Heather Corinna replies:
I have been with my boyfriend for almost 5 years now and we have even talked about getting married. We recently moved in together and to be honest we are as happy as two little beavers. Except for one thing, we haven’t had sex in over 2 years. It really isn’t a problem, we do other things (oral etc.) but we both would really like to go back to having sex. The problem with that is that my boyfriend is afraid I will get pregnant. Every time that we do anything sexually I have to take sometimes up to an hour with him reassuring him that I cant get pregnant from what we just did.
(Woah's question continued)
Even though I am on the pill and he washes his hands before hand, he almost has a panic attack every time that he fingers me. Also, every time that I feel the least bit icky and say anything about it he makes me promise him over and over that I’m not pregnant. I think that it really started a couple of years ago when I did get pregnant and miscarried but I really can’t pinpoint when his anxiety got to this point. I also have PCOS and I have very strange periods. I have had them that have lasted for four months nonstop and I have went months with out them even with the pill. So that doesn’t help anything.
So, what I am wanting to know is what can I do to make him feel better? What can he do to lessen his extreme fears of me getting pregnant? And what can we do as a couple to help our sex life?
I'm curious as to why, if he wants to keep having intercourse but is so fearful about pregnancy, he hasn't tried backing up with condoms. That's something he can very easily do on his part to prevent pregnancy, and when you combine the pill and condoms, and use both perfectly, pregnancy really, truly is nigh unto impossible. As well, him doing something that is his own contribution to prevention, that he can really play a part in, may make him feel a lot more in control.
Obviously, for men right now, there are not many available choices in contraception on their end: there is vasectomy (which is permanent, and not something for someone who wants to parent someday), withdrawal, condoms and choosing not to have the kinds of sex which can result in pregnancy.
My personal suggestion if he wants to have intercourse, but worries about pregnancy, would be to try using condoms. You can explain to him that when condoms and the pill are combined, even when both are used typically (not perfectly all the time), they are 98.8% effective together at preventing pregnancy.
It might also be helpful for him to get some more education on how pregnancy happens so that it's all less of a mystery. For instance, manual sex does not pose a pregnancy risk, and when we understand how pregnancy really occurs, it's a lot easier to accept that. It may also be of use for him to get a bit better educated about your PCOS, or about the fact that it's thought as many as 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, so they're really very normal and a common part of many women's reproductive lives.
Here is some extra information you might share with him about reproduction, how your pill works, combined methods and a few other educational pieces of the puzzle:
- Where DID I Come From? A Refresher Course in Human Reproduction
- Ready or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist
- Hey, Boyfriend! Male Reproductive Choices
- Combined Oral Contraceptives (The Pill)
- The Buddy System: Effectiveness Rates for Backing Up Your Birth Control With a Second Method
His doctor may also be another great person for him to touch base with if he still has questions.
I'd start setting some limits and boundaries with some of this. If you have to talk him down off a ledge around sexual activities for an hour, what that says to me is that that person is not in a healthy headspace to be having sex, and it'd be a good idea not to choose to have sex with them right now, for everyone's well-being.
I know that that might seem like it doesn't make sense in a long-term relationship, but couples will sometimes have times when for various reasons, one partner simply isn't in the right space to consent or be sexually active, even if they have been before. Sometimes a partner may assure us with their words that they are ready, but their behavior tells a different story. If every incident of sex ends with a huge freakout, that spells "probably not ready" to me, big time.
To set those limits and boundaries, I'd suggest making clear that this kind of intense debriefing -- or his knowing he'll need that and having sex anyway -- probably isn't very healthy or appropriate, and that you two need to find a way to stop with that. Halting that might mean taking a break from all sex for a bit while he identifies the root of this and does some work of his own around it, it might mean adding extra safety precautions that make him feel better, or it might mean only choosing activities for now which he does feel safe and secure about.
I might also take a look at your overall relationship dynamics and see if perhaps this habit you two have gotten into is about him just needing extra care or attention: plenty of us have some post-sex worries about risks, but often we manage it alone in our own heads, or by talking with people besides just our sexual partner, like friends or a counselor. Learning how to talk ourselves down from worries -- especially when we know they're not rational -- is a pretty important part of our own autonomy. That doesn't mean leaning on the people who support us for help is a bad thing, it's not, but if we're not also doing it for ourselves, that's not so workable for us as adults.
However, if he feels anxiety around more than this issue, or his anxiety around this is really this extreme, he may need some care for his anxiety in general, care you're probably not qualified to provide.
Anxiety sometimes isn't rational: when someone has an anxiety disorder, managing that anxiety doesn't tend to be simply handled by just addressing any given thing that triggers anxiety. He may find he feels a lot better about this and other areas of his life where he suffers from anxiety if he seeks out treatment for the anxiety itself from a healthcare provider.