Reproductive Coercion

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Reproductive coercion is a specific type of intimate partner violence in which one partner forces unprotected sex in order to increase the chances that the other partner will get pregnant against her will (Anna Almendrala, “What Women Need to Know about Reproductive Coercion”).

Thanks to the most recent buzz about Ian Somerhalder, I realized it was time to devote a post to the topic of men using birth control to exhibit power and control over their uterus-possessing partners.

It’s estimated that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence at some point during her lifetime. In all likelihood, far more women experience abuse without ever realizing it. Intimate partner abuse (or domestic violence) is – like all forms of violence – about power and control. It occurs when one partner uses tactics such as manipulation, isolation, physical violence, rape, financial abuse, verbal abuse, and coercion to control the other person.

Reproductive abuse can occur in many forms and it is a legitimate form of violence against women. It is a form of sexual abuse. It is quite simply a man exerting control over his partner’s body and it can occur at any age.

I grew up in a culture that said, once I was married, my husband could make decisions about my body (when to have sex, when to have kids, etc) without my consent. In fact, we did not talk about consent at all. The truth is: your body, your choice. Your body belongs to you, not your partner. In healthy relationships, partners communicate openly about their reproductive plans and desires. They respect one another enough to respect bodily autonomy. They consensually share their bodies with one another as an expression of caring rather than control. It is not remotely healthy for anyone to attempt to force you to get pregnant or make you feel pressured to do something that could adversely affect your reproductive health.

If your partner tampers with your birth control in any way – flushes your pills, hides your pills, lies about wearing a condom, tampers with your ring/diaphragm, refuses to wear a condom, doesn’t pull out when he said he would, is dishonest about having an STD, forces you to have an abortion when you want to remain pregnant – that is reproductive abuse.

In Miller’s 2010 study, one of the largest on reproductive coercion to date, 15 percent of 1,300 women who visited federal- and state-subsidized California family-planning clinics had their birth control sabotaged. One in five had been urged by a boyfriend not to use birth control, or told by a boyfriend he would leave her if she wouldn’t get pregnant. A larger portion of respondents, 35 percent, who reported intimate partner violence (IPV) also reported birth-control sabotage (Kat Stoeffel, Reproductive Coercion: When Men Sabotage Birth Control).

Being pregnant, giving birth, caring for a small child. It’s hard work and while having children can be a wonderfully fulfilling and enjoyable time of life, it can also be extremely difficult. Not everyone wants to be a mother and that’s okay (it’s not selfish, contrary to what many people believe). And, worst case scenario, it can be deadly. You have the right to decide when and how (or if) you become a parent.

Many abusers – and our culture at large – romanticize the idea of a man who will go to great lengths to become a father. Reproductive abuse is not romantic. Forcing their partner to become pregnant is one way abusers exhibit control. A pregnant woman is less likely to be able to leave. She now has the added burden of caring for a child. The abuser now has a new target for his abuse [potentially] or, at the very least, he will use the child’s well-being to manipulate and guilt his partner into staying in the relationship and under his control.

Some women hope that bringing a baby into the picture will ease the abuse but this is extremely rare; I’ve never heard of it happening at all. Many abusers become more violent during pregnancy and “domestic violence during pregnancy puts a pregnant woman and her unborn child in danger. It increases the risk of miscarriage, infection, premature birth, low birth weight, fetal injury and fetal death” (Domestic Violence and Pregnancy).

If you have experienced reproductive coercion, talk to your GYNO or a doctor, a counselor, a trusted friend or family member, and/or call a sexual abuse hotline for local resources. You have experienced a legitimate form of violence and you have the right to seek help. You may also consider enlisting help in getting out of that relationship (but understand that the abuse is not your fault, even if you do not leave). You deserve to feel safe and to be treated with respect and honesty.

You might also consider a form of birth control that is next to impossible to tamper with (i.e. an implanted devise like an IUD or the DEPO shot). Every type of birth control has its benefits as well as its risks so do some research and talk to a medical professional before switching or beginning contraception.

Also, be sure to check out 15 Warning Signs He Doesn’t Support Your Contraceptive Choices.

Also, check out this recent news: Lawmakers Call for “Stealthing” to Be Classified as Rape

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2 thoughts on “Reproductive Coercion

  1. This is really intriguing. Reproductive coercion also includes partner declaration of ownership of the woman’s body with statements such as”your breasts are mine, let me suck them”. This way a man displays his power and control over the partnership to reduce her into submission. IPV (reproductive coercion) also comes in forms like the partner holding and cuddling a woman in bed against her wish especially when the woman wants to catch some sleep after a hectic day. Reproductive coercion comes in very subtle ways and women need to watch out for the signs.

  2. Having worked with teens and young adults who’ve experienced this, the most difficult part is how their views of relationships are negativity impacted going forward. While the suggestions made are helpful, we cannot underestimate how traumatic these experiences are…and the amount of restorative work that needs to be done with the woman involved.

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