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Sexual Implications of Pregnancy Anxiety

Ways people’s sexual behaviors may change in light of undoing Roe v. Wade.

Key points

  • The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has important implications for sexual relationships.
  • Pregnancy anxiety can be disruptive to people’s sex lives in many ways.
  • People may be motivated to explore more creative sex like oral, anal, and same-sex relationships as the risks of pregnancy intensify.

Pregnancy anxiety can be a real issue for sexually active folks. Even before the recent political developments repealing Roe, people of all sexes spoke in my therapy room about pregnancy anxiety negatively impacting their sex lives. For example, some report that it inhibits their libido. This isn’t surprising, as anxiety can easily trump sexual desire, leaving people focused on their worries rather than enjoying physical pleasure. Pregnancy anxiety can be so severe that even with a woman’s conscious interest in having sex, it can result in the unconscious tightening of her pelvic floor muscles, making penetrative sex impossible. In these ways, pregnancy anxiety can contribute to sexless relationships. Similarly, some men describe that while they can maintain an erection, pregnancy anxiety prevents them from ejaculating inside their partner. For some, it is a motivation for vasectomies.

Source: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Even without the conscious awareness of pregnancy anxiety, the repeal of Roe may be a prime motivator for folks to modify and/or diversify their sexual practices. Interestingly, cultural trends suggest that for the last several decades, people are already having less sex. People are also dating and socializing less than in years past, all while spending more time with their devices. The #MeToo movement and our increasing awareness of the critical importance of sexual consent have highlighted how dangerous sex can be, which can also impact people’s interest in connecting sexually. All this is happening as technology advances, bringing more stimulating and creative solo sexual opportunities to people’s bedrooms. In some ways, sex tech is already more stimulating than human partners.

But of course, intimacy with a human partner remains the ideal. Nonetheless, it would seem logical that the repeal of Roe will cause many, at least in red states, to re-think the benefits of penile-vaginal intercourse. Of course, most of these people already manage the risk of pregnancy with birth control if they are concerned about fertility. Yet this added element of risk means that, if birth control fails, a woman loses the ability to control her body and her future. As such, Roe will likely motivate people to identify alternative paths of sexual satisfaction, whether or not they are consciously aware of pregnancy anxiety.

It would thus make sense that in many states, people’s sex lives will become increasingly creative and less traditional. Unlike when abortion was illegal 50 years ago, people today have many more options for interesting and powerful sexual experiences that don’t require penile-vaginal penetration. Porn has offered a type of sex education that was unavailable to most people decades ago. It has normalized a variety of sex practices that historically weren’t a part of public discourse. Today’s post-Roe lovers will likely take advantage of this relatively new knowledge.

The most obvious stand-ins for penile-vaginal sex are probably oral and anal sex. These are already tried and true intercourse substitutes for people wishing to engage in heavy sex play while considering themselves a virgin and/or avoiding the risk of pregnancy. These practices aren’t without their own risks, however. For example, the rise in oral sex correlates with a simultaneous rise in oral cancers due to HPV infections.

Furthermore, research suggests that people are engaging in more creative sex practices, including more same-sex play. This option may become even more attractive as it allows for intimate contact without the risk of pregnancy or the possibility of being pressured to have penile-vaginal penetration.

Finally, folks may opt for the ease and convenience of perhaps the ultimate in risk-free sex, masturbation. Particularly as sex tech offers innovative and increasingly powerful solo-sex experiences, the ease, efficiency, and pleasure of self-gratification may become that much more appealing.

In sum, it is possible that the added risks of pregnancy in some states will result in folks reporting increased pregnancy anxiety. As such, many people’s sex lives may become increasingly resourceful and innovative as they seek sexual experiences void of pregnancy risk. Sex happens in a context. Stay tuned as we determine how recent political developments impact the future of intimacy.