We all know the (awful) stereotype. Woman wants a man. Man doesn’t want to be tied down. Crazed woman is desperate to for him to commit.
Gets pregnant. Traps him.
Or how about this one: Husband and wife find their marriage on the rocks. Wife feels husband pulling away. She’s terrified he’ll cheat.
Gets pregnant. Traps him.
Those pesky women and their tricky reproductive systems. Men can’t even drop their guard for a single second, or else BAM! One pricked condom and they’re TRAPPED. Doomed to a life of raising – or at least paying for – a child they never wanted in the first place, with a woman they really didn’t want to be with.
Yes, we all know the stereotype. But what most of us aren’t familiar with is the more-common-than-you-might-think situation, where the stereotype is reversed. Birth control sabotage, so to speak, but with the man doing the sabotaging.
Reproductive coercion is becoming more widely recognised as an abusive tactic some men are using to keep their female partners from escaping a relationship of domestic violence.
In a recent article on The Cut, one American Doctor spoke about the study she conducted into the amount of women being coerced or tricked into becoming pregnant: “I wondered why women were getting pregnant so soon after they came to me for birth control counseling. I became interested in the idea that women might not have as much control over their birth control as they think,” Doctor Clark said.
Clark surveyed hundreds of pregnant women in the course of her research and found that a significant 16 percent claimed to have been under significant and unwelcome pressure to conceive. Many of the women explained that their husbands and boyfriends were manipulative or coercive in encouraging them to get pregnant. Or worse: deliberately sabotaged their birth control efforts.
Clark cites examples including poking holes in condoms with pins so that the device would be ineffective, hiding the contraceptive pill and tearing out IUDs. She even illustrates cases where men were threatening their partners with physical harm or abandonment if they didn’t get pregnant.
So when does gentle encouragement or longing for a baby, tick over into actual coercion? A US guide for ob-gyns on what signs to look for, provides the following definitions: “Reproductive and sexual coercion involves behaviors to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health by someone who is, was, or wishes to be involved in an intimate or dating relationship with an adult or adolescent.”
The guide suggests that doctors give women who may be at risk more autonomy over their contraceptive choices. That is, encourage them to choose a method that works for them and can be easily concealed if needed, like an injection, or pills that come in plain packaging.
Also important? Educating doctors and welfare workers on reproductive coercion to begin with. As definitive studies have only recently come to wider attention, many health care professionals are as yet unaware that this form of abuse is so common. Educating them on how to talk to women who they suspect are being abused in this way will inevitably lead to more victims being able to come forward.
How can we have come so far but still have so far to go? We fought so hard for affordable, accessible and effective contraception; it’s pretty damn demoralising to think that those battles were only the beginning. Yes, decades on, women can buy condoms at the local supermarket. But sadly, their ability to control their own bodies and reproductive rights remains shockingly limited in so many other disturbing ways.