Jazlynn Damasco was about three months into a relationship with her now boyfriend when they started talking about the possibility of pregnancy.
What they both wanted for their lives, what their boundaries were with contraception and what they would do if faced with an unintended pregnancy were all things the 21-year-old started talking about early and continues discussing with her partner.
For many couples, those conversations are taking on a bigger importance, given the US Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and the federal protection to abortion access that came with it. Some people may feel that talking about sex, protection and unplanned pregnancy is more important now than ever, said Kristen Mark, a sex and relationships researcher and professor in family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Health in Minneapolis.
“People need to understand that in many states their options may be limited practically overnight or, if not overnight, then within weeks or months,” said Debby Herbenick, director of Indiana University Bloomington’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion. She is also a professor at IU’s School of Public Health.
Depending on the state, the loss or potential loss of access to abortion may have some people rethinking what they need in a partner and under what circumstances they are comfortable having sex, said Julia Bennett, director of digital education and learning strategy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Fortunately, the teens and young adults Chicago-based therapist John Duffy works with are already more comfortable than the generations before them talking about sexual health and protection. Whether or not they are already in a sexual relationship, many of them are talking with partners, friends, groups and communities about both the politics and logistics of safe sex, he said.
In the wake of the decision and some state laws against abortion that have already gone into effect, experts are urging people to have direct conversations early on about what it means for a couple in any kind of intimate relationship.
Why we need them
A generation ago, when a person found out they were unintentionally pregnant, the question that followed was “what is she going to do?” said therapist Duffy. Today, more than ever, it’s becoming, “what are we going to do?” he said.
While the conversation can feel taboo or scary, knowing what your partner’s concerns and requirements are in the event of an unintended pregnancy is important to ensure you are supporting one another in creating a safe environment for you both, he said.
“Ideally, we’re prepared as opposed to reacting,” Duffy said. “If you’re in a state where this is enacted and you might not have a lot of financial resources or the ability to get out of state, the best move is to have that discussion beforehand.”
Overturning Roe v. Wade may be adding stress and anxiety for some people that makes it difficult to have a safe, healthy and pleasurable sex life, Bennett said.
Having these conversations can help those people decide if they feel comfortable moving forward sexually or if the partnership is not worth the risk of pregnancy, Duffy said.
“A super common issue that arises within relationships, casual or long-term, is lack of communication,” Mark said in an email. “Approaching conversations about sex can be really difficult due to the stigma our society places on sex and the lack of guidance provided through our incredibly limited access to medically accurate and comprehensive sex education. But it is totally necessary.”
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How to have them
Whether couples are thinking about having sex or already are and have a casual or intimate relationship, Duffy recommended having conversations about contraception and abortion — and having them early.
“When it comes to communication, being honest and direct about your boundaries and your feelings is a really good place to start off,” Bennett said.
You can talk about how the decision is affecting your mental health and how it might affect your decision-making around sex, she added.
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