How do I calm irrational pregnancy fears?
March 30, 2007 6:49 PM   Subscribe

How do I convince my girlfriend that she's NOT pregnant? We haven't slept together in two months but she's still worried to the point of distraction that she somehow might be pregnant.

My girlfriend and I have been together for almost 18 months now. Since I'm older than her (I'm 25 and she's 21) and since this has been her first serious (read: sexual) relationship, we took the sexual aspect of our relationship slow. Not long after she decided she wanted to take the plunge, however, she began to obsess about getting pregnant. I assured her we'd only have safe sex, and she got a prescription for the pill. With both a condom and birth control, I kept telling her, it would be incredibly difficult to "have something happen." However even with these precautions, every time we had sex she was so stressed about an accident that she was barely able to sleep. Soon we stopped sleeping together at all.

Two months later, she's still incredibly worried about it. She's often tense and emotionally distant, and her explanation for it is always "the stress," even though we've done nothing more than kiss and cuddle (with clothes on) for the past 60 days or so. Her periods have been completely normal, but she buys a pregnancy test every couple weeks just to "make sure." At this point, I reassure her that--unless she's sleeping with somebody I don't know about--it would be medically impossible for her to get pregnant.

I've tried googling around for advice, but all I find are websites dealing with anxiety in pregnant women. What can I say? What can I do? I love her, and want her to be happy, but our conversations of late have become little more than a loop of her expressions of anxiety and my reassurances. I feel as though we've reached an impasse.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (70 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Holy crap. Does she have a history of anxious behavior, or is this it? Does she have underlying guilt about sex in general, and it's expressing itself through pregnancy fears? That is, if she were to get pregnant then everyone would know she was engaging in illicit activity?

I think it's normal for a heterosexually active woman to feel a twinge of anxiety now and then about accidents, but your girlfriend is seriously going overboard on this. When I first read your question I was going to suggest more stringent birth control and buying a pregnancy test, but looks like she has that covered.

Try taking her to a Planned Parenthood. Have them give her a urine pregnancy test, discuss the likelihood of getting pregnant when on birth control, and explain the whole process of getting pregnant to make sure she isn't operating under false assumptions, like "If the semen touches my fingers and I was my hands and then wipe myself after going to the bathroom a few hours later, I will get pregnant."

And if not that, therapy. Because this really is pretty irrational, and if its affecting your relationship to the point that you say it is it requires professional intervention.
posted by Anonymous at 7:00 PM on March 30, 2007

Well, I am sure you expected this reply but: therapy or counseling of some sort. She needs to speak to a neutral 3rd party to work out these anxieties. If she doesn't have any specific anxieties or fears that are manifesting themselves in this way, perhaps she is suffering from OCD. Does she exhibit any OCD tendencies in other aspects of her life?
posted by necessitas at 7:03 PM on March 30, 2007

I'm guessing (from experience) that the preg-stress is not really about pregnancy but is more likely symptomatic of deeper anxieties about sex -- which are not unreasonable or uncommon for someone embarking on their first physical realtionship.

Relax, deal with the anxieties about being pregnant, stay calm, and I expect it will work itself out.
posted by unSane at 7:04 PM on March 30, 2007

Seconding the neutral third party, preferably someone who can cope with whatever is causing the fear, PlannedParenthood is usually good but I don't think a simple run down of statistics is going to cut it at this point. Anything else from you at this point could possibly be seen as pressure to have sex, which will just freak her out even more (justifiably). And then until she decides to initiate it, sex doesn't exist for you. No comments about "it's not such a big deal" since obviously for her it IS a big deal.
posted by anaelith at 7:14 PM on March 30, 2007

Yes, and you want to try to be very understanding, kind, open-eared, etc. After all, not just every woman waits until she's 21 to become intimate, so she's obviously a sensitive soul who is keeping a close watch on herself. I wouldn't rush into therapy - the 20s are therapy enough, and she'll have a better time of it if you're visibly on her team rather than one more thing she's worrying about.
posted by jbickers at 7:16 PM on March 30, 2007

I does seem that there are issues above and beyond her fear of pregnancy, and the above posters have commented on that.

I'll also say that I think most women become sexually active without having the slightest idea of when they are most fertile and how they could get pregnant. If you think that knowledge and a better understanding of her fertility cycle could help, there is an excellent book entitled "Taking Charge of your Fertility" that she, and you, should read. If she uses the method and knows when she's fertile, then perhaps it would ease her mind enough that she could enjoy sex on the non-fertile days.

As an aside, I'm in my thirties, had fertility problems, rarely have sex and use an IUD, and I still wonder each month if I could be pregnant. I'm looking forward to menopause to ease my mind.
posted by saffry at 7:31 PM on March 30, 2007

Without knowing more about your relationship and your lives, it's hard to know if this is great advice, but here goes: Consider the worst case scenario in depth. So what if you get pregnant? Think about it, talk about it, maybe even make some preliminary type plans. A lot of people wait and wait until they have the perfect relationship/jobs/house, and then end up infertile. My wife and I had our daughter when we were 24, and while she was not planned at all, she has been by far and away the best thing that has ever happened in our lives. If we hadn't had her, we'd probably still be waiting 7 years later, and now would be worrying about how much longer could we afford to wait.

Using birth control and condoms, it is pretty much impossible to get pregnant, but rationality is not going to cure your partner of this phobia, but maybe confronting the fear will.

If you both know that you NEVER want kids, well, this is probably not the approach for you, but maybe at least consider it.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:40 PM on March 30, 2007

You stated these facts:

1. You haven't had sex for 60 days.

2. Her periods are normal.

3. She buys pregnancy tests every couple of weeks, just to "make sure" (which implies that the previous ones have been negative).

You might want to ask her if she really knows where babies come from (and how)... I know that sounds snarky, but if she's 21 years of age, she should know beyond a shadow of a doubt (given the facts above) that she is most definitely not pregnant... Are you sure she's not using all this "stress" as some kind of game-playing or emotional weapon?
posted by amyms at 7:47 PM on March 30, 2007

She does know how pregnancy happens, right? How can she be nervous if there has been no sex in 2 months? Since all rationality has left the room, it be something along the lines of anxiety or fears about sex/sexuality that are getting somehow transferred into this irrational pregnancy fear. I suggest therapy.

