In Missouri, a couple of non-monogamous women have stopped inviting partners with penises into their bedroom, because they’re too worried that one of them will get pregnant and be unable to end the pregnancy.
Some Floridians are having less penetrative sex or cutting down on sex entirely—including among couples.
A few polyamorous people in Wisconsin are even asking potential partners to have a vasectomy before sex.
Roe v. Wade’s overturning is, arguably, the greatest earthquake in Americans’ sex lives in generations. And these accounts, recounted to VICE News from sex therapists across the country, are just a snapshot of how the overturning is already rewriting people’s approach to sex, dating, and intimacy writ large.
“This alarm bell is above all of our beds right now,” said Dr. Justin Garcia, the executive director of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and a scientific advisor at Match.
The fear of an unintended or even dangerous pregnancy that ties your life to a less-than-ideal partner is making it difficult for people to not only want to head to the bedroom, but to even have a good time once they’re there. In a survey of 5,000-plus single Americans, conducted by Match and released Tuesday, nearly 80 percent of singles of reproductive age also said that the end of Roe has changed their sex life, with 20 percent saying they’re more hesitant to have sex at all. Gen Z respondents were particularly nervous: 27 percent said that they’re more hesitant about sex now.
Thirteen percent said that they’re more hesitant to date. Given that there are more than 75 million single people in the United States, according to Match, Roe could have changed the dating habits of almost 10 million people.
Sex therapists are now hearing many of the same sentiments, they told VICE News, although not everybody is responding the same way. The degree to which clients feel affected varies by their gender, demographics, and geography. Therapists in the abortion-haven states of New York and California, for example, said their clients remained relatively unconcerned about Roe’s impact on their own lives. People with the ability to have babies, particularly single people, tend to be more worried than people who don’t.
Sex therapist Lexx Brown-James treats clients in Missouri, which has banned abortion, and Pennsylvania, which has not. She’s noticed a difference in how often people in Missouri bring up Roe, compared to those in Pennsylvania.
“I literally just had a client this week who's polyamorous and is like, ‘Nobody wants to get pregnant. We have to be on with our birth control, because none of us in this relationship and none of our metas—our partners of our partners—want to usher in a new baby,’” Brown-James said. “Some type of barrier method is super important for her right now. And I hear that more from, I will say, the Missouri folks than I do from the Pennsylvania folks.”
Black and queer people are also feeling extra cautious, Brown-James said. The national maternal mortality rate among non-Hispanic Black women is almost three times the rate among white women. “Often, my clients say, ‘What hope do I have of possibly surviving this process?’” Brown-James said. “And that’s really scary, because it’s factually sound.”
Having these kinds of life-altering concerns hanging over a bedroom, let alone the fear of pregnancy, is something of a mood-killer. Almost every sex therapist who spoke to VICE News said that their clients felt like the decision had ripped away control of their bodies, which can lead to a struggle to get aroused. It’s simply not fun to have sex if you’re feeling crushed by consequences.
“Sex is one of the most vulnerable things that you can do with another person, if not the most vulnerable,” said Madelyn Esposito-Smith, a sex therapist in Wisconsin, where nearly all abortions are now banned. “Eroticism is less reachable when there's a sense of fear, a sense of trepidation. They can't stay in the moment and experience pleasure and mindfulness and eroticism if their brain is thinking about, ‘I could die from this. I could have a baby with this person. Do I want to have a baby with this person?’ It's hard to stay present and be erotic and connected with your body if there's fear of how that behavior will result in in pregnancy.”
All of Esposito-Smith’s clients are now grappling with this problem, including men, she said. She anticipates that the orgasm gap—the gulf between how often men and women orgasm—will stay the same, given how fraught ejaculating now is and how much that may weigh on people with penises.
However, Garcia, of the Kinsey Institute, believes it will widen.
“If it's going to have any effect that's going to be widening and potentially severe,” Garcia said. “There's some old studies that with young women, condom use is associated with slightly higher orgasm than non-condom use, in terms of recent sexual events. The thought being that it might be because you're not as worried. So if you're in a worried state, you can't focus on the sexual event.”
