Getting Pregnant by Withdrawal

Posted by on Nov 30, 2012 in Birth Control |

There is an old joke about what to call people who use the early withdrawal approach to birth control. The punch line says, “You call them parents.” The joke stems from the high incidence of parenthood among people who have practiced this as their only form of birth control. In truth, however, the failure rate of this method is primarily due to imperfect use, rather than a flaw in the method itself.

The underlying principle behind the withdrawal method is that the man should withdraw his penis from his partner’s vagina before he ejaculates. The semen of ejaculation is the sperm-filled fluid that generally causes conception and pregnancy, so diverting the semen away from the woman’s reproductive organs—ejaculating outside her body—should theoretically help the couple to avoid becoming pregnant.

It should be said up front, for those who sincerely don’t wish to become pregnant, that the withdrawal method is not foolproof. Even perfect practice of the method can result in an accidental pregnancy. One reason for this is that the penis secretes a lubricating fluid while aroused, and that fluid may contain some sperm cells. The lubricant fluid is not usually sperm-filled, but it only takes a single viable sperm cell to cause a pregnancy, and therein lies the main risk to this method.

If a couple wishes to increase the effectiveness of the method, they can choose to combine it with attention to the calendar, avoiding sex entirely during the few days of the month when the woman is ovulating, and therefore most fertile and most likely to become impregnated. Alternatively, they can enjoy unprotected sex during the infertile times of the month, resorting to the practice of withdrawal during the fertile days. For this to be entirely effective, it is important for the woman to be highly aware of her own cycle and fertility. An error of calculation, when the couple is depending on the calendar, will very likely result in pregnancy.

Coming at the issue from another angle, this use of calendar and periodic withdrawal could potentially be used by a woman who wants to get pregnant without her partner’s full knowledge. In most cases, it is the woman who monitors her own cycle, with her male partner trusting her assessments in decreeing which days are fertile or infertile. Suppose for a moment that this couple practices unprotected intercourse during the majority of the month, switching to the withdrawal method during the “dangerous” days of the cycle. In such a case, a woman could choose to be dishonest about which days she is ovulating, letting her partner ejaculate internally on her most fertile days and potentially resulting in a pregnancy.

Given the existing risk of accidental pregnancy even when the withdrawal method is applied correctly, she could potentially do so without her partner catching on to her deception, even after the pregnancy occurs. After all, even a woman with a regular cycle may sometimes deviate slightly in the timing of her period, and particularly if she is not also monitoring cervical mucus and basal body temperature, she could easily claim ignorance and maintain that she believed the intercourse to be “safe.”

For whatever purposes you might wish to employ the withdrawal method, you should be aware of its risks as well as its possibilities. Couples who truly wish to avoid pregnancy might be advised to take more reliable measures, given the possibilities for error inherent in the method itself. And it is possible that a man should take under advisement the potential of deception by a female partner, and watch her cycles closely for himself.