Also, is she aware of how irrational she is? That is important.
posted by sneakin at 7:50 PM on March 30, 2007

Is it possible that she could be pregnant by someone else?
posted by electroboy at 7:57 PM on March 30, 2007

Is it possible that her anxiety is partially heightened by the hormonal birth control? (1. Did her worries start or get worse when she started the pills? 2. Does she ever miss pills or take them late?

I'm in my first relationship too. I'm on the pill and we've always used condoms, but when I was at home over winter break, having been away from him for four weeks and having had my period since I saw my boyfriend, I was so nervous about my next period being late that I completely flipped out and couldn't really function till a gynecologist told me to calm down.

I haven't found the right pill for me yet, but I'm glad I realized one day that the hormones were creating severe mood swings that should not have been a part of my daily life. For a long time, I kept attributing each breakdown to different causes; I only realized that the followed a calendar pattern because I happen to keep a journal.
posted by scission at 7:57 PM on March 30, 2007

AMEN amyms and sneakin. Jesus! No secks in 60 days + periodds = no preggo.
posted by tristeza at 7:58 PM on March 30, 2007

I can understand her fear. Children are the worst STD out there but, wow, 60 days of no sex and she's still tripping out about it?

In all seriousness, I recommend bringing up the point that anal sex carries no pregnancy risk. It sounds like it might be less of a pain than constantly worrying about pregnancy.
posted by mullingitover at 8:07 PM on March 30, 2007

Is she still on the pill? Depending on her prescription, the hormonal effect can definitely fuck with her emotions and cause her to irrationally fear things. If you two still aren't planning on having sex for a while, weaning her off it might be an option to see if it chills her out some. Also have her check with a doctor to see if a change of prescription could be in order.
posted by jmd82 at 8:11 PM on March 30, 2007

I've been through a similar situation and, in a cruel twist, the anxiety can delay the period, adding to the situation.

The only thing left to do is wait until she gets her period and never let her live it down. No amount of logical thought will short-circuit the obsession with pregnancy despite near-impossible odds. When my then-girlfriend did it to me, I told her to put her money where her mouth is and was 20 bucks richer when she got her period.
posted by dr_dank at 8:27 PM on March 30, 2007

I don't know if you have discussed this, but what are her opinions on abortion/adoption/etc.? It's possible that in her mind, she's jumping right ahead to a theoretical pregnancy, and experiencing anxiety about what she would do if that happened. Also, judging by how late she's becoming sexually active, I would bet that growing up, she had a lot of sex-guilt coming from her parent(s) that she took to heart; if anything can paralyze someone with fear, it's the possibility of deeply disappointing one's parents.

Also, nthing the suggestion to change birth control prescriptions; speaking from personal experience, some people react very strangely to hormonal changes in the body.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 8:34 PM on March 30, 2007

Is it possible that she's using pregnancy fears as an excuse to forgo sexual activity? Perhaps she felt pressured into it in the first place, and is now having second thoughts.

Please note: I'm not suggesting that you pressured her into sex, but she could have felt pressured by society, her own guilt for not 'fulfilling your needs' or any number of other reasons.

Whether that's the explanation or not, she's got some issues surrounding sex that need to be dealt with.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:39 PM on March 30, 2007

dr_dank writes "The only thing left to do is wait until she gets her period and never let her live it down."

She's gotten her period. Multiple times. And taken multiple pregnancy tests. If you had read the question carefully, you would realize that when anon describes his girlfriend's anxiety as irrational, he means seriously irrational.

To anon: I'm gonna give your girlfriend the benefit of the doubt and assume her understanding of reproductive biology is solid and that she's not seeking to manipulate you. It seems like she might be dealing with some disordered thinking; this behavior has hallmarks of some personality disorders. This has been causing her serious anxiety for two months?! It's time for her to talk to a mental health professional.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:45 PM on March 30, 2007

There are only a few possibilities here:

1. She is of very low intelligence and is not capable of understanding the biology of conception.

2. She has some deep-seated problems/shame/guilt over sex, and is using the pregnancy thing as an easy shield. Be careful digging into this however... you may not be thrilled at what you uncover.

3. She is sleeping with someone else.

4. She's paranoid-delusional and needs to be medicated.

That's pretty much it bro. There really exist no other possibilities. She's either stupid, crazy, molested, or a whore.

And that is not being snarky nor trying to be funny. Seriously, a 21 year old woman with access to the internet and friends and a gyno (she's on the pill) and she is this completely clueless?

Something is badly, badly wrong.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:45 PM on March 30, 2007

dr_dank: She has ALREADY HAD A PERIOD since she last had intercourse.

I agree with the posters who suggest that some kind of counseling is in order, even if just in the short term to deal with this specific problem. The fact that it is physically impossible for her to be pregnant and she's still freaking out indicates that there is something up. Worrying that your safe sex might have magically led to pregnancy if your period is a day or two late? That is pretty normal. This is not normal. You can't really make someone go to therapy, but you can tell her that you care and you're worried about her.
posted by SoftRain at 8:47 PM on March 30, 2007

Not "disordered thinking"; that's the wrong term, sorry. Obsessive thoughts and anxiety.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:49 PM on March 30, 2007

What can I say? What can I do?

She needs to get some therapy. There are serious, major issues here that you can't help with directly. Try to convince her to get therapy. If she doesn't want to, then you need to make up your mind: do you want to deal with this situation or not? If not, then break up with her. If you do, then stop thinking rationally about how to solve it, because that ship ain't made it to port and it's not going to for a long while.

So pretend she is pregnant. Seriously, ask like you know she's pregnant. Ask her whether she's wishing for a boy or a girl? Suggest going shopping for baby clothes. Buy a box of diapers and leave the box on the coffee table etc, etc. These may help her confront some things or at least realize that she needs therapy.

Good luck.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:50 PM on March 30, 2007

She's using pregnancy as a weapon.

