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Coitus Interruptus Erroneous: Would You Believe That Pulling Out Actually Works?

Withdrawal is one of the oldest forms of birth control. Yet, our gender biases -- along with some very bad science -- have made it taboo.

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But misinformation, even when it's spread around for everyone's own good, rarely ends up doing any, especially when it's tangled up with tired stereotypes.

Take for instance, the oft-repeated trope that men just can't be trusted to pull out. Jones, of the Guttmacher study, acknowledges that this is one reason withdrawal has such a bad name. She says, bluntly, "I think it's perpetuated by this idea that men are really sexual and all they want to do is have an orgasm, and you can't trust them to pay attention." In other words, boys will boys.

The same maxim has been used to justify a laundry list of societal ills, from binge drinking to sexual assault. This is not to say that all men can and should be trusted to pull out in time. But what if we actually expected them to? Assuming that all men have the control of boys is especially frustrating when, as Jones points out, "...a lot of women trust their male partners."

The cave-man theory has been a recurring theme in literature about withdrawal from the 1800's into the present, and the reason for its pervasiveness is one that even historians have a hard time putting their fingers on. "If I could answer that question I could be president of the world," says historian John D'Emilio, professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. "...When you are writing and researching the history of sexuality it always seems that it's women's sexuality that keeps getting constructed and reconstructed and the model of male sexuality is always the same, that it's just this force waiting to be released."

If men are carefree boys, releasing their force wherever they please, where does that leave women? With a lot of responsibility. D'Emilio points out that after the pill arrived on the scene, "...using something that depends on the guy when you can use something that depends on you really gives withdrawal a bad name." He's right. The burden of not getting knocked up, even today, rests mostly on the one whose getting fertilized. Add this to the belief that pulling out doesn't work and you've got a quick and easy recipe for guilt. In Jone's study, interviewees who use withdrawal nearly ooze contrition. One female who says she uses the method amends her admission with, "...Which I know is, like, the worst thing." Jones explains the apologetic, embarrassed tone this way: "We're told 'If you don't want to get pregnant, you have to use an effective method.' People think it doesn't do any good so they're kind of embarrassed...on one hand they're acknowledging that 'I don't want to get pregnant and I'm relying on this ineffective method that's kind of irresponsible of me'."

In light of the stigma attached to pulling out, why does anyone even bother? "They don't have condoms on hand all the time," surmises Jones, "A lot of women don't like hormonal contraception or can't take it...or they don't like the side-effects, or they have problems trying to take the pill every day or going in to get their ring or their patch prescription refilled." Some people also use the pull out method because they don't have access to other kinds of birth control or for religious reasons. Also, as Jones points out, "A lot of females don't like condoms; a lot of men don't like condoms." And therein lies the rub. Combine the burden of not getting pregnant (irresponsible!) with the suspicion that a woman is using the pull out method because it feels good (slutty!) and you may have uncovered one of the reasons we still tell everyone that withdrawal doesn't work. Instead of absorbing "beneficial prostatic fluids," now women just absorb shame.