In season one of the TV show “Desperate Housewives” (blast from the past, we know), 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, even though he’d told her he had.
While there are a lot of outlandish storylines on that 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. A person of any gender can coerce their partner 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 and timeline. It can be difficult to identify reproductive coercion because other forms of abuse are often occurring simultaneously.
Reproductive coercion can happen 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 becoming 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.
A gynecologist or health care provider can be a useful resource, especially in helping you conceal contraceptive methods for your safety and physical autonomy if you believe your partner is attempting to get you pregnant without your consent or sabotaging other methods of birth control. Doctors can give birth control pills in plain envelopes, for example, or provide less detectable forms of contraception. Some of these options include a shot, an implant or an IUD with the strings trimmed. Planned Parenthood is an excellent resource for learning about different methods of birth control and finding a provider in your area!
Additionally, loveisrespect advocates can help you create a safety plan, locate resources or brainstorm next steps, depending on your needs. Call, chat or text with us any time!