Best talk to her about it. Don't talk about pregnant women. Ask why she's behaving as if science and biology doesn't exist.
posted by filmgeek at 8:52 PM on March 30, 2007

Ynoxas writes "4. She's paranoid-delusional and needs to be medicated."

C'mon, man, don't call her "crazy"; that's in really poor taste. She might have a mental health issue that needs to be dealt with. That doesn't even necessarily mean medication. There are some good therapy-based approaches to some of these disorders. (The drugs can do an awesome job, though.)
posted by mr_roboto at 8:53 PM on March 30, 2007

dr_dank: She has ALREADY HAD A PERIOD since she last had intercourse.

To someone who is behaving this irrationally on the issue, this cold fact may do nothing to deter it. Again, the very definition of irrationality.

This appears to be touchy, so I'll just sit off to the side.
posted by dr_dank at 9:06 PM on March 30, 2007

I think the key question here is this: does she approach other areas of her life with the same degree of irrationality?

If not, if this is is the exception, then the problem is not as bad (IMO) as everyone is making it out to be. She simply needs someone to sit down with her and explain the science. She just doesn't know how the body works, and she's scared. Nothing wrong with that (though it is strange for 21-year-old to be in this position). The key here is that the person who sits down with her is someone who she respects from a factual standpoint. As she sees the situation, you may not be credible on the matter. Her gyno would be better. If you do try to take on this roll, stick to the facts, read from a book, from a Internet printout, don't use your own words -- use the words of experts. This will require some research. Treat it like a presentation.

Now, if this is NOT the only area of her life that she approaches with rampant irrationality, she has moderate to serious anxiety issues that need to be dealt with. This doesn't mean she necessarily needs to see a shrink tomorrow. But rather that she might want to talk to her general practice doctor about getting on something like Zoloft, which deals with anxiety issues (she shouldn't suggest the medication, have her explain the problems to her doctor, he'll suggest the medication).
posted by JPowers at 9:24 PM on March 30, 2007

I was on the pill for the first time for a few days. The effects were TERRIBLE. It cranked up my anxiety and depression and made me upset over the smallest things (missing a bus stop made me cry). Perhaps the pill has the same effect on your girlfriend - when you're anxious, no amount of rationality will get you out of it. I went off it and I immediately felt better.

She may have also read some materials about pregnancy and sex that hype up next-to-nothing possibilities. For example, one day I was going through all my sex-ed pamphlets (I had a collection) where I chanced upon lines that talked about dry humping and having sperm stain on clothes. My boyfriend and I, while having clothes on, got a little wet, and I was concerned about the possibility of pregnancy. I couldn't find anything conclusive - some places said it's impossible, some said there is a minute possibility. That was enough to get myself to the pharmacist, take Plan B, and be really anxious and nervous for two weeks until my period came and I could breathe easy.

I second the suggestion of Planned Parenthood, or at least a very good sexual health practitioner in your area. They can answer any questions and can also help with finding a pill (or some other contraceptive option) that's best for you.

I'm 21 and am slowly getting more and more intimate with my first boyfriend ever. Haven't even reached intercourse. I can relate to your girlfriend's anxiety; here's a hug from me to the both of you.
posted by divabat at 9:24 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just a note to that: I consider myself pretty well-educated about sexual health and how the body works. However, there were some discrepancies between the documents that made me second-guess myself. Also, no matter how much sex-ed you've had, anxiety can trump all reasoning.
posted by divabat at 9:27 PM on March 30, 2007

Get a vasectomy.
posted by phrontist at 9:46 PM on March 30, 2007

Seconging the earlier recommendation - Taking Charge of Your Fertility is an excellent book. Buy it for her and let her read it.
posted by Ostara at 9:46 PM on March 30, 2007

Your girlfriend has some seriouly horrible feelings about sex and it is manifesting itself in this strange behavior. I'd be willing to bet she was molested or raped years ago and has either forgotten about it or doesn't want to think about this. Then having sex has brought up this very very uncomfortable, perhaps terrifying reminders of the past she has forgotten and thus is wigging her out royally. She may not even know why-she may not remember why, but it's all coming back now that she's had sex.

I want you to know this is NOT normal behavior in any way, shape, or form. I too didn't sleep with anyone until I was 20 (I'm female.) I never wigged out at all. And another clue that this is something deep within her mind is that it took her so long to finally have sex. It only took me a few months once I found the "right guy." She was putting it off for some reason, again-perhaps she doesn't even know why-but she was scared and she did it and now it's terrifying her.

You really need to help her. You need to do a few things very quickly:

1. Get her to some to talk with her, in very plain and unthreatening way about how someone gets pregnant and what are the signs that you are and are not. Then you know she knows what is reality and that this isn't just her not knowing the truth about how pregnancy happens.

2. Then you need to help her get to therapy. I'm betting something nasty and sad and scary is going to come up and you need to be there to help her. It's going to be something bad. I guarantee it.

You sound like a good guy and it sounds like you're not pressuring her in any way to have sex anymore. That's good. This must be very very frustrating and a little scary and alarming to you. It also seems overwhelming...are you really prepared to help her deal with whatever is out there that has done this to her? (I don't know what to tell you about that....)

Best of luck. This isn't anything you've done, nor is this normal. there is something seriously wrong with her and her association with sex.
posted by aacheson at 9:58 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I kind of wonder if she IS out there Googling on "pregnancy symptoms" and it's just freaking her out. After all, if you stopped having sex two months ago, she's had one period, two max. There's all kinds of references out there to "pregnant but still having period," so maybe that's what she's thinking. (Especially if hers are light and could be viewed as just "spotting.") Ask her WHY she thinks she's pregnant.

As for all the anxiety and stress...she's obviously not ready for a sexual relationship...could be any number of reasons why. Family history, immaturity, mental issues...
posted by Liosliath at 10:01 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

My first thought upon looking at the question was "she's sleeping with someone else." But, if she started freaking about pregnancy like you say, that's not the problem. She needs a therapist.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:22 PM on March 30, 2007

[ANNOUNCEMENT: Anyone who thinks Anon's girlfriend is making this up to control him is no longer allowed to sleep with women. That is just absurdly callous and fucked up. Thank you for your cooperation. Signed, All Women]

What Divabat said. Hormonal birth control can make a person insane with anxiety over really dumb stuff, let alone -- pregnancy -- something huge, however remote. And pregnancy always is an anxiety for people who want to have sex but don't want to have children, so other anxieties could be hidden behind that if a person wasn't ready to face them.

