In season one of “Desperate Housewives,” the couple Carlos and Gaby can’t agree on whether or not they should have a baby. Carlos, anxious to start a family, replaces Gaby’s birth control with sugar pills, which leads to her getting pregnant. Five seasons (and some children) later, Carlos has again tricked Gabby, and confesses that he didn’t actually have a vasectomy as he’d told her he had.
While there are a lot of outlandish storylines in the show, this one isn’t far from reality for some couples. Unfortunately, these scenarios don’t just happen onscreen, and there’s a name for them: reproductive coercion. Both men and women can coerce their partners, as seen in Carlos and Gaby’s relationship, into being at risk to have — or actually having — a baby.
Reproductive coercion is a form of power and control where one partner strips the other of the ability to control their own reproductive system. It is sometimes difficult to identify this coercion because other forms of abuse are often occurring simultaneously.
Reproductive coercion can be exerted in many ways:
- Refusing to use a condom or other type of birth control
- Breaking or removing a condom during intercourse
- Lying about their methods of birth control (ex. lying about having a vasectomy, lying about being on the pill)
- Refusing to “pull out” if that is the agreed upon method of birth control
- Forcing their partner to not use any birth control (ex. the pill, condom, shot, ring, etc.)
- Removing birth control methods (ex. rings, IUDs, contraceptive patches)
- Sabotaging birth control methods (ex. poking holes in condoms, tampering with pills or flushing them down the toilet)
- Withholding finances needed to purchase birth control
- Monitoring their partner’s menstrual cycles
- Purposefully trying to pass on a sexually transmitted disease
- Forcing pregnancy and/or not supporting their partner’s decision about when or if they want to have a child
- Forcing their partner to get an abortion, or preventing them from getting one
- Threatening their partner or acting violent if they don’t comply with their wishes to either end or continue a pregnancy
- Continually keeping their partner pregnant (getting them pregnant again shortly after they give birth)
If an abuser forces their partner to become pregnant, this is not necessarily about the outcome of the pregnancy but rather about the control and power an abuser holds over their partner and their partner’s body.
Reproductive coercion can also come in the form of pressure, guilt and shame from an abuser. Some examples are if your abuser is constantly talking about having children or making you feel guilty for not having or wanting children with them — especially if you already have kids with someone else.
In 2011 The Hotline conducted the first national survey to learn the extent of reproductive coercion. The findings were shocking. Over 3,000 callers participated in the survey and 25% reported that they had experienced this type of abuse.
Safety Plan With an Advocate and Your Gynecologist or Doctor
If you call The Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, an advocate can help you develop strategies to address your situation. A gynecologist or health care provider can also be a useful resource, especially in helping you conceal contraceptive methods if this is an issue. Doctors can give birth control pills in plain envelopes for example, or provide less detectable forms of contraceptive. Some of these options include a shot, an implant or an IUD with the strings trimmed.
If you have a positive STI test result and are afraid of how your partner will react, you can speak with your doctor about anonymous partner notification services.
Know More Say More: Futures Without Violence’s awareness campaign around reproductive coercion and domestic violence