Reproductive coercion describes behaviors used by a person to exert control over their partner’s reproductive and sexual health in order to control that person.
It covers a wide variety of tactics, including:
- Sabotaging a partner’s birth control by poking holes in condoms, hiding or tampering with pills, or refusing to use protection during sex.
- “Stealthing,” which describes when a person begins sex wearing a condom, but during sex secretly removes that condom, thus potentially exposing their partner to STIs or an unwanted pregnancy.
- Forcing a partner to continue a pregnancy against their wishes. Many abusers use this tactic to continue maintaining their control in their partner’s life. Some women have described how every time they thought about getting ready to leave, their abusers would get them pregnant, and they would feel they had no options but to stay.
- Preventing a partner from exercising reproductive choice. Some abusive people try to force their partner to have an abortion when they don’t want one; conversely, others might pressure their partner into terminating a pregnancy, regardless of their desires.
- Purposefully exposing a partner to sexually transmitted infections. Abusive people frequently engage in sex outside of the relationship and can expose their partners to STIs and HIV/AIDS—especially if they refuse to use condoms consistently.
- Sexually abusing or assaulting a partner. Sexual violence and coercion are common tactics of abusive people, and can range from pressure to engage in sexual activities with which the partner is not comfortable to rape. Nearly 1 in 10 women in the United States has been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime, and an estimated 16.9% of women and 8.0% of men have experienced sexual violence other than rape by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. Nearly half of the respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reported being sexually assaulted in their lifetime11, and one third of those were sexually assaulted by an intimate partner.12
Often, the result of reproductive coercion is pregnancy, and pregnant women in abusive relationships face particular risks. Homicide is the second leading cause of traumatic death for pregnant and recently pregnant women in the United States13. Abuse during pregnancy has serious health implications:
Women experiencing abuse in the year prior to and/or during a recent pregnancy are 40 to 60 percent more likely than non-abused women to report high-blood pressure, vaginal bleeding, severe nausea, kidney or urinary tract infections and hospitalization during pregnancy and are 37 percent more likely to deliver preterm. Children born to abused mothers are 17 percent more likely to be born underweight and more than 30 percent more likely than other children to require intensive care upon birth14.
Fortunately, there is growing awareness around the intersection between reproductive health and relationship violence, and of the particular ways in which survivors’ health is used by abusers to maintain power and control. Our member resource centers work closely with reproductive health care providers in their local communities to address the implications of reproductive coercion. At our Coalition office, we seek to highlight this connection in our public policy work, and in our collaborations with and trainings for health care providers across the state.
12 James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.
13 Chang J, Berg C, Saltzman L, Herndon J. 2005. Homicide: A Leading Cause of Injury Deaths Among Pregnant and Postpartum Women in the United States, 1991-1999. American Journal of Public Health. 95(3): 471-477.
14 Silverman, JG, Decker, MR, Reed, E, Raj, A. Intimate Partner Violence Victimization Prior to and During Pregnancy Among Women Residing in 26 U.S. States: Associations with Maternal and Neonatal Health. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2006; 195(1): 140-148.