What do you do when you don’t want to get pregnant, but your husband doesn’t want birth control?
We’ve been tackling difficult sex questions all month, and here’s one I tackled a while ago, but I still get asked quite a bit. I thought it was worth re-running.
A woman asks:
I miscarried in the fall and I don’t feel ready to get pregnant again. My husband agrees and we’ve decided to wait to try again. The issue is that he refuses to wear a condom and doesn’t want me on hormonal birth control or to use an IUD. He wants to use the” pull and pray” method and doesn’t want to use spermicide or anything. As a result I avoid sex. I deny him. Or when we do have sex I’m an emotional wreck afterwards. I don’t want to anxiously wait to see if my cycle actually arrives every month. It is just too much. Our relationship is suffering for it. I don’t know what to do.
That’s a tough one, and my answer isn’t going to focus on whether or not birth control is right or wrong. I know there are couples, both Protestant and Catholic, who feel that birth control is morally wrong. I wrote a birth control series previously, and I do think that certain methods are okay. But regardless of where you fall in this debate, I think these answers will apply to all of us.
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Here are some general thoughts, in no particular order:
Before you decide anything–understand how your body’s fertility works
Honestly, you just can’t get pregnant everyday throughout the month. It doesn’t work like that. You can only get pregnant when viable sperm meets your egg when it is also viable, and that’s roughly 3-7 days a month. Now, that may sound like a lot, because if you don’t make love during your period (and most women don’t), then that’s two weeks a month that are off limits if you don’t want to get pregnant AND don’t want to use any birth control. But the fact is that’s also two weeks a month that are NOT off limits!
So get used to tracking your cycle. You can do this by taking your temperature every morning at the same time, using a digital thermometer. Get some free printable charts to track your cycle here. Now many of these sites are trying to help you get pregnant, but the principle is the same. When you know when your fertile times are, you also know when your infertile times are.
Track yourself for a few months, and you’ll get a sense of about how many days after your period starts that you ovulate. Most people are within 11-16 days. Then you just stop sex for two days before that and up to 5 after, although many sites will tell you that you really don’t have to stop for more than 3-4 days. Just read up as much on the subject as you can until you’re comfortable.
What if you don’t ovulate at the same time every month? There are other ways to check–like checking your cervical mucous.
Remember: it is physically impossible to get pregnant when there is no egg present. Get to know your body and trust your body. And many of us can FEEL when we ovulate (I hurt for about 12 hours), so three days later I’d be good to go, too.
The key to feeling relaxed about it is to get as much information as you can and then start charting. Even ask your husband to help you with this! When you know that it’s safe, you’ll feel better about making love on those times.
Now–Do you have to have sex if you don’t want to get pregnant, and he won’t help prevent pregnancy?
I’d like to think through a few principles here.
You bear the most repercussions from getting pregnant
It is your body that will have to carry the baby. It is your body that may miscarry. It is your body that will have to nurse the baby if you do get pregnant.
Yes, the baby would belong to both of you, but the repercussions for getting pregnant fall heavily on the woman. And for that reason, her feelings about getting pregnant need to factor into the birth control discussion.
And you can make a pretty strong case that Scripture tells men that they are to consider their wives’ bodies:
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
A man should be considering his wife’s body in the same way that he considers his own, which means that her desires of what to do about pregnancy should matter to him.
Can you compromise and use nothing on safe days, and condoms in the fertile window?
If you’re both just opposed to hormonal birth control and don’t like condoms, one solution is to use nothing for most of the month, and then use condoms only on your fertile days.
If condoms are out of the question, too, then you have a decision to make. You can say to your husband:
Honey, I do want to have an active sex life with you and I do want to enjoy our intimacy. But I just am not prepared to be pregnant right now, and so I’m going to have say no on these days.
And then maybe you can do other things. After all, not all sex needs to be intercourse. You can bring each other to climax another way, and still enjoy each other’s bodies.
Let’s stop saying, “Let’s leave it up to God.”
Frankly, I think that’s a cop out. And the “pull and pray” method is awfully risky. You can get pregnant with sperm that is released before ejaculation. And I think the “pray” part has rather sketchy doctrine. What you’re really saying is,
God, I want you to do something for me, but I’m not prepared to do anything myself to achieve that goal. I don’t want to be pregnant, but I also don’t want to have to exercise any self-control or bear any consequences of my actions.
So you’re not willing to do any work at all, but you’ll pray that you won’t get pregnant–and then trust God even though you’re not taking the precautions you should? Come on. Let’s be honest about what we’re doing and not spiritualize it.
Talk About Family Size and Timing
You really need to sit down and talk about family size and timing. This is a matter of mutual respect. You can’t say, “we won’t have any more kids”, but simultaneously say “but I’m not willing to do anything about it.” That’s a cop out. If this is the case in your marriage, then having some discussions with him is in order, and if that isn’t getting anywhere, talking to a third party to help you work this out is likely in order, too.
Now, I do think that it’s very problematic, and even unfair, to tell your spouse that you never want kids if they do. That’s a lot to take away from someone. But if it’s a matter of family size or timing, rather than whether to have a family at all, that’s something you need to work through.
What if you’re just disagreeing about birth control? Speak up!
Sometimes guys are morally opposed to hormonal birth control, but hate the thought of using condoms. So they say, “I don’t want to use birth control.”
But just because they don’t want to use it does not mean that you have to risk getting pregnant. Marriage involves two people, and your opinion matters as well, especially because you bear more repercussions. So it’s okay to say:
I want to have a great sex life with you, and I want to enjoy intimacy together. But I am not emotionally or physically in a place where I can handle a pregnancy. So I am not willing to have sex if we’re not using birth control.
That is not a matter of depriving him of sex; that is a matter of setting clear boundaries. I wrote earlier, too, in my birth control series about how this birth control responsibility needs to be shared, and how this sort of thing cannot always fall on the woman. I hope that we all can think this through better!
If a man is insisting on having sex without birth control, even when you have said you don’t want to get pregnant, that can be reproductive abuse
One form of abuse is men deliberately getting their wife pregnant without their wife’s consent. Using your wife’s body in that way is not mutual and it’s not right. If your husband is insisting on this, and is not listening to your pleas, then please call an abuse hotline or talk to a professional licensed counselor. This also constitutes a form of marital rape.
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Finally, just remember: there are never any guarantees
I don’t mean to be flippant about this, but it’s reality nonetheless.
No matter what you do, remember that you are in God’s hands. I do understand not thinking it’s responsible to have more kids, especially if you already have a bunch, if your health is at risk, if you have special needs kids already that need attention, or if there’s military deployments coming up. There certainly are legitimate reasons to want to limit your family. And sometimes you may honestly just want to be done!
But remember that if you do get pregnant, God will carry you. He will give you the strength and the resources. You are never alone.
All of us need to be content with that, because I don’t think we were ever meant to live with 100% certainty that pregnancy wouldn’t happen.
Now I’d love to know your take on this. Have you ever had this situation? Or perhaps for you it’s the opposite: you want more kids but your husband doesn’t. How did you handle that? Let me know in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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