After the Roe Overturn, Masturbating Became the Safest Way For Me to Experience Pleasure

Getty Images | Aly Lim
Getty Images | Aly Lim

The following story is a part of POPSUGAR's Sex in a Post-Roe World series, which explores how limited (or nonexistent) abortion access is changing how people approach sex, dating, and relationships.

In an exclusive survey conducted in July 2022, POPSUGAR reached out on Instagram to poll our followers for anonymous data about if and how the Roe v. Wade overturn affected their approach to relationships. One finding: of the 712 respondents, 54 percent noted that they're choosing to masturbate more because it's less complicated than having sex with someone and risking pregnancy.

Below, one writer details this anxiety and shares how she's finding pleasure beyond the bounds of partnered sex.

As someone in an open relationship, I like to have casual sex. Sometimes, that means having spontaneous threesomes with my primary partner. Other times, it means one-night stands with someone from Hinge. But lately, my sex life has looked a lot different. Since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, I've felt so concerned about the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy that, at times, I've found myself abstaining from partnered sex outside of my primary relationship entirely.

I've been on birth control for 11 years. I also live in New York, where abortion has been legal since 1970, three years before the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in the first place. But I know I don't want children. And despite my privileged position, abortion access has never felt more precarious than it does right now.

Soon after the Supreme Court's decision on Dobbs, for instance, Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a bill that would ban abortion after 15 weeks nationwide, even in states that are currently considered safe havens for reproductive health, like New York. It seems impossible — but so did the idea that Roe would be overturned.

In the days and weeks after the Supreme Court's decision, I kept hearing about people who were pregnant and unable to access abortion care. I worried about the safety of my friends, the safety of underserved communities who don't have access to birth control, and my own safety, too.

In an effort to feel some sense of control and security, I resolved to always use multiple forms of protection during sex no matter what, just in case my primary birth control fails. And while I've always openly discussed how we'd handle the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy with my primary partner, as a result of my decision, I wound up talking more about that risk — and the importance of safe sex — with my more casual partners.

Reassuringly, I found that I wasn't the only person who was stocking up on condoms post-Roe. Before June 24, I often faced resistance when I suggested condoms from people saying their penises are "too big" to wear them comfortably (doubtful, as seen by this viral Tweet) or complaining that they reduce sensation during sex. But in my experience, since the overturn, others are more cautious about wearing condoms, too. It's clear that people are feeling the weight of no longer having bodily autonomy, both those with uteruses and those without.

But even being more careful with birth control didn't completely ease my worries around getting pregnant. So, I've found myself choosing to abstain from partnered sex altogether. Instead, I masturbate — a lot.

But after feeling so much tension around my partnered sex life, being able to focus solely on what makes me feel good without any worry was a huge relief.

While I initially began masturbating more out of anxiety, I was surprised to find that it ended up feeling extremely liberating and freeing. I'm not a newcomer to masturbation (and I have the sex toys to prove it). But after feeling so much tension around my partnered sex life, being able to focus solely on what makes me feel good without any worry was a huge relief. To call out and own my desires again felt almost like an act of reclamation.

Overturning Roe didn't just ban abortion, and the anxiety I felt after the ruling wasn't, and still isn't, only about getting pregnant, although that became a recurring fear. Rather, the Supreme Court decision set the precedent that legislators can dictate which people have autonomy over their bodies and which people do not. At a time when lawmakers seem to want control over citizens' bodies and pleasure, masturbating became one way I could take back my power: sex is still sex, and it can be whatever I want it to be — fun, romantic, steamy, silly — whether I'm having it with a partner or on my own.

As the end of 2022 and the six-month anniversary of the Roe overturn draw closer, my approach to relationships and sex has remained the same; I've continued to masturbate more and have sex with fewer partners. It's eased my anxiety, but I don't do it simply as a way to avoid pregnancy. It's also a way of reclaiming what my body can do and feel, knowing that no one can tell me it is right or wrong.

When you're constantly worried about the state of the world and the reality of others who cannot access abortion, accessing pleasure can feel daunting and impossible. But through solo masturbation, I learned to take time with myself again to feel good and let myself truly relax in my body. We all deserve to love ourselves that way.

My sex life may change again in the future. But as I continue to look ahead, my hope is this: that I'll continue to make decisions about my sex life based on finding a true flow that's in line with who I am, not how legislators want me to be.