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Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Great Pregnancy Panic

Nope - before you ask, I'm not up the stick, nor am I currently worried about it. :P

I've heard from two separate people in the one week about how paranoid they are of pregnancy. Both are sex-positive, both supposedly well educated on sex and contraception. Hell, neither were sexually active, and even describing the scenarios it was obvious that there was no real risk of it.

It may seem comical to an outsider, but I can relate, having had similar, completely nonsensical late period panics (and by nonsensical, I mean 'have only just realised that boys aren't smelly antagonists). And they wear you out. I could probably count more people than I have fingers who I know have had the same worries. So why, with the massive shift that's taken place in attitudes to sex over the past century, do we still have this panic?

When I first got 'the talk' from my mum, she stressed how important it was to use both a barrier and a hormonal contraceptive method, saying how condoms can slip or break (protip: this doesn't happen if you put them on correctly). In sex ed at school, I was warned about all the STDs I could get through sex, and shown terrifying pictures that could probably have put you off sex for life. And on top of that, all media was telling me what fuck ups people who had the misfortune to have an accidental pregnancy or catch an STD are. As a result, the real question is 'why wouldn't I be terrified of sex?'.

We haven't changed enough in western society. Whilst we've relaxed our grip on how sexuality is expressed, we still have a lot of hang ups as a society about sex, and as a result we aren't educating minors properly about it. My sex education, though world class when compared to the abstinence approach of many schools in America, was quite frankly terrible. In my last sex ed class, I was essentially told "weeell, you don't have to wait for 'the one'... but it's absolutely the better thing to do". I was never told about the actual mechanics of sex, or to ask for consent, or what actually posed a pregnancy risk. I was never told where my fucking clitoris was, for christ's sake. At the same time, sex is treated as a integral part of life in popular culture and you're a prude if you don't have it. It's a thin line we are expecting people to walk, balancing the social desirability of sex with the stigma of when unintended consequences arise. Cliff over at The Pervocracy outlines it very well -

 'God we fuck up teenagers' heads.  We tell them that biological conditions are moral punishments and then we get all shocked when they don't practice rational risk management of biological conditions.  We teach them "sex is super desirable and all the cool kids do it, and it's hideously shameful and will destroy your life" and we wonder why they act an eensy bit neurotic about it.'

Pregnancy itself (and STDs too) is a scary thing, if you didn't plan it. Your body is being taken over by another force, changing beyond your control and betraying you. Why would you want to heap more blame on people for an accidental mistake? Assuming you are a normal person who doesn't believe that HIV is god's punishment on sodomites or that it's tough luck for teenage pregnancies, you're probably wondering what can we do to break this system, and there are answers - 
  • Increase access and awareness of different contraception types. Both of the people mentioned above didn't take the pill for various reasons ('fucking up my hormones' being a common one), but there are so many different contraceptive methods that are possible. This list by Scarleteen details all the options available, and helps you decide what suits you.
  • Educate on actual pregnancy risks. Again, Scarleteen has a list of all the comparable risks associated with different sexual activities. 
  • Remove stigma of STIs and accidental pregnancy, and their testing. Even with education accidents are going to happen - so stop showing the horror stories and photos, for Christ's sake, because there is no way when teenagers first become sexually active they will recognize what STIs actually look like, and they will be too embarrassed to seek medical help if they do.
  • Improve access to abortion. I understand some religious readers might disagree with this on principle, but an abortion is never something a woman wants to get. If we stop shaming people who need abortions (which includes medically necessary ones, fyi!) we will reduce the terror experienced by teenagers when they or their partner's period is a few days off. 
  • Stop telling all the 'I didn't know I was pregnant until I gave birth' stories. Seriously. That isn't going to help anyone frantically looking up stuff on the web.

Sex is fun. My mum only mentioned this as an afterthought when she saw how horrified I was after she first warned me about the risks. Maybe if we stopped making sex such a big deal, we could actually just get on with enjoying it, aware and safe.


P.s. Looking back over this post, it actually turned out far more like Cliff Pervocracy's post on the same subject than I would have intended or have hoped for, so apologies for the accidental cross over.


  1. I want to applaud you on this blog post! We DO talk too little about sex and everything that has to do with it and we DO make a taboo out of accidental pregnancies and STDs and I'd add that most healthcare systems act ridiculously when it comes to contraceptives. They should be free, full stop. I remember being a teenie and buying condoms used to be an investion, especially at the end of the month when money was running short. My parents paid my pill but I never asked for condoms because we are making such a huge deal out of sex. They probably would have paid, they also paid my copper intrauterine device last year because I had problems with the pill. I just never asked. I was an idiot.

    I really think this topic should be discussed more frequently, thanks for bringing it up!

    1. Thank you! I'm always worried about posting about topics like this, as I know most of my followers are here for more goth related things. But it's an important thing to loosen up about!

      I have no idea what it's like over on the continent - we are very british about sex and don't talk about it (and in the media are terrible for encouraging the neurosis we have about sex and sexual health), but we do have free prescription contraceptives. I didn't realise that it was different over in Germany, but I fully agree that sexual healthcare should be free (particularly as a student, a stereotypically sexually active -and poor - group, as cost would have put me off hormonal contraceptives).

      It's good that your parents did help you with healthcare; mine were very pro-safe sex, but similarly I didn't want to tell my parents when I was on the pill.

      Thank you - I fully agree! :)

  2. Rather than concerns about it being 'taboo' and socially frowned upon, I'd be more worried about an accidental pregnancy in terms of emotional, physical and financial stress...

    1. I did bring this up - there's nothing that can really be done about that other than ensure proper emotional support from family and friends and have access to medical/financial support. Whilst accidental pregnancy is terrifying, my real point was that heaping blame and stigma on it is just going to make it worse.

  3. You would have loved the sex ed I got during middle and high school then xD They taught us about the way our bodies work, how the female and male reproductive system work (+ what everything is called down under and where it's located), how you get pregnant, what you can do to prevent it. They even had us practice putting on a condom, by letting us put a condom on a banana. No scary videos or pictures.

    1. Yes, I have heard that the sex ed in the Netherlands and Scandanavia/Northern Europe is far better - I have a suspicion that it's better in public schools here, but regardless there's a culture that needs changed.


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