Q. I was raised in a religious home where sex before marriage just wasn’t a thing and I was happy with waiting. Now, though, my personal philosophy has changed enough that I don’t have an issue with having sex, and kind of want to engage with the dating world while I’m still young (26).
But when I was offered a hookup recently, I got a little anxious and backed out quickly. I really fear getting pregnant, and all the research I’ve read says that no matter what combination of birth control you take, there’s always the potential (maybe 1 to 10 percent chance) of getting pregnant, which for me would be terrible. I would not get an abortion.
I don’t know; I guess the question I want to ask is ... how do I get over this particular mental hurdle? Should I even do so? Thanks.
A. First, talk to a medical doctor — an OBGYN if you can. They know the real risk here. One to 10 percent is a big range. Different forms of birth control get you closer to zero.
Basically, don’t make up math. Have an expert tell you what works — and also what you can ask of your partners.
Second, know that you can have physical intimacy without engaging in the kind of sex that can result in pregnancy. I’m not sure if you’ve already engaged in other activities with partners, but it’s not all or nothing — and there’s actually a lot of “all” that doesn’t involve the one thing giving you anxiety.
If you talk to a doctor and it’s still a big stress — if your brain is focused on the small percent chance of pregnancy that might come with some IUDs, for instance — don’t cut yourself off from dating. You are young and you should pursue what you want, in any way that feels safe to you. The right people for you will understand. You can figure it out, step by step, as you move along.
Good luck — and go ask some questions.
It’s a really big leap to go from no sex before marriage to casual hookups with people you barely know. Why not focus on meeting people, having fun, and looking for someone you trust, care about, and have an ongoing relationship with? That’s a better context for premarital sex.
Like Mere said, there are lots of activities that are less risky. Start with those and work your way up as you get more comfortable.
Take a step back and ask yourself if this is only about pregnancy. If pregnancy is the only issue, take Meredith’s advice and consult a doctor. If this is also about pushing back against a part of your upbringing, see if you can talk to a trusted friend or counselor about untangling your feelings about the two issues.
If it doesn’t feel like the right time, there’s no shame in hitting the brakes. Ultimately, you alone have to live with the decisions you make.
I think you’ve gone from one extreme to another in your philosophy. The dating world should not necessarily involve having sex with any guy who “offers” it to you. I think it would be good if you only had sex with someone with a potential to offer you more eventually, such as security and commitment and common goals for a relationship. When you find such a person, it might come naturally for you both to have sex, even if you are not yet engaged or married. And if you’re unsure what the guy will offer besides sex, I agree with Meredith that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, as long as you make your boundaries very clear to a guy.
I would encourage you to explore groups or counseling with someone who specializes in intimacy after growing up in a very religious household; there are aspects to this that are unique to your experience. I think it will be very enlightening.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to email@example.com. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.