When I was 19, I went through a time of being in a flop-sweat over pregnancy, no matter how irrational I knew it to be, despite negative pregnancy tests, despite this not being my first relationship, despite liking the guy a lot, etc, etc -- and at that time I was not stupid, crazy, molested, or a whore. What I was, was anxious. Partly the pill, partly my parents getting divorced, partly who knows what -- it manifested as crazy pregnancy anxiety. My boyfriend was bewildered, too. After a while I guess I felt safe enough to really talk to him about my parents and the stress of my life, and once I did, it went away.

So, another vote for patience and understanding. If you love her, just try to find out what is on her mind. This is not about pregnancy most likely. If you and she aren't that close yet, and she can't/won't talk to you, and all this is just unrelenting drama, you could break up with her; it wouldn't make you a monster. It sounds like she's got big stress right now about something, and maybe you can help, maybe you should just let her go her way. In any case, sex is not happening for you two any time soon, and, well, there goes your omelette.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:24 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would guess that I would feel like she does if/when I enter into a relationship. Why? Well... I do suffer from anxiety disorders, but I think, for me, it goes beyond that. Which I'll get to in a moment.

I have not been molested or raped. I hate to sound arrogant, but I am highly intelligent. I'm logical.. perhaps too much so. But that doesn't matter when it comes to fear/irrationality. It really doesn't. You can talk to yourself with all the logic, facts and such, but it just won't abate that irrational fear.

Now that I've mentioned that.. Speaking only for myself, I would be very paranoid about pregnancy because I'm absolutely positively 100% sure that I do not want kids ever. Never. (It's a good thing.. I'd be a horrific parent.) That would always cause me to be paranoid about it. Of course, if it somehow freakishly happened I would get an abortion. So.. my fear would perhaps be overblown in a sense. But perhaps for her, she would not be willing to take that same course of action. And then what? She probably wouldn't be ready for kids, etc. Maybe that's something that's going on in her head.

I just felt it was worth bringing that aspect up. It may not apply in her case, but I think that can be a reason in some situations for causing absurd anxiety over pregnancy.

You've already gotten the best advice really. You do need to be patient and all of that understanding lovely stuff. And absolutely do not push it. I guess there isn't an easy and best way to suggest to her that she might want to see a therapist, but it certainly could be a very helpful and relieving thing for her. Whatever the cause of her anxiety may be. Good luck.
posted by VegaValmont at 11:13 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Methylviolet, please don't claim to speak for all women.

I'm not saying that I think the girlfriend is "making this up." But I don't think that it's out of the question to think that this may be her way of communicating that she's not really ready for the emotional weight of having sex, and that she's not being completely honest with herself or with him about her real feelings.
posted by decathecting at 11:15 PM on March 30, 2007

For what it's worth, I hope anon doesn't worry too much about the "sleeping with someone else" angle, since she's pretty up-front with him about her fears. Ask yourself: If you were in a relationship with a guy you were not having sex with, and at the same time having sex with someone else, would you tell Relationship Guy you were worried about being pregnant when you know (and he knows!) damn well it can't be his? Just seems pretty unlikely to me, unless her memory is really terrible.
posted by SuperNova at 12:07 AM on March 31, 2007

When I was 19, I went through a time of being in a flop-sweat over pregnancy, no matter how irrational I knew it to be, despite negative pregnancy tests, despite this not being my first relationship, despite liking the guy a lot, etc, etc -- and at that time I was not stupid, crazy, molested, or a whore. What I was, was anxious. Partly the pill, partly my parents getting divorced, partly who knows what -- it manifested as crazy pregnancy anxiety. My boyfriend was bewildered, too. After a while I guess I felt safe enough to really talk to him about my parents and the stress of my life, and once I did, it went away.
NB, to those following along at home, Methylviolet was crazy there.

My own particular solution to similar problems has been a mental resolution to stop dating virgins. I haven’t kept to it, and I’ve regretted not keeping to it. That doesn’t help you a whole lot if you want to stay with her.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 12:11 AM on March 31, 2007

what unSane said
posted by scarabic at 12:58 AM on March 31, 2007

She wants to leave you, and she is afraid of getting pregnant, because this will bind her to you forever. She's in a huge mental dilemma about leaving or staying, afraid to hurt you, yet needing to go. She cannot bear to sleep with you any longer, yet she cannot just walk away, as she is young. And all this is creating a huge conflict in her mind, which she is turning into a fear or pregnancy.
posted by markovich at 2:05 AM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Looks like three possibilities:

1) Birth control is messing with her head. Trying to find a birth control that works for you is like playing Russian roulette. One can work perfectly and you feel great on it, the next will make you crazier and more paranoid than all get out. Do you have female friends that have had bad experiences with certain types of birth control? Ask around, maybe someone can commiserate with her about it.

2) Guilt. My lapsed Catholic friends always flip out that God's going to get them pregnant to punish them for having sex/being on birth control.

3) She's not ready to have sex. Or she's not ready to have sex with you. She thinks about it and starts down a progression of "What if I am? What would we do? Would I get an abortion? Would I be able to forgive myself? Would he break up with me? Would my parents kill me? What if I kept it? I can't be pregnant!! I have no money! I would have to drop out of school!!! I can't support a child!!" These are scary questions. And then she starts googling... god. Did you know that all the symptoms of early pregnancy, PMS, and stress are the SAME? And then she gets anxious about it and feels nauseous—must be morning sickness!

I would suggest having her go to a doctor to get an official pregnancy test, to talk about alternative birth control options (an official "yes, birth control can really make you crazy, it'll be okay, we'll find something that works"), and to get the low-down on exactly how this whole fertility thing works.

