Written by Writer’s Corps member Karina Sumano
We’ve all heard this scenario: after a blissful evening of Netflix and chill, you and your partner finally make your way to the bedroom. All is well until your partner casually refuses to use a condom. Red flag. As much as you love them, you know you aren’t comfortable having sex without it. You state your concerns and they are receptive and so the lovefest begins. Afterwards, you realize the condom was taken off without your consent. Sound familiar? You may have already heard the common types of abuse in unhealthy relationships such as emotional, psychological, and physical. But have you heard about reproductive coercion?
Reproductive coercion is a form of sexual abuse that can take the form of emotional manipulation, threats or physical violence making it a part of a larger pattern of intimate partner violence. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, reproductive coercion is a form of domestic violence where behavior concerning reproductive health is used to maintain power, control, and domination within a relationship. This type of sexual abuse is the least discussed form of intimate partner violence so it’s no surprise that many people are unaware that it even exists. Regardless of what beliefs, opinions, and controversial discussions exist about matters regarding birth control, reproductive coercion should be addressed as it can affect the emotional, mental, and physical health of survivors.
It’s important to note that reproductive and sexual coercion is a serious issue that affects everyone, including men, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals in LGBTQ relationships. In fact, a nationwide study by the National Domestic Violence Hotline found that of over 30,000 callers, more than 1 in 4 people had experienced a form of reproductive or sexual coercion. Despite these startling statistics, reproductive coercion remains tricky to define. Therefore we’ve compiled four warning signs to look out for if you believe that your partner is attempting to restrict your reproductive autonomy for the purpose of maintaining power and control.
Sabotaging Birth Control Methods
Back in September, celebrity couple Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder made headlines after Reed revealed in a podcast interview that Somerhalder flushed her birth control pills down the toilet because they were planning on starting a family. After facing backlash on Twitter, the couple apologized and claimed that it was just a joke between the two of them. Although it sounds like Reed and Somerhalder both agreed to stop using birth control in order to get pregnant, throwing someone’s birth control pills, without their consent, is a form of reproductive coercion. Poking holes in condoms without the other partner knowing is also another way of sabotaging birth control methods. It’s both reproductive coercion when holes are poked in condoms in order to get the partner pregnant without their consent and for the abuser to get themselves pregnant when their partner has already expressed not wanting to have children.
Lying about Being on Birth Control
Telling a partner that you have had a vasectomy when you actually haven’t had one or lying about being on the pill is problematic because you put your partner under the illusion that they are safe from an unwanted pregnancy to occur. Lying to your partner about serious matters is definitely not healthy so it is better to be honest for the sake of both partner’s health and to not strain your partner’s trust.
Stealthing is the act of removing a condom during intercourse without explicitly requesting permission from their sexual partner to do so. It’s a form of sexual assault because the individual agreed to have safe sex but their consent was revoked once someone decided to remove their condom without asking for permission. This is completely different from a condom accidentally ripping or falling off since both partners did not agree for that to happen and may not even realize what happened until the end. Stealthing is a dangerous form of sexual and reproductive coercion that exposes both partners to sexually transmitted diseases and the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy. This kind of sexual violation erodes a person’s trust leading to other emotional complications. Similarly, LGBTQ students who report sexual coercion or other forms of sexual assault risk alienation from their primary support system on campus, since their partner may frequent the same communities as they do–making reporting this issue even more complicated.
Forcing Your Partner into a Pregnancy or Abortion
In healthy relationships, partners discuss and either agree to have children (and when) or they agree to have none at all. It’s normal for people to have differing opinions on the how and the when. For example, maybe one partner wants to have kids now but the other wants to wait a couple years. What is not normal and should never be tolerated is a person feeling forced or guilted into having a child or ending a pregnancy by their partner before they’re ready. An ongoing discussion about having children or not having children should continue between partners but the conversations need to remain civil and respectful in order to avoid abusive tendencies that can have a negative effect on the relationship. Wanting to have children is a normal human experience but forcing someone into an unwanted pregnancy is abuse. Likewise, being forced to end a pregnancy is never okay!
Regardless of your partner’s beliefs about birth control, it is still important to remember that you deserve full autonomy of your body. And you alone have the right to make decisions for what is best for your well-being. Seeking to control someone’s reproductive health is a form of sexual abuse that puts the person’s mental, emotional and physical health at risk. In a healthy relationship, both partners should feel empowered to respectfully communicate what they believe is best for their reproductive and sexual health.
If you believe that you’ve been reproductively coerced contact your healthcare physician or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) for confidential support from a trained professional.