds) before he ejaculates suddenly seemingly everywhere? “It’s free, it’s always available, and it’s better than nothing,” says New York gynecologist Alyssa Dweck, MD, about what so many of her patients must be thinking. She has definitely noticed an uptick in the method among millennial women—and that’s making some docs laugh (darkly) all the way to the delivery room. Really: A corny-ass joke among obstetricians even starts: “What do you call a couple who practices the pull-out method?” But before we get to the punch line (sorry!), let’s first dissect this troubling contraception trend….
Why people think this sh*t works
Stopping intercourse at the last second before the guy orgasms should work to prevent pregnancy. If no ejaculate enters a woman’s vagina, then no sperm goes swimming and there’s no chance of anything happening in the womb...right? Well, yes. If—a huge IF—a man actually makes it out before releasing any fluid. But that doesn’t always happen, because have you heard of pre-cum? (If not, educate yourself ASAP, below.)
Emergency contraceptives like Plan B—which, for millennials in particular, no longer carry the stigma they used to—have become a go-to in the case of a pull-out fail. “It makes a lot of women feel like they still have a little control, even if there’s an accident,” says Dr. Dweck.
“I had a guy nut inside me once, but I just got Plan B and didn’t even tell him.”
That’s how Anna, 25, who only uses the pull-out method, justifies her choice. “I had a guy nut inside me once, but I just got Plan B and didn’t even tell him.”
Another reason withdrawing has gotten so huge: “More and more people don’t want to use other contraceptive methods like the pill because they’re afraid of the side effects, hormones, or having something synthetic in their bodies,” explains ob-gyn Tami Rowen, MD, director of the University of California at San Francisco’s Sexual Health Program. Against her recommendations, she says her patients are gravitating toward more “natural” BC methods, like tracking their fertility via apps and, yes, asking their partners to pull out.
A quick note on pre-cum:
In the seconds before a man orgasms, he will release a few drops of pre-cum from the head of his penis. “While you’re less likely to get pregnant from this fluid, it is absolutely possible,” says Dr. Dweck. There could be one little sperm present in his pre-ejaculate that happens to be a good swimmer. “And it’s difficult for a man to be able to distinguish between a little pre-cum versus the real deal,” says Dr. Dweck. “It’s a fine line.”
Pulling out is a huge gamble
Catherine, 34, decided to go off the pill and started using condoms with her husband on the reg. Then one time—legit just once—they had unprotected sex, and right before he orgasmed, he stopped thrusting and quickly pulled out of her, unloading out in the open. “We did everything right,” Catherine says. They had a daughter nine months later.
Catherine is among the 22 percent of women (that’s about 1 in every 5) who get pregnant while using the pull-out method each year, according to Planned Parenthood. Or as Dr. Dweck explains, “The pull-out method’s realistic efficacy rate is just 80 percent.”
So, yeah, counting on your partner to evacuate at the exact right moment is kind of like assuming Taylor Swift will throw her 4th of July party every year. It might happen...but it also might not. Because if your man’s pre-cum has any working sperm in it or he ejaculates even just a little bit inside you (there are up to 100 million sperm in one of his loads!), then you’re at risk of creating a baby, confirms Dr. Rowen. And if he happens to finish on your vulva, your natural lubrication can actually help his sperm find their way into your vagina, up through your cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes, and into an egg. (PSA: The pull-out method also leaves you susceptible to STIs.)
All of which means you can probs guess what the punch line to that joke is...“Parents.”