Also, talk to her about what would happen if you guys were pregnant. How do you feel about abortion? About this relationship? Would you stay and raise a kid with her? Would you freak out and run away? What if she wanted to abort and you didn't; would you support her anyway? Likewise, what if she wanted to keep the kid and you didn't? Adoption? Etc. I'm betting that part of this anxiety is about where you stand and whether or not you have a united front.
posted by heatherann at 2:25 AM on March 31, 2007

And how long are you cool with not having sex? There's probably added stress there that if she doesn't get over this, she'll lose you, which makes her stress about it more... vicious cycle.
posted by heatherann at 2:27 AM on March 31, 2007

When I was 20 I was scared about getting pregnant, to the point where it affected my relationships. I wasn't crazy, sleeping with someone else or a victim of sexual assault, I was just a young woman who was worried that becoming pregnant would ruin my life, and knowing all the science of fertility and contraception inside out didn't help. What helped me was to talk through it with my partner and do what Rock Steady suggests - consider what would happen if I did become pregnant and realise that I had options, that my boyfriend would be there to support me, and that it didn't have to be the disaster I assumed it would be.

I think anon's girlfriend has a more severe case than I did, and therapy sounds like a good plan, as well as trying different pills and seeing if the anxiety is partly caused by them.
posted by penguinliz at 3:15 AM on March 31, 2007

You think you'll be that 1% or whatever who fall into that category or who get pregnant off a toilet seat.


markovich: that has to be one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard.
posted by divabat at 4:21 AM on March 31, 2007

as others have said, and I'm trying to be delicate here, all you know is that she hasn't had sex in 60 days with you.
posted by matteo at 4:27 AM on March 31, 2007

Speaking as a woman (which I don't think that many in this thread are) (and I do not speak for all women, just *a* woman), pregnancy can be a terrifying idea. I'm smart, I know how biology works, but getting pregnant right now would really change my life in a lot of ways -- so no matter how careful you can be, the haunting fear is always there, and there's a little smile of triumph for beating nature every time your period comes.

Now, that said, what outweighs this fear is the enjoyment of the relationship. It makes it worth the risk, and the knowledge that "things would change, but it would still be okay." But I haven't always felt that way. In previous relationships, I panicked a lot -- but usually to myself, not to my boyfriend, because he'd start Googling and show me things on the internet claiming logically there's nothing I had to worry about -- doing much of what you guys are saying, "Doesn't she know biology?" Of course I did. But I felt unready for most of what was going on, let alone pregnancy, so the pleasure/panic tradeoff wasn't there.

So in conclusion, Anon, I agree with the people who think this panic is a cover for not being ready for a sexual relationship -- or at least, just not very comfortable with it yet. It doesn't mean she was raped or molested or anything; it just means she's nervous and not ready yet. Even being 21 doesn't mean she can't be nervous. I think you need to address the physical relationship fear, not the pregnancy fear.
posted by olinerd at 5:12 AM on March 31, 2007

I was kind of shocked to read the first comments so I just want to repeat again what liquorice said: Yes, it's true that she's gotten her period and had a negative pregnancy test, but even with those things you can actually still be pregnant. That's where the real insecurity sets in. You think you'll be that 1% or whatever who fall into that category.

If you discuss this, make sure you understand hat it IS actually possible to be pregnant and still get your period. It is especially not that uncommon during the first months of pregnancy. Sometimes women bleed for other reasons during the beginning of pregnancy, this is sometimes seen as a period. It also is not impossible to get pregnant on birth control.

The only thing that is convincing is that 60 days after sex, one pregnancy test could be a false negative, but the possibility that multiple pregnancy tests are false negatives is really zo close to zero that that is not worth worrying about. Maybe buy a few cheap pregnancy test on ebay so she can really really be sure?
posted by davar at 5:56 AM on March 31, 2007

I am a woman. I started having sex and went on the pill at 19. The pill totally made me crazy for three months. I didn't have pregnancy anxiety but rather blood clot anxiety (as it's one of the risks of the pill). But it was totally there. Irrational fear of a blood clot stressing me out then causing me to feel tension in my legs convincing me I was going to have a blood clot, and so on.

Anyway I think MANY of the things listed here are possibilities.

1. She doesn't understand how pregnancy and birth control works. Is she in college? Her school (or Planned Parenthood, if she's not) may have a workshop. I went to went though all the birth control options available at the time and exactly how to use them and how they work, as well as going over the whole female reproductive anatomy. Frankly I don't see how knowing when her "fertile days" are will help her if it's not even clear to her that she's not fertile at all if she's taking the pill right, and that she's not getting semen in her if they're using condoms right. Anyway it's much less common than one might think for a woman not to have any idea how her body works. You actually need someone to tell you, and what you learn in public school don't cut it. I just want to emphasize that if she doesn't know, she's not a freak for not knowing. A lot of women don't know. She shouldn't feel ashamed to ask for information. You can know the basics of the birds and the bees, but does she know exactly why and how the pill prevents pregnancy? Do you?

2. She's having a really bad reaction to the hormonal birth control. This could clear up once her body's used to it, or she could need another option or possibly just a lower dose.

3. It's a symptom of underlying issues with sex. Could be as simple as parental/religious guilt, or as screwed up as you could imagine. But there's no reason to assume it's the latter.

4. She's just not ready to have sex. It could be that she's not ready for whatever reason, and this is just how it's manifesting. Or it could be that she's not ready for the possibility and responsibility of pregnancy that comes with sex, which is a very real part of deciding you're ready to have sex. Even if you take your pill carefully and use condoms carefully every time, there's still that .0001% or whatever chance, and as silly as it seems you really do have to be ready to accept that possibility.

