The ‘pull-out’ generation: Young people tell us why they’re doing sex differently.

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In a day and age where choices are overwhelming and options are abundant, it might strike you as strange that a growing number of young people are opting to forego birth control.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Monash University, 12.5 per cent of Australian women are now using the withdrawal method as their primary method of contraception. Meanwhile, a recent US study shows that 18.8 per cent of unmarried men are doing the same. And while that may not seem astronomical, these numbers have almost doubled in 10 years.

So why is it that an outdated, scientifically-proven ineffective method of birth control is so on the rise? How did we create, as feminist writer Ann Friedman refers to it, the pull-out generation?

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Study after study has found that the withdrawal method has only a 75 per cent success rate, and that’s when used perfectly; something that can be near impossible to know in the moments during and after sex.

“My GP gives me a lecture every time I see her,” 25-year-old Alice* says. “But for all the fear of God talk, I’ve been using the method with my boyfriend successfully for five years and we’ve never had any serious pregnancies scares.”

pull out method success rate
Around 12.5 per cent of women are shunning secure contraception options in favour of the pull-out method. Source: Getty.

28-year-old Danielle* has been using the withdrawal method and a period tracking app for two years and agrees.

"Don't get me wrong, I know it's a bit of a joke. But I grew up in a household with a staunch feminist mother who schooled me and my siblings in our right to choose when and who we have children with and the benefits of going on the pill. I know all the facts and have seen all the figures. But after years of it all being on my shoulders, there's something weirdly liberating about telling my sexual partner that no, you can't come in me. You don't get that luxury without a consequence, either. Of course, I'd never tell my mum that."

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For 24-year-old Helen*, who was on the pill for six years before she moved to the withdrawal method, it's about something else entirely.

"I just don't like the idea of all those synthetic hormones in my system, plain and simple," she says. When asked if she's ever taken the morning after pill, she says she has, several times.

For Nama*, a 29-year-old who has been successfully using the withdrawal method for the past four years, the story is somewhat different.

"I tried going on the pill three times since I was 17, and every time it ended in either heavier periods, insane mood swings that saw me sobbing or screaming for no reason, or nausea that would last all day long. Eventually, my boyfriend and I had a discussion about it and decided I would go off it and we would use condoms instead, but within a couple of months, we were unintentionally using the withdrawal method every time we had sex."

Listen: Mia Freedman talks about the joys (and slight discomfort) of getting an IUD fitted. Post continues... 

Six months ago, Nama fell pregnant and opted to have an abortion, something she says she still feels "uncomfortable and a bit sad about", but despite that, still continues to use the withdrawal method.

"I'm just not willing to go back on the pill and experience all of those side effects again. But then, falling pregnant again is my worst nightmare; it's a horrible experience to go through when you're not ready."

For Melbourne gynaecologist and a founding member of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, Dr Elizabeth Farrell, the rising figures are not only concerning, but also frustrating. Because the other issue in this growing riddle is the demographic of women opting to use the withdrawal method: middle and upper-class millennials who are educated, live in metropolitan areas and have the financial means and access to other forms of contraception.

"It's such a poor technique for contraception. We've worked so hard to develop modern contraceptives and now we're going back to this," Farrell says.

"If you speak to women from the 1950s, before the pill, it's a completely different story. They were using those because there was nothing else. This seems like the luxury of modern living where women can say they don't want to do that [use regular contraception] and have those chemicals in their body because they've never actually known about the fear of unplanned pregnancies.

When discussing the complaint that many women now seem to have - putting synthetic hormones into their body for years or even decades of their lives - Farrell says largely, that argument simply doesn't hold up.

"If she's not using contraception but has a scare and relied on the morning after pill, what's the difference? If she didn't have that, what would she have done? She would have had to use modern technology to treat the unplanned pregnancy because she wants to use a natural method," she says.

pull out method success rate
Get on board, people. Source: istock.

Farrell says the issue is really about responsibility and ensuring you make a conscious choice.

"But if you're going to then require an abortion or use the morning after pill or have a medical termination then the issues really are about where are your priorities? Is this about a principle rather than practicality?" she asks.

"If people choose to use withdrawal they have to be very aware that it's a choice. But don't use the excuse that you don't want hormones in your body, because more often than not those same women will want the ability to use modern medicine if something happens."

Any readers seeking information about contraception are urged to speak to their GP.

* Names have been changed. 

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