Hey, kittens. It’s #TBT and time for a vintage column. This one originally ran in July of 2009 and has been updated.
Questions to the Sexpert:
“You posted a link to a story about how pulling out is just as effective as condoms. This has got to be wrong. What was the point of all the sex education I’ve had my whole life? Did you read the study? Were there errors in it? And isn’t this dangerous? Won’t this convince kids to stop using condoms?”
If you got sex ed at all in America: congrats and thanks to your PE teacher. But you still probably didn’t get comprehensive, scientifically accurate training about sex. You probably got Scare Tactics 101, best exemplified in the film Mean Girls:
You probably were shown images of herpes sores on a person who hasn’t received health care or adequate housing in decades and were told “These are the consequences of sex without condoms.”
The reality is that unprotected sex doesn’t just make an STI appear from thin air. And conception, while still a gamble, is far more predictable than most things. So while it’s not “safe” to have barrier-free sex, it is a thing that can be done and done effectively.
And yes, I read the original study and it’s not some trick methodology error or misrepresentation of the findings. Humans have known for ages that coitus interruptus, aka “pulling out,” aka withdrawal, aka the Hope Method isn’t really as bad as it often is mocked to be. The Oneida Community, a communist religious group in the 19th century controlled population using only this method and were damn successful at it.
Pre-cum DOES NOT contain sperm, only ejaculate does. But withdrawal can still fail because a) the penis-owner messes up the timing (the MAJOR reason) or b)he ejaculated recently and there are still bullets in the chamber.
It is my responsibility to tell you this. The difference between an educator and an ideologue (like the people behind abstinence-only education) is that I don’t think I know better than you about how you should live your life. I want to give you the facts so you can make your own damn decisions since you’re the one who faces the consequences.
This truth is also not meant to be taken as a free pass to barrier-less sex. In no way does this change the rates of sexually transmitted infections and in no part am I suggesting that withdrawal will protect you from herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis, HPV, cooties or any other infection. And you can probably throw a rock into a crowd and hit a person for whom the pull out method has failed- because with imperfect use, it will fail.
This information has a specific intended audience for whom it is applicable: adults who know their STI status and who cannot or chose not to use other methods of birth control. This is NOT for teens who can’t possibly be expected to get the timing down. This is NOT for people who have casual partners whose STI status is unknown. This is NOT the only alternative if you are allergic to latex.
In the quest to have the scientific truth we sometimes encounter things that cause anxiety, possibly because we’re afraid of what people will do with the information. This is the reason some folks still fear the Gardasil vaccine: they think it’ll encourage teen girls to go around fucking like maniacs, assuming they’re bullet-proof. But it was also the reason that a woman threatened to pull six figure donations from my alma mater after I answered a question about the menstrual cycle. And, of course, it was also why church folk didn’t want Galileo to get word out about the whole earth-revolving-around-the-sun situation.
So here’s the deal: if you are in a committed sexually-exclusive relationship where STI transmission is unlikely and you have a good understanding of your bodies, pulling out might be a completely valid option. I recommend a back-up if you don’t want to get pregnant: IUDs, other forms of hormonal contraception, etc. But the truth is that intercourse without ejaculation in or around a vagina is not likely to result in pregnancy. What do you with that is up to you.