Get Real! The Luck (or Not) of the Draw

Heather Corinna

Using withdrawal may have sometimes protected you, but you've been lucky -- and at risk for a sexually transmitted infection.

lisasucks asks:

I’m 19
and my boyfriend is 28. We’ve been having sex for a year now and we
have not been very careful at all. We never use condoms! It’s weird
though cause I have not gotten pregnant. He usually doesn’t ejaculate
in me LOL but still. . . . I always joke and tell him he’s sterile but
now I’m really thinking he is. Since I haven’t gotten pregnant does
this mean there is something wrong with my boyfriend or me? Or does it
just mean I’m lucky?

Heather replies:

If
you are not looking to become pregnant, then chances are good you have
just been very lucky so far. Generally, in one year of sex without any
method of birth control, around 80 – 90% of young women will become
pregnant. So, for now, it seems you’ve been that 10 – 20% of women who
haven’t…so far.

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However, it doesn’t sound like you haven’t actually been using NO
method at all, you’ve been using withdrawal, just not consistently.
According to sound sources like Contraceptive Technology and
Planned Parenthood, used perfectly, withdrawal is around 96% effective,
but in typical use (the way most people use methods), it’s one of the
two least effective methods there are: it’s only around 73% effective
with typical use.

You also may or may not have gotten lucky when it comes to sexually
transmitted infections, which you are just as much at risk of as you
are of pregnancy, and which withdrawal doesn’t offer you protection
from. I say you may or may not have because I don’t know if you (or he)
have gotten screened for sexually transmitted infections during your
relationship. Most often, STIs are asymptomatic: in other words, a
person who has one, will not see or find obvious symptoms on their own
without a healthcare professional and tests. If neither of you haven
gotten tested, you may be sitting with an infection you don’t even know
you have while you’re reading this.

Personally, I don’t really think STIs or unwanted pregnancies are LOL. I’m more inclined to file them in the OMFG department.

Most people’s experiences with them are that they’re not funny at
all, but instead, that they are anything from very unamusing to
seriously devastating. I have to say, I also don’t think gambling with
things that could have a pretty huge impact on your life and health —
and for you, most of those risks are far higher and more serious than
they are for him — are funny. I don’t find male partners who are
cavalier about putting female partners at risk of unwanted pregnancy
(and for your information, older male partners often are found to do
this more often than same-age partners are) at all amusing or cute or
funny. On a good day, I find them intensely irritating. On a bad day, I
can only find myself fuming incoherently or come up with words for them
I try not to use here at Scarleteen.

One never wants to just presume a partner to be free of STIs or
infertile, or find out if they are by experimenting with your own body,
especially if you don’t want or are not ready to discover that they are
neither of those things the hard way. The sound way to find out if a
person is infertile or not is through testing, not by risking a
consequence you or they don’t want or are not ready to deal with. As
well, know that male infertility is less common than female
infertility. It also stands to mention that with female infertility,
pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
is one of the leading causes of infertility, and PID usually results
from an untreated sexually transmitted infection. So, if you care about
your own fertility, as well as your own general health, gambling with
STIs isn’t wise.

Here’s what I would ask you to ask of yourself: do you want to become pregnant right now? Additionally, do you want a sexually transmitted infection?

If not, then it’s time to seriously change your habits with sex,
pronto. What that means if you want protection from both is absolutely
using condoms for any oral, vaginal or anal sex, every single time you
do any of those things, from start to finish. That also means both of
you getting tested for all STIs regularly, and treated if either of you
has any STIs. Obviously, that also means choosing to be with a partner
(and being this kind of partner yourself) who takes and treats these
risks seriously. If you use female condoms, you don’t have to have a
partner’s cooperation with condom use: if you use male ones, you
obviously do. After six months of safer sex practices and tests which
show both of you clear of infections, and you’re both staying only with
each other as partners, if you both want to go without condoms then —
if you still want to prevent pregnancy — you can use another method of
birth control, such as oral contraceptives (the pill), cervical
barriers, an IUD, whatever you prefer. You also have the option of
using BOTH condoms and another method from here on out to up your
protection, or if you want to stay with this guy, but he just refuses
to use a condom. Suffice it to say, you also have the option of
choosing partners who take the risks of sex a lot more seriously.

