Feeding and breeding

Q: I was browsing the Planned Parenthood Web site and something totally surprised me. In their birth control (BC) section, they quote the percentage of women who get pregnant during the first year of using a particular method. The interesting part: The breastfeeding method (mothers who are full-time breastfeeding, haven’t had a period, less than six months after labor) has a 2 percent BC failure rate for "typical use" (Wikipedia echoes PP on this one), while condoms have a 15 percent failure rate! (The "typical" condom user appears to be reluctant to put it on when the box says you should — with "perfect" use the rate goes down to 2 percent.)

Breastfeeding method better than condoms?! They’ve got to be kidding me! In my largely breastfeeding home country, doctors hammer it into women’s heads that breastfeeding as a BC method is a myth. PP says you are not supposed to use the method if you have had a period — but I would think the first ovulation happens before the first period, not after, and that’s when the unsuspecting new mother would get into trouble.

Plus, it would seem all too easy for her to miss her first period, with all that post-labor stuff that comes out. Supposedly the method works due to the fact that "continuous breastfeeding … stimulates the hormone prolactin" which "can postpone ovulation" — but then how is it possible that so many women get their periods while they are breastfeeding? To top it off, I even know somebody for whom this method failed. So, maybe it works sometimes, but a 2 percent failure rate sounds ridiculously low. Because of how their failure rates are defined, can this low value just be due to the fact that new mothers have sex much less often than other women? If so, these low failure rates are misleading for those who actually try to rely on it (I never would).

So maybe you could you sort out all this breastfeeding business, Mr. Savage, the Wise One, for the purposes of public education? If it ever comes to it, please sign me … —What The Fuck

MARLA: WTF, those stats aren’t only on Planned Parenthood’s Web site, they are published in smarty-pants medical journals like the Lancet; so I think they are right. I’ve spent my career as a sex-ed and health educator, used to manage a Planned Parenthood clinic, and am a big proponent of condoms to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. But because of lame sex ed, there are lots of people using condoms who don’t use them correctly. The biggest reason for the 15 percent failure rate for condoms is that "typical use" includes people not using them every time. It’s also true that old condoms that have sat in a guy’s wallet for months can and do sometimes break.

In contrast, with continuous breastfeeding (aka the Lactational Amenorrhea Method or LAM) there’s a hungry crying baby to remind you to breastfeed every few hours, which is one reason pregnancy rates for "typical" and "perfect" use of this method are so similar and so low. Also, women have to discontinue this method as soon as they begin menstruating again, so they’ve got a red flag (literally) when it’s no longer going to be effective. The method is only recommended for the first six months after childbirth. How many parents of an infant have any time or energy for sex in the first six months after childbirth is an interesting question that I don’t know if these studies answered.

STEVE: Maybe we’ll punt to the Wise One whether there are studies out there of pregnancy rates in new moms using LAM versus those using condoms, which would take into account frequency of sexual activity. We didn’t find any, but we’re not getting paid the big bucks.

DAN: And I am? Is that what you mean to imply, Steve? Well, it’s true, I am — and I’d like to keep it that way, thanks very much, so I’m thinking no more auctions. You guys are making me look like a total fucking slacker. That response earned you both an A, and frankly, I’m starting to sweat a little. Knock it off, will you?


Q: My wife and I were married for five years before I left her. She claimed to be a sexual person, frequently told me how attracted she was to me, and we both fully enjoyed all the other great things about our relationship, including mutual respect and great conversation. The problem: She rarely showed that claimed attraction to me. The pressures of an unfulfilling sex life (and numerous failed attempts to correct the problem) eventually became too much and I left, fully realizing why I should have never married her in the first place.

So then I was a 30-year-old, healthy, intelligent, good-looking, financially stable, socially comfortable bachelor in a huge city surrounded by single women. Perfect, right? Not really. This is where it gets weird. I have an uncanny ability to attract women who claim to be "very sexual," profess how attracted they are to me, and want to make out a lot, but stop short of actual sex, much less the uninhibited exploration I’d love to get. The most obvious explanation would be that I somehow scare them away by moving too fast, but I’m very aware of my impact on others and I really don’t think I come across that way. I’m not a slut; I must be attracted to someone and trust her before I’ll have sex with her. I’m talking about weeks and weeks of dating without these "very sexual," liberal, thirtysomethings removing more than their shirts. I’m very comfortable with sex, been told over and over again that I’m a great kisser, and I’m surrounded by "interested" cuties, but it’s been five months since I’ve had so much as a blow job. I’m very good at connecting with them through conversation — conversation that can last for hours. So here’s my question: Is it possible that by fulfilling the emotional and intellectual needs of women too well, I’m hurting my chances at fantastic sex? Why would the 30-year-old liberal crowd be so guarded about having a good time in bed? What am I missing here? Do nice guys finish last even in their 30s? —Learning About Sexy Teasers

STEVE: Hmmm, what do all these encounters with lots of different "interested, very sexual women" have in common, besides a failure to get past second base? You. So if you want to generalize about liberal women in their 30s, you can’t say they don’t want to have sex, just that they don’t want to have sex with you. Why? I’m guessing that your "long fulfilling conversation" shtick doesn’t work as well as you keep hoping it will. It’s time to try a different approach.

MARLA: Right, you don’t really want great conversations anyway, which you had with your ex-wife whom you left to get more nookie. No, you want to get laid, and your dates probably see right through your "I’m intellectually and emotionally deep, so let me get in your pants" act. I think that’s the problem, not your theory that women are soooo satisfied by their emotional connection with you that they don’t need or want to have sex. Lemme clue you in: If a woman finds her date’s conversation stimulating, she’s more — not less — likely to want other stimulation from him too.

Honestly, I don’t really want you to get laid, but I’ll offer advice anyway. You’ll boost your odds if you relax and have a good time instead of working so hard to demonstrate your sensitivity and conversational prowess. Toward the end of fun date number three or four, say, "I’d love for you to stay over tonight if you’d like to," instead of spending hours in a coffeehouse talking about the time you cried when your first dog died, or whatever else you think women want to hear. Whether she answers yes or no, it’ll save you both time.

DAN: OK, that’s it. A+, well done, both barrels, you totally douchebagged that douche bag. But this column is over! No more auctions! It’s making me look bad!

But, hey, let’s hear it for Marla and Steve — they fed the homeless and made me look like a useless tool in the process! Priceless! Send letters to [email protected]

Dan Savage

Dan Savage is a sex-advice columnist, podcaster, and author, and has appeared on numerous television shows. His sex advice column “Savage Love” first appeared in The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly, in 1991. The column is now syndicated across the United States and Canada. He has published six books...
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