5. She's not ready to have sex with you.

Whatever it is, she should probably just speak to her doctor about it. She can give her a pregnancy test and all that of course, and she can probably advise her as to the next step, whether it be a different birth control option, a referral to a therapist or a workshop she can go to, or whatever. You don't say exactly how long it's been since she first got on the pill, but often they have a three-month check-in after you first get on the pill to make sure it's working out alright. That's when my doctor assured me that if I were having a blot clot, I wouldn't be able to move my foot without feeling sudden unbearable pain.
posted by lampoil at 6:03 AM on March 31, 2007

Well, this has largely been covered from her point of view (birth control can and does make you crazy, and I've never dated a girl who didn't have wildly terrible emotional side effects from the pill), but I'd like to take a moment to offer some positive sexual alternatives that y'all can think about.
First off, she has to know that she can't get preggers from oral sex, right? Either way you go, it's just good fun. Second, one of the vast virtues of anal sex is that the risk of pregnancy is, shall we say, greatly reduced. That an' a vibrator might work out great for both of you. Because, man, 60 days without sex is more like a sentence than a relationship, and you should only do it if you already have a tremendous emotional investment.
posted by klangklangston at 7:02 AM on March 31, 2007

I did the same thing your girlfriend is doing in my first sexual relationship. All that good Catholic schooling taught me sex=baby, and I was still in college, still being supported by my parents (who flipped out b/c we were having sex before marriage, but that's a whole other story) and I had no idea what "we'd" do if I got pregnant.

Negative pregnancy tests (and examinations by drs) didn't calm me down at first, either. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was mostly freaking over the fact that the parental units Did Not Like This Boy, and I did.

I would have pregnancy anxiety attacks that would put me in the ER. It wasn't until my college roomate pointed out that I only had panic attacks after speaking with my parents about This Boy that I realized that there was something going on with me.

So I trudged over to the Student counseling service and signed up. Best thing I ever did. Now, what I thought I had were issues with This Boy, but it turned out my Issues were with my parents, which kinda blew my mind at first, but I stuck through it, and This Boy and I are still together.

Advice? Gently suggest counseling, but for damn sure DO NOT get between her and her parents unless there's some real tangible (physical) abuse going on. They're likely having arguments that are decades old, and you won't be able to solve a damn thing by getting in the middle any more than you already are.

You can be a listening ear, period. No aggresive calming, no telling her "bbbut the test was negative! What's wrong with you?" Others above have suggested talking about "well, what would you/we want us/me to do if you did get pregnant?" DO THAT, but please, gently.

Mostly all you can do at this point is listen. Don't make yourself a doormat/black hole for her emotions (partners counseling might help there) but do listen.
posted by no, that other sockpuppet at 7:12 AM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was not stupid, crazy, molested, or a whore -- it manifested as crazy pregnancy anxiety

Ah, I see the difference.

C'mon, man, don't call her "crazy"; that's in really poor taste.

Actually, I agree. I woke up this morning somewhat regretting it. But I was angry on behalf of the poster. I've been in a somewhat similar situation and it was downright infuriating, and totally destructive to our relationship, both of our mental well-being, and my ego. Having a girl start crying during the middle of sex because "she might get pregnant" or "I feel like a whore" doesn't exactly make you feel like a sexual superhero. Even worse, she refused to take the pill because that would mean "she was a slut" or some ridiculous nonsense. I look back at that time of my life with a mixture of relief, pity, and shame.

(As an aside, like a poster above mentioned, we actually did turn to anal sex to help alleviate her fears.)

I stand by my assertion that there is no excuse, of any kind, for a grown woman who has access to the internet and a gyno to be this badly uninformed on how baby-making works.

We're not talking about a 14 year old homeschool kid who "doesn't know any better". She's 21 and out and about in the world. She is old enough to vote, join the military, drink alcohol, and be responsible for her own actions. It is high-time she figures out the birds and the bees.

I'm sorry, I have no pity for her. I can't muster any. This is all her problem, her responsibility.

My advice to the poster is that you make an ultimatum: she either gets counseling immediately, or else you're done.

Listen to someone who has been there. It does NOT get better. 6 years from now you'll thank me.

(My own experience? She refused to admit anything was wrong, and refused repeated pleading to seek help or counseling. She just figured she needed to pray for forgiveness and go to church more. 12 years later, we've kept somewhat in touch, and I'm married with a child, she has not had even a serious relationship. The last time she had sex was with me in 1994.)
posted by Ynoxas at 7:50 AM on March 31, 2007

It's pretty common for girls to freak out a little bit on birth control. Hormones are pretty directly tied to a lot of basic biological functions, after all. I don't think it's indicative of underlying emotional problems if a girl gets really anxious due to any kind of change in hormones.

I also am not sure you need to educate her about her body--BC is not 100% guaranteed and it seems pretty clear (given that her period, negative tests, do not reassure) that she's worried about that 1 in 1000 pregnancy that is bound to happen pretty frequently in a world of billions.

Here's my POV: What's the point of not having sex if you're already ruining your life concentrating on accidental pregnancies? You might as well enjoy it since you're already suffering the negative consequences. (This probably won't work if the girl isn't something of a pragmatist). Personally it took me about 2 years to get over the fear of a horrible surprise pregnancy, but she should get some perspective sooner, at least.
posted by shownomercy at 8:03 AM on March 31, 2007

Newsflash: Anxiety often makes people act in irrational ways.
I know calling her stupid or a whore is more fun, so I apologize for raining on the parade.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:23 AM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Um, no, BC is not 100% guaranteed. But having a period IS. Having two? Well, that's about as not-pregnant as a girl can get. I've had my share of pregnancy scares, as well as weird hormonal mood swings due to BC, but two months is too long. Once Aunt Flo came into town, it was all good.

So let's recap: the pill + condom + TWO PERIODS + not being able to talk about anything else + no sex + tense and distant x TWO MONTHS = something's up.

I say, give her an ultimatum: Either she seeks professional help of some sort, whether that's the free and anonymous counseling of Planned Parenthood or a session with a psychologist, or you're going to seriously consider moving on. Your needs aren't getting met, her needs are being constrained by this anxiety, and the relationship has become unhappy and stressful. Don't be guilted by thoughts of "he's pressuring me into sex"--you're being an understanding person, as evidenced by the fact you've waited this long.
posted by landedjentry at 8:47 AM on March 31, 2007

Some people can have periods all through a pregnancy, in fact some mefites have had that happen to them, from what I've read.

Anyway, sounds like your girlfriend needs serious therapy.
posted by delmoi at 8:51 AM on March 31, 2007

Saucy: Oh come on. Lots of people suffer from anxiety, and very few of them forget how basic biology works.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:08 AM on March 31, 2007

Here's a q: is she calling the fears irrational, or are you?