My personal advice is also that no matter what type of barriers you
use or want to use, you choose partners who are on-board with safer sex
and with having a strong investment in the health of both of you, both
for your psychical health as well as to help have sexual relationships
of real quality. Obviously, partners who won’t cooperate with safer sex
and reliable birth control — or who enable their partners who are also
resistant to being safe — present health risks, and also risks of just
winding up in a spot we don’t want to be in when it comes to a
pregnancy or an STI. But partners who won’t cooperate with these
practices also can often tend to be partners who aren’t such great
partners in other respects, either. And a partner who can’t deal with
the responsibilities sex requires is probably not going to do so well
dealing with the far more complex and demanding responsibilities being
a parent requires.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that dismissing our health and
well-being with this stuff tends to often show up a dynamic we might
have in other areas of a relationship. A partner who won’t be a
supportive partner in contraception may also not be a supportive
partner when it comes to our life goals, to having a sex life that
involves real mutuality, to working through conflicts together like
grownups, to being responsible in other areas.

My personal rule for myself when it comes to sexual partners who
won’t practice safer sex or who are strongly resistant to managing
safer sex or contraception is to throw that fish back. I don’t know
about you, but I know that for myself, while sex is certainly fun, I
can’t have a whole lot of fun with someone, sexually or otherwise, who
doesn’t take things that could really mess me up very seriously. I feel
like that behaviour both shows me that person isn’t really ready to be
the kind of sexual partner I want and am likely to have a great sex
life with, and also indicates they’re probably going to be
less-than-fabulous in other areas, too.

I don’t know anything else about your relationship, so only you can
determine if this is a relationship you think is worth keeping around,
and where you are going to be able to draw a line on this and be gladly
respected. If it is an otherwise good relationship for you, then my
suggestion is to come to your boyfriend and make clear that from here
on out, you need the both of you to be more responsible and adult about
sex and reducing your risks; that you need to start on that path with
both of you having a round of STI tests and using condoms for ALL sex,
always, for at least the next six months.

I’d expect someone who earnestly cared for you to have no problem
with that whatsoever, and consider that someone who makes a big stink
about that or tries to argue against it may not care enough to be safe
as a partner for you or anyone else. I’d also figure that someone who
didn’t realize that you — not he, as he gets to be lucky in this no
matter what — becoming pregnant when you don’t want to isn’t any kind
of joke isn’t someone who can take your life seriously enough to be a
safe partner, as well as the kind of partner who supports you taking
your OWN life seriously. Sometimes, if we think little of ourselves or
our own lives, we can wind up drawing people to us who can see that and
seek to exploit it. Sometimes, our habits around sexual health and
contraception can also tell us a lot about how much or how little we
value ourselves, not just what value a partner has for us.

If you think or know that from the get-go, he’s not going to be
cooperative, and you don’t feel like a pregnancy or getting an STI is
worth whatever benefits you’re getting from not protecting yourself,
then my suggestion is to nix this relationship and hold out for a
partner with more maturity and care for the both of you. I know he’s
older than you, but age alone does not always mean someone is mature or
more mature.

If you feel like no matter what partner you’re with, and you have a
hard time being responsible for yourself in this way, I think it’s
helpful to sit down and take a look at what you really want with your
life. A pregnancy or a kid before you’re ready or when you don’t want
one can make life a lot more challenging, and can either derail some
things you might want, or just make getting them a lot tougher. An STI
— especially the ones that aren’t easily treated or which we don’t
have a cure for — can do a real number on your quality of life. Both
pregnancy and infections pose short and long-term risks to your health
and well-being. For that matter, a partner who doesn’t take your life
or theirs seriously can also really keep you from a life well-lived.

You might want to sit down with a piece of paper and look at where
you want to go: with school, work, with your own dreams and
aspirations, with your health, with how you feel in your body and mind,
and with your interpersonal relationships. What do you want? What do
you need to do — and also ideally avoid — to get what you want? What
does your best life look like, and how are your current partner and
your current habits in alignment (or not) with that ideal? In doing
that, you not only will probably see why being more responsible about
sex is more important, you might also discover if this relationship is
a good one for you, full-stop. That’s good information to have to
assure you make the best choices you can for yourself, with sex and
with everything else.

Here is some additional information you can use to consider all of this, and to have on hand when you talk to your boyfriend:

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