Objectives The determinants of the use of withdrawal in Turkey are examined using a multinomial logistic model. Methods Data were drawn from a nation-wide population-based cross-sectional study, the Turkish Demographic Health Surveys that took place in 1998 and 2003. Detailed interviews were conducted with 8576 women aged 15-49 and analysed using SPSS. Results Contextual, cultural and demographic characteristics define women's choice of withdrawal over modern methods. Socio-economic status, education, employment status, and past fertility behaviour are among key determinants. First-ever used contraception method has a very strong impact on later choices. Urban women, the more educated, those with better socioeconomic status, and those living in less crowded households resort less to withdrawal. Experience and empowerment positively linked to modern contraceptive use among women in Turkey. Conclusions The use of contraceptive methods in Turkey differs greatly. Empowerment of women in terms of better socioeconomic status, better education, modern and liberal attitudes towards women and family planning seem to reduce withdrawal use as the main method of contraception. The results suggest the need for education (particularly targeting young women and couples), information and provision of modern contraceptive services particularly for disadvantaged groups.