Ever Since My Abortion I Worry After Sex

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Reader’s Question

I am a teen and last year I got pregnant. I had an abortion and have been taking birth control pills ever since. The problem is that I have been having less sex because of the fear of falling pregnant again. With every little stomach pain I get paranoid and take a pregnancy test. It’s just so scary to think about going through it all again. I know that all these months the pill has worked well and that I can trust it, but every month I panic, worry and stress for nothing. I need help on how to overcome the fear and free my mind from it! I don’t want to go through this every month until I marry!

Psychologist’s Reply

The reactions you’ve had to a stressful or traumatic experience are understandable. If someone experiences a traumatic automobile accident, it’s normal to experience anxiety when driving or riding in an automobile immediately afterwards. Being inside an automobile is associated with something bad happening. In your case, of course, having sex is associated with something bad happening (getting pregnant, and thus having to have an abortion).

It’s important to realize that these classically conditioned connections are not something over which we have conscious control. That is, they’re automatic because of the experience we had. So, the individual may realize that the risk of a future trauma is low, but that does not seem to help when it comes to the body and mind responding with conditioned anxiety and worry.

Because anxiety and worry are so uncomfortable, it’s natural to want to avoid experiencing them. So, it’s very common for people to avoid the situations that cause the anxiety and worry. Unfortunately, avoiding the feared situations is probably the worst thing the individual can do because it ends up reinforcing that behavior. Each time the anxiety producing situation is successfully avoided, the avoidance of the anxiety is the reward that makes such avoidance even more likely in the future. This is why phobias, for example, do not improve on their own.

The solution is to expose yourself to the anxiety producing situation often enough that the anxiety subsides, and a new association is formed that involves nothing bad happening. So, in the case of the automobile accident, the person should drive as frequently as possible, ideally to the point where, when each trip is over, the person is calm. I’m going to stop short of advising to have sex as frequently as possible, although there’s nothing wrong with that approach if you should choose it. Unfortunately, it’s not just sex itself that causes the anxiety and worry, but the period afterward during which you have not yet received verification that you’re not pregnant (either by having your period or seeing a negative result from a pregnancy test).

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I suggest exposing yourself to what it is you fear, and practicing such exposure frequently enough that you become desensitized to it so that it no longer rouses strong feelings. You fear becoming pregnant, but we don’t want that actual experience just for the sake of exposure. Instead, several times per day, you could vividly imagine that you are pregnant, and focus your energies on calming yourself, talking yourself through the fact that although it would be undesirable, you would survive, and so forth. When you picture yourself pregnant, and feel anxious, you’ll be tempted to think of something else, or take a pregnancy test for reassurance. Resist such temptations and stay with the imagery until you feel calm. Repeat the process and you’ll soon be back to being able to have sex without anxiety or worry.

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