Pulling power: Using the Withdrawal Method as a Form of 'Contraception'

Hadley Freeman's recent Guardian piece about the decline in contraceptive use amongst young women got us wanting to hear tales from the horse's mouth. Here, one woman confesses all about her continued reliance on him pulling out...Oh, and N.B, just in case we're not clear: THIS IS NOT RECOMMENDED BY THE NHS AS AN EFFECTIVE MEANS OF CONTRACEPTION

When I first started having sex I was a religious contraceptive pill taker. Like starting your period, for me it was something that I knew you were supposed to be all ‘oh it’s such a drag’ about, but secretly couldn’t wait to start because – woohoo! I. AM. WOMAN. And – even better – one that’s having sex. 

My first boyfriend was a self-involved, jealous, ‘I only cheated because my antidepressants had a funny effect on me’ type of chap, and I loved him dearly. But after two years passed and a little self-esteem built up, I stopped taking the pill. If he wanted to have sex (which I would have happily done without) he could get the condoms. This was begrudgingly undertaken, but not without letting me know I’d put a dampener on things. Eventually I managed to lose him, but ‘condoms-as-sex-spoilers’ stayed put.

A year later, I was still hung up on my first love. So I had a firm word with myself: Get. Laid. Now.

A boy eventually came on the scene and after a far too vague, ‘yeah I’m STD-free’ assurance, I start ed taking the pill. But I noticed something almost immediately: I felt constantly angry. 'Is it because he’s a bit of a knob, or is it the pill?' I wondered. 'Hang on, is that why I was an emotionally unstable and uncharacteristically short-tempered person during most of my first relationship?' I couldn't decide, so I stopped. 

The boy in question wasn’t overly supportive of my decision. In fact, on introducing a condom next time we have sex, he helpfully murmured ‘you’re ruining it’. And – I know – walking out should have been the only conceivable reaction. But my inner ‘oh god, he thinks I’m crap in bed... and probably fat’ voice won, and ‘pulling out’, as a tactic, began in earnest. And I loathed myself a bit. Thankfully it didn’t last. Some more self-esteem amassed, an STI test was booked and a boy was dumped. 

Fast-forward a few years, past some more shit boys and stupid risks, and I finally bed someone that’s actually nice. Five years on, I'm still bedding him. But while the relationship has been sturdy, contraception has still been…less so.

At first, I went on the pill. But then, a year or so later, I started to ask myself 'why should I?' I hate constantly questioning whether my angry, anxious bouts are ‘just me’ or are added-hormone-induced. My friend’s 32-year-old stepmum has had a stroke and ‘long-term pill taking’ has been thrown around, and we’ve been having a bit of dry spell lately – could it destroying my lovely libido? I'm fed up of wondering. 

'From now on,' I told my boyfriend, 'we will use condoms. And ‘wholeheartedly agreeing’ but still waiting for me to instigate it isn’t enough: You are now in charge of contraception.'

The next time we had sex, sure enough, a condom was used. And it split. So, off I go to the chemist where I’m interrogated by a boy younger than me who insists on calling it 'The Incident,' given the morning after pill and charged £30 for the pleasure. That night at a party (where I remain sober, as instructed) a pleasant side effect kicked in: my bowels seemed to be telling me that they're keen to explode. And they did. I spent most of the night in the loo, listening for ‘quiet gaps’, during I can sneak out unnoticed.

And so, pulling out creeps back in.

Soon after, we’re with my boyfriend’s brother who’s about to be married. He tells us, nonchalantly, that at one of the Catholic ‘marriage classes’ he’s attended, a doctor stated that the rhythm method was the most effective. 

‘YYYYYYYEEEEEEEESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!’ my inner self screamed, ‘Validation!’ It’s almost as reassuring as when I heard smoking was fine if you gave up before 30. 

But just as back then my more sensible conscience whispered: ‘Um… I’m not sure you’re meant to take that as active encouragement to smoke…' again, she piped up: ‘….Really? I doubt Nan was one of 11 kids because her dad used cond-‘

‘SHUT UP!!’ louder me cried. ‘A doctor said it for Christ’s sake, a doctor! Who are you to question him?’ 

And so, it has continued.

I know there are other methods, but I’m not really sold. A few years ago, a friend failed to reply to my text within her usual 20-second timeframe, so I called her. 

‘Helllllooooo?!’ I enquired. 

‘Hello.’ A tiny voice said back. 

‘What’s wrong?’

‘Just had the coil put in,’ she said quietly. ‘Am in so… much… pain.’

What followed were periods so severe that she could only describe them as ‘blood clotting its way out of her’. It took over a year for her to pluck up the courage to have it removed. I still envisage it as a kind of rusty wire spring gouged into her womb.

Another pal found herself in the situation where a manfriend was visiting for just two weeks, and he really wasn’t ‘getting on’ with condoms. Needing something immediate, she went to the clinic and asked for a diaphragm. The nurse was bewildered at such an un-British request and pointed out that actually, it’s not a very effective contraceptive method and the only reason its big in the US is that their litigious culture makes dolling out the pill too risky for doctors. But even without that, I’ve seen the Sex And The City where it gets stuck. 

I guess it’s important to note here that, at 28 and in a long-term relationship, pregnancy does not completely fill me with fear. Don’t get me wrong, on a not-very-good wage and living in a 1-bed flat, a baby really isn’t something I’m secretly hoping for. But I know that, if I felt I were running the risk of undergoing an abortion every time I had sex, Sensible Subconscious voice would get her way. (Although I have just got a prescription for less-hormonal pill, so I do listen to her sometimes).

But I’ve definitely used ‘pulling out’ before this was the case and I’m suitably ashamed that I took such massive risks. But also, actually, I feel really sad for my insecure younger self, who was so easily persuaded by boys that there was either safe sex or good sex.

- CC