A quarter of respondents to the Match survey said that they plan to use condoms more often. The shift in contraceptive habits is perhaps unsurprising, since Americans have a history of changing their birth control based on political events. After all, when former President Donald Trump won the 2016 election, IUD installations surged by more than 20 percent. (An IUD is a long-acting and reversible contraceptive that’s implanted behind the cervix and can last for years.) In the days after Roe’s June overturning, searches for terms like “IUD,” “Plan B,” and “contraception” all spiked.
Doctors and patients have also recently reported rising interest in more permanent forms of birth control, like vasectomies and tubal ligations. One doctor in Wisconsin told VICE News that, in the last seven years, she had tied the tubes of just one patient who wanted the procedure for contraceptive reasons. In the two months after the Roe decision, the doctor performed tubal ligations on four patients who simply did not want to have kids.
But the quality and quantity of post-Roe sex is far harder to track, given all the subjectivity, shame, and secrecy embedded in sex. In fact, the relationship between people’s sexual activities and the availability of abortion has long been under-researched and poorly understood.
“Which is a little bit strange, when you think about it. Abortion has to be preceded by a pregnancy, and most pregnancies are the result of sex,” said Dr. Katrina Kimport, a sociologist at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, which is part of the University of California, San Francisco. “So it is in some ways just a very strange phenomenon that our research, social, and political conversations about abortion have such a small engagement, if any, with thinking about sex and sexuality.”
Kimport has studied this gap and found that people, including scholars, tend to think about abortion as a standalone occurrence, rather than a domino that falls after a chain of events that includes sex. “It’s interrelated with sex and sexuality,” Kimport said. “But because of the way we talk about and think about abortion, it’s almost impossible to have a conversation about how it’s interrelated.”
This bizarre disconnect is likely due, in part, to the fact that sexual education in the United States is chiefly concerned with preventing sex itself. Thirty-nine states require that information about abstinence be taught in sex ed, while only 20 states mandate that students learn about contraception, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks restrictions on reproductive rights. Twenty-nine states also require that abstinence be “stressed” during sex education classes. Pregnancy is then framed as a failure, a sign that you didn’t live up to the standards set by some of your earliest teachers and mentors in life.
One of the few ways that people do connect abortion and their own sexuality, Kimport said, is by believing that abortion as a refusal to accept the consequences of having sex. Kimport has previously interviewed people who considered but didn’t obtain an abortion—not because they wanted to have a baby, but because they felt that doing so would be abdicating their responsibility.
“The people I interviewed didn't say and that responsibility also falls to my partner in that sex act. Most of the people I talked to were continuing this pregnancy without the support of the man involved,” Kimport said. “So we have a very selective and very gendered version of who is responsible in the event of an unexpected pregnancy. And it's a story that overrides somebody's personal desire about whether or not they want to have a baby.”
There are signs that people are changing the stories they tell themselves and their partners about how their political stance on abortion dovetails with their sex lives. Two out of three single women will not date someone who doesn’t share their views on abortion, the Match survey found. After Roe’s overturning, Tinder let users add the words “pro-choice” to their profile. People are also now four to five times more likely to mention “abortion” in their profile.
“We also scraped bios for mentions like pro-choice, abortion, vasectomy,” said Stephanie Danzi, Tinder’s senior vice president of global marketing. “We've seen an incredibly huge spike across all of those. This is clearly something that's very, very important to daters. And we're seeing that really across both men and women across the entire U.S.”
Sex therapist Marissa Nelson’s clients in Washington, D.C., are now being more open about having had past abortions, she said. One woman, in particular, has now been able to talk more candidly about how her abortion made her resist sex and pleasure with her husband. She hadn’t realized that she still felt resentment over the abortion. (In a study of more than 600 women who underwent abortions, 99 percent said that having the procedure was the right choice five years afterward. The most common emotion among these women was relief, but reckoning with the aftermath of an abortion can still be an emotional rollercoaster.)
“We compartmentalize intimacy, we compartmentalize sexuality. And something like this decision happens and boom, it's in the forefront again. And everybody's coming to it from their different perspective,” Nelson said. “What does this mean for my sexuality? What does this mean for what I want my future to be like? What is the impact of this on my relationship?”