That's the biggest thing that's going to determine where to go from here.

I reassure her that--unless she's sleeping with somebody I don't know about--it would be medically impossible for her to get pregnant.

If you actually said 'unless you're sleeping with someone I don't know about', even in jest, I think that was kinda mean. She's already freaking out about having sex with you, don't make her feel any worse.

(and btw, Ynoxas, even if you do remember how basic biology works, bad enough fear is going to trump rational thought. The point is to get back to rational thinking somehow, so back off already)

Here's a story: I hadn't had sex with my Navy boyfreind in two months, hadn't had periods, was gaining weight, and was tired all the time. No nausea, but that's not always part of the picture, right? So I go a doctor, who first does a quickie pregnancy test, and find out my thyroid gland has gone haywire. I got on yet another pill, (already on The Pill). A bit later I'm fine.

So there could be any number of things wrong physically, with the pill, with other things, what have you. Offer to go to a doctor with her, and get options.

I don't think she needs 'calming' per se, I think she needs reassurance about her own sexuality, and about your feelings for her. I'm personally impressed you've stuck with her. If you think she's worth it for the long haul, do what you can. Say 'I love you and I love making love with you, and I want us to get to a place where we can be happy with doing it.'

If you're seriously thinking about the ultimatim option 'get over it or I'll leave you', then do it and don't drag it out. Yeah, it's jerkish, but there's no reason to prolong your pain or hers.
posted by lysdexic at 9:30 AM on March 31, 2007

If your body continued to have regular menstrual periods while you were pregnant, it would be shedding the uterine lining that helps nourish your baby every month. Biologically speaking, this wouldn’t make much sense. Therefore, the spotting or bleeding during pregnancy many women experience is caused by something other than their period.

One of the most common causes of period-like bleeding during pregnancy is called decidual bleeding. Sometimes, during pregnancy, your body’s hormones can get out of whack, causing you to lose parts of the lining of your uterus. This is especially common in the early stages of pregnancy, before the lining has completely attached to the placenta. While it can be troublesome to think about shedding part if your uterine lining, decidual bleeding is generally not thought to be a health threat to you or your baby.
- cite
posted by phrontist at 11:02 AM on March 31, 2007

I was, when younger, much like the base note writer's girlfriend -- I had an irrational fear of pregnancy despite much knowledge of how pregnancy worked. In my case (which is not necessarily what the BNW is dealing with, but):

1) I had been molested as a child and raped as a teen.
2) I had been brought up in a very conservative Catholic diocese and felt really guilty about having sex before marriage back then.
3) I had some problems with the hormones in the Pill (although, 20 years ago, pills were heavier-dosage)
4) I had (and still have, 20 years later) OCD.

I'm not saying that all of these are in play in the base note writer's case, but any one of these could be causing irrational fears. Irrational fears are not something that can be reasoned out of without external support without counseling.

And, for all of you who are referring to the base note writer's girlfriend as a "wack job", look within and work on your compassion lest you be judged as harshly by an ignorant external source.
posted by lleachie at 11:57 AM on March 31, 2007

Late to the party here, but I agree with everyone who thinks it's probably some combination of serious guilt/anxiety about having sex in general (this may or may not have anything to do with a past traumatic experience), possibly coupled with not truly understanding the biology. (I mean, all those kids who've been ill-informed by "abstinence only" sex ed, sans proper info on biology, pregnancy, contraception, and STDs, do eventually turn into adults. Perhaps Anon's gf is one of them.) And yes, going on the pill can wreak emotional havoc; I've usually experienced it as depression, but anxiety is certainly not unheard of.

My general advice is to encourage her, as gently but firmly as you can, to visit a Planned Parenthood (if they are present in your area), or at least to go to her doctor. Perhaps an "official" negative on a pregnancy test will convince her. And even if not, look at it this way: as her non-pregnancy non-progresses over the next several months, she'll SEE that she's not pregnant: no baby bump, no changes to her breasts, no kicks, etc. (At the extreme -- and my guess is it won't come to this -- an ultrasound showing that there is no fetus present in her uterus should finally convince her.)

In any case, I think counseling for her is called for in a general sense -- beyond her pregnancy fears, she may have broader issues with anxiety, worry, compulisve thinking, etc. in general. This doesn't make her crazy and delusional (as the more misogynist comments here have claimed), but it does mean she may need the intervention of a professional. When dealing with issues of anxiety or compulsive thoughts, the well-meaning reassurances of loved ones can only go so far.

Good luck, to both of you.
posted by scody at 12:26 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've been anxious about being pregnant, to the point where I would put off sex (though never to the extremes that your girlfriend seems to have managed. BTW, you are a superhero of patience, and I think that's really cool). Here are some things that helped me:

-reassure your girlfriend that if she does become pregnant, you will do absolutely whatever she needs to deal with the situation. You'll take her to get an abortion, pay for the abortion, find an adoption agency, quit school and get a job to help support the baby, change jobs to make more money to support the baby, etc, etc. She needs to know that if she does become pregnant, you will be there for her in whatever capacity she needs, and no matter what, you're not going to judge her. If you're not ready for this kind of commitment - well, first off, it's unlikely you'll ever be called to it given you're using both BC and condoms - but also, she's going to have to live with this consequence whether you do or not and if you're not ready/willing/able to, maybe you're not any more ready to be having sex than she is.

-buy hundreds of the cheap, uber-sensitive pregnancy tests available wholesale on the internet. If I ever get irrational preggers worry, I have tons of tests sitting in my bathroom. Google "early pregnancy tests".

-recognize, and make it clear that you recognize, that nothing is ever 100%. No matter what, there's always a chance that she's pregnant. She could be still bleeding, testing negative on pregnancy tests, whatever. You need to sit and think for a while about how terrifying that is to someone who doesn't want to be pregnant. Frankly, when I ruminate on the immense power I hold in my body - I could make another life with nothing more than some gunk obtained from a sperm bank! - it kind of makes me dizzy.

