Condom conundrum

My girlfriend is afraid of birth control but I can't enjoy sex with a rubber. What should we do?

Published November 3, 2003 6:21PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

My girlfriend of a few months and I have been having a great relationship so far. She's smart and pretty, and I think our relationship is really going places. Of course, there is a problem. She is afraid of birth control. She thinks that it will lower her chances of getting pregnant. So, the obvious solution here is for me to wear a condom, right? Except I cannot get off while in a condom.

This issue is causing problems for both of us. I am sexually frustrated and humiliated. I have sex in a condom but go limp before too long. She too is feeling sexually frustrated and humiliated. A lot of the times I cannot remain hard long enough for her to reach climax, and she hates that she cannot get me off during sex. Some friends have suggested that we have sex with just spermicide, but neither of us feels that is safe enough. We have both been tested and shown each other our test scores, so the only consideration here seems to be to prevent against pregnancy now, protect emotional feelings, and provide sexual satisfaction somewhere along the way. Think you can help?

Wishing We Both Could Get Off

Dear Wishing,

If someone has told her that using birth control will keep her from getting pregnant later, I think she was misinformed. It is my understanding, as explained here, that birth control pills, for one, rather than decreasing a woman's chance of having children, actually do the opposite. As it says in this PDF file, "Some contraceptives, such as birth control pills and condoms, actually have a protective effect on fertility" -- condoms because they reduce the chance of getting an STD that can cause infertility, and birth control pills because of various ways in which they tend to protect a woman's reproductive health. "Surprisingly," says this publication from the American Infertility Association, "one way to preserve your ability to get pregnant in the future is to actively prevent pregnancy now."

But in a larger sense, yours is the age-old dilemma -- how to have good sex and not get pregnant. And upon whose body lies the burden of prevention? Why should the woman, and not the man, be responsible for preventing pregnancy? So I would urge you to experiment with different kinds of condoms, and practice putting them on until you can do it in your sleep, until you don't notice it, until it becomes second nature. At the same time, she needs to get the latest solid medical information from her doctor about all the factors that can affect her ability to have children when the time comes.

In a strictly mathematical sense, of course, you have only a finite number of chances to become pregnant and therefore each time you have sex and do not become pregnant the number of chances you have decreases. From your first encounter in a spare bedroom while the parents are visiting relatives in Cleveland, you start running out of chances. By the time you are 40 if you're still using birth control, your chances of becoming pregnant have markedly decreased. But that's not the biological effect of using birth control; that's a combination of your depletion of that abstract but finite number of opportunities, and your increasing age, during which each act of intercourse becomes increasingly less likely to result in pregnancy.

So come on. Stop fidgeting. Get the facts. Then slip that thing on and get down.

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