Although there is a textbook definition of reproductive coercion, it can be hard to identify and many people don’t realize they’ve experienced it… including me.
By Ray Elise Rhodes
TW: This essay makes mention of reproductive abuse, domestic and sexual violence. Please read with care.
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 can include things like taking a condom off during sex without your partner’s knowledge—otherwise known as stealthing, lying about birth control, and intimidating, threatening, coercing, or pressuring a partner into having an abortion or using birth control.
Although reproductive coercion isn’t addressed as much as other forms of domestic abuse, it still happens often. In 2011, Monyetta Shaw, the ex-fiance of singer-songwriter and producer, Ne-Yo, underwent a sterilization procedure after she and Ne-Yo decided they didn’t want to have any more children. A year later, Ne-Yo broke off the engagement and started a family with another woman. According to reports, Ne-Yo lied to Monyetta about getting his vasectomy. All at once, she lost her fiance and the choice of starting a family with a new partner.
Although there is a textbook definition of reproductive abuse, it can be hard to identify and many people don’t realize they’ve experienced it… including me. About two years ago, my now ex-boyfriend, Andre*, and I were in what I considered to be a strong relationship. Or so I thought. I was so in love. Even though we would have our share of arguments, we had a knack for recovering from disagreements pretty quickly and things would return to normal the next day. One night when we were about to have sex, he said something that caught me by surprise. He asked, without hesitation, “Can we go raw?”
I was pretty adamant about using protection out of the fear of pregnancy and I was the most comfortable using condoms. Regardless, he kept trying to convince me in every way possible to ditch the condoms. After I said no repeatedly, he stood up and began yelling at me. “Why can’t you just get on birth control like a NORMAL girl? I get that you don’t like the side effects, but sex with you isn’t as enjoyable!” He went on to explain that he didn’t want to use a condom all the time because it was uncomfortable for him. In a very threatening tone, he suggested that maybe we should re-evaluate the relationship since I apparently didn’t trust him.
I felt so guilty; as if my decision not to go on birth control was ruining our relationship. I immediately went into panic mode. Andre’s message was clear: either get on birth control or the relationship was over. So, the next day, I called my gynecologist to discuss my options and she suggested an IUD based on my medical history. About a week later, I walked out of the doctor’s office with an IUD.
Like many other young people, I had familiarized myself with the possible side effects: including weight gain, enlarged breasts, mood swings, etc. But my IUD side effects were absolutely unbearable. Worst yet, Andre saw how miserable I was and didn’t seem to care. When I told him about what the side effects of the IUD were doing to my body, he wouldn’t listen. He gaslit me by accusing me of being dramatic and suggested the IUD made me a “more attractive partner.” He even joked about the fact that I was a “normal” girl now that I was on birth control. The only thing that obviously mattered to him was the fact we were having sex his way.
About two months after getting the IUD, I found out that not only was Andre casually sleeping around with different girls anyway, he was in an entirely different relationship with a girl at school in a different state. He tried to explain it away, but I ended things as soon as I found out. Even though I ended the relationship, the damage was still there.
I got my IUD removed almost a year ago. It has been about two years since that relationship and I’ve been able to heal mentally and emotionally from my experience, but some aren’t so fortunate. Reproductive coercion — which can occur in heterosexual and queer relationships —can cause irreparable psychological harm. According to Planned Parenthood, studies have shown that roughly 23% of college-aged women have been victims of reproductive abuse and coercion by their partners.
Reproductive coercion can be difficult to spot, but no partner should ever guilt you, force you, or threaten you into making life-changing decisions about your reproductive health. Recognize the signs, utilize your resources, and love yourself enough to do what’s right even if it isn’t easy.
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.
*Name has been changed for anonymity
Ray Elise Rhodes is a model and writer from the Bay Area. She has written for sites such as HerCampus and aspires to become a professional writer. As a Black woman, Ray uses her writing to advocate for marginalized communities as well as to empower Black women. She is very active on social media and loves meeting new people! Feel free to follow her on Instagram @rayeliserhodes.