-try reading up on the birth control she uses. You may end up feeling more understanding, if nothing else. There seem to be a number of questions on Nuva Ring, for example, that are just freaking unanswered, or answered in contradictory ways by what seem to be two reliable, trustworthy sources. This can be incredibly frustrating if you go out looking for facts and come back with nothing but vague suspicions and uncorroborated statements from "women's health" websites.

It's a scary world out there for potentially pregnant, non-baby-wanting, lacking-in-sexual-experience girls. I really needed to hear that no matter what choice I made, my boyfriend would stick with me and support me.
posted by crinklebat at 4:11 PM on March 31, 2007

Is she concerned that in order to have a relationship with you that this necessarily means that sex is involved? She may want to have a relationship with you and not feel comfortable with managing the sexual aspect? Is she afraid that if you don't have sex that you will leave her? Is it easier to be afraid of pregnancy than to be afraid of your leaving?

If it fits with how you feel about it, then be clear to her that you love her. Period. Perhaps you could propose a period of abstinence (6 mos?), so that you can enjoy eachother without her worrying about being pregnant AND without worrying about managing birth control, AND without having to discuss it. If you're not having sex anyway, it might as well be part of a healing strategy, rather than just suffering. Help her feel confident about herself, your relationship and her body in non-sexual ways.

This would also be a good time for her to seek counselling either by herself, or together as a couple. The object of the counselling would be so that together you could explore how to have the best relationship you can, whatever that means.

If you phrase it like this with her, it takes away from her feeling (more) paranoid, or threatened, or (more) guilty. All of the issues raised by everybody else above will come out in counselling.

If after having gone through this with her or if all of this is impossible, you may need to move along, and let her work out her issues on her own, but having gone through this process will help give you the info you need to decide.
posted by kch at 4:25 PM on March 31, 2007

She needs to go see her gyno and get off that pill, talk about different methods PLUS some sort of therapy. Hormones are messy.
posted by trishthedish at 6:40 PM on March 31, 2007

Ok I read maybe the top fourth of this page and I had to comment.

Are we dating and I didn't know it, because your girlfriend sounds exactly like me.

Nevermind that I'm a reasonably intelligent person that passed all of my science/biology classes with high marks. Nope, my paranoia comes from a shit mother that told me something along the lines of "if you are in the same room as a naked penis, you WILL:

- become pregnant.
- get AIDS, and
- die alone from my AIDS because no one dates single mothers.

Every single time I've had sex, I've stressed out about getting pregnant. It doesn't matter if there's no protection or the pill, condom, the sponge AND he pulls out before he comes. The reaction is always the same. I spend the days from the time of sex to the date my period should start freaking the hell out.

Thanks, mom. I appreciate it.

Thankfully, I've gotten over it some. I still freak out, but I keep it to myself. At the most, I'll talk to a friend and go get a pregnancy test or six.

Honestly, I can't say that anything's really helped. It's gotten better over time, though. Maybe I'm just used to it now, because after every round of sex, I have to talk to myself about it. "Look. You were careful. You were protected. He was protected. You're both clean. You're not going to get pregnant. He's not going to give you teh AIDS and you will not die alone. So just shut the hell up and quit being a whiny pussy girl."

Yes, I said "whiny pussy girl".

It usually helps, talking to myself about it. And I do have marginally sane friends that I can talk to about that stuff without judgement.

So basically, I'm saying there's no real immediate way to calm the fears.
posted by damnjezebel at 9:47 PM on March 31, 2007

She may have a strong unacknowledged (or unspoken) desire to have a baby, many young women do. I know I did at that age. And also a desire to for my boyfriend to be "the one". A desire not inculcated by Catholic or any other kind of guilt, although I imagine that wouldn't help.

In any case seeing a therapist could help her and you too, why don't you go with her? If you can, and check out the BCP hormone thing.
posted by Coaticass at 11:59 AM on April 1, 2007

Newsflash: Anxiety often makes people act in irrational ways. I know calling her stupid or a whore is more fun, so I apologize for raining on the parade.
posted by Saucy Intruder

Fucking right. People who think this is wrong have NO idea what it's like to have real anxiety or an anxiety disorder. If I could have favorited this comment 20 more times, I would have.
posted by agregoli at 8:30 AM on April 2, 2007

I can't believe people are suggesting you suggest anal sex. Yeah, because if she's having issues about sex, the greatest idea in the world is to suggest something that is the height of dirty, slutty, porn-type sex.

"Guilt about normal sex? Yeah, let's have some painful, trampy, fraught-with-dirty-connotations anal sex. That will sure fix it!"

Jesus people. Have some compassion.
posted by aacheson at 8:45 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's not painful if you do it right, and there's nothing inherently trampy about it. Just because you have these issues doesn't mean that the poster's gf will, if it's really about the pregnancy. (Anal sex woould be the scientific solution).
posted by klangklangston at 9:37 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I missed this thread before...

I've treated several patients whose only symptom of psychosis was a conviction that they have HIV. This has mostly become manifest after some sort of sex that where there was a possibility that they could have been infected. The psychotic anxiety has persisted despite a very firm grasp on the science involved (by a couple of the people I'm talking about) and multiple negative tests (of many sorts).

While your gf may simply be anxious and this may simply be a reaction to various inculcated messages about sex and pregnancy (and while I cannot be privy to the lived experience of pregnancy anxiety), it may be that she really does need some intervention beyond what you can provide with kind words, a listening ear, and abstinence. The most frustrating thing about the patients I describe above is that reason does not ever enter into their thoughts about HIV. Nurse practicioners and doctors are powerless to affect their thinking, as are multiple negative tests that prove conclusively that they are not infected. Casual comments by people on the street which support their delusion are granted far greater weight than is actual knowledge of the disease processes of HIV. It would be possible to literally exhaust yourself in well-meaning and rational conversation before making an impact on these delusions.

Your gf may not be suffering from this same kind of delusion but it's worth keeping in mind that it's a possiblity.
posted by OmieWise at 10:55 AM on April 2, 2007

I agree with the comments about OCD--I'm OCD and have been like this. I used to be scared I would get pregnant from things other than sexual intercourse, like the urban legend stuff. Even pregnancy tests didn't help.
posted by starbaby at 9:31 AM on April 6, 2007

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