I spent the last decade doing everything within my power not to fall pregnant. It was an anxious time fraught with scares and missed pills, weird periods and split condoms. It was a time in which I became incredibly confident and comfortable with my body and had some great sex and wonderful relationships, but the anxiety, likely the result of fear-based sex education, was ever present. Chiefly because I knew, that if I were to become pregnant, I’d have to make a choice.
For context, I believe that every woman has the right to make final decisions about her own body. The result of an unplanned pregnancy is up to the pregnant woman. I’m pro choice and I advocate for all women to have that choice, many do not. So, regarding my own choice – I lived in silent fear from the age of 19 to 29 that I would become pregnant. It was a terrifying prospect because I knew that were it to happen, I would have to have an abortion.
Today, I only know what takes place during an abortion because I researched it. We weren’t taught this sort of thing at school and no adult had ever explained the mechanisms to me. I’d read books in which characters underwent the procedure, seen films that simply showed nervous women in pedestrian waiting rooms, looked at pictures of religious picketers holding placards decrying baby deaths, but I didn’t know what an abortion actually was in practice until I looked it up.
After that, I knew this was something I wouldn’t be able to deal with. Hospitals make me anxious, smear tests give me panic attacks. I’d needed a general anaesthetic for my third cervical biopsy at 21 so there was absolutely no way I could have an abortion. I knew it wasn’t an option.
So I carried the pregnancy fear with me, into every situation that held the potential to knock me up. I secretly wished that my ovaries would stop working or that all my eggs would shrivel up and die. I intentionally stayed slim and didn’t eat enough to produce healthy periods. I was fierce about men using condoms and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I could not have a baby and absolutely could not experience having an abortion. Gradually I allowed my anxiety about this to affect myriad aspects of my life.
What is fear-based sex education?
I know now that those worries were the result of fear-based sex education – the idea that sex and sexuality is a monster that will destroy you if you let it, rather than sex as a positive force that will enrich your life. At school, in media, from every side, young women were encouraged to be wary and afraid. But we weren’t actually told what it was we should be afraid of, there was very little detail and between google, the doctor’s office and experimentation, it was left to us to figure out the mechanisms of anatomy, consent, pleasure, hormones, sexuality and boundaries for ourselves.
All we were told is that we should use protection and that we should be ashamed of ourselves. Also that getting pregnant would be the worst thing that could possibly happen and we should do everything in our power to avoid it. So, as you can imagine, myself I spent a lot of time worrying very intensely about this stuff and also, doing it all anyway. This time was very stressful. And by ‘this time’ I mean the entirety of my teens and twenties.
Abortion anxiety and privelege
But a strange thing happened to me in the first few days of 2020. I was on the edge of my bed. It was a Saturday morning and I was sitting in front of a mirror putting a pair of socks on. I was daydreaming, mostly about seeing my boyfriend again – he’d been away for the past few weeks. I imagined us together and let my thoughts uncurl wildly and messily until I felt an overwhelming calmness. My brain was thinking to itself ‘wasn’t it nice that I didn’t have to worry about getting an abortion ever again.’ I grounded myself and looked in the mirror. I thought about what I’d heard in my head.
It was true. I didn’t feel any anxiety about falling pregnant, because I wouldn’t have an abortion. I’d just have a baby and it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Suddenly the anxiety I’d carried around with me for 10 years was gone, I was experiencing some kind of gorgeous freedom and it really freaked me out. It felt like a privilege I wasn’t familiar with.
I knew I wasn’t pregnant at that moment. I was halfway through a pill pack and my boyfriend had been away for a few weeks. But I felt at ease, like all threat had been removed. The beast had vanished and why not? It was a new decade, I was heavier, happier and in love. However, the contrast between the girl who’d wished her reproductive organs would break or shut down to avoid the trauma of one choice or the other – the girl who’d experienced years of vague and frightening fear-based sex education – and the woman satisfied in her ability to choose happily, stung me a little. I thought about those fraught years and all the girls that carry the same anxiety into bedrooms with them whilst trying to enjoy intimacy.
It almost didn’t seem fair that suddenly my inner consciousness was making these sorts of decisions for me, but still, the absence of pregnancy anxiety was a gorgeous kind of freedom I experienced in my adult body for the first time. I felt totally in control, a little wild because of it, and it was perfect.
Over the next few weeks I spent a great deal of time in my thoughts, wondering about the tipping point, about the unnecessary anxiety we pile onto women, our education, our healthcare and how we’re expected to relate to our own bodies. The men I’d lain next to, who slept soundly whilst I lost hours to willing my fertility out of action. The sad thing about this new-found peace of mind is that I don’t really know what to do with it. I don’t have answers for anyone. Do we need to totally restructure our attitudes to shame, sex and fertility? Yes, absolutely. Do we need to better educate women and eradicate fear-based sex ed? I think so, but I would love to know your thoughts in the comments below.