If your partner is controlling your birth control, it is a sign of a larger relationship problem. All women should be able to protect their bodies from an unwanted pregnancy without threats or sabotage. You deserve to be with someone who respects you and your plans for the future—including when or whether you want to have a baby.
Guys like Alice’s boyfriend hide birth control pills or flush them down the toilet; they sweet-talk, threaten, even rape. Why? Not because they’re dreaming of booties, blankets, and Daddy-baby yoga. ‘It’s about one person controlling another,’ says Leslie Walker, M.D., chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital. (Talk about control: experts say some men force their girlfriends to get pregnant—and to have abortions.) It’s the ultimate form of control: of your body itself and—if you have a baby, or get an STI, some of which cause infertility—of the rest of your life.
Lynn Harris, from “15 Warning Signs He Doesn’t Support Your Contraceptive Choices.”
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is coming to an end, but birth control sabotage continues to be a very scary, very real form of abuse. This post by Lynn Harris was first published way back in 2011, but the tips on recognizing reproductive coercion and taking action to protect yourself are as relevant as ever.
15 Warning Signs He Doesn’t Support Your Contraceptive Choices
Originally published on January 6, 2011, on SexReally.com.
Alice’s boyfriend really didn’t want to wear a condom. “You don’t know how good it feels without one,” he’d say—over and over—or “I can’t come with one,” recalls Alice, 23, of Seattle. “He’d been able to before, so I should have realized that was bullsh*t. But he’d slowly talked me into it.” When she finally let him go without, she says, “I was like, ‘Fine, if it makes you shut up about it, go ahead.’”
That was the day Alice conceived her son, now 4. But don’t call it an “unplanned pregnancy.” It wasn’t just that Alice’s boyfriend liked the feel of condomless sex. He wasn’t in denial about the consequences. Alice hadn’t planned the pregnancy, but her boyfriend had. Guys like him want to get girls pregnant. As Alice now knows: “He really wanted a son.”
As I noted in a previous article for The Nation, and as others have noted, stereotypes about women being the ones to “trick” their partner into pregnancy are extremely misleading and potentially destructive. Experts have put a name to the phenomenon of reproductive coercion, where it’s men who force women into sex without contraception. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF), one in five young women say they’ve experienced pregnancy coercion; one in seven say a guy has sabotaged her contraception. Though other abuse may not be occurring, it sure as heck might: women who have been abused by a boyfriend are five times as likely to be forced into not using a condom and eight times more likely to be pressured to get pregnant.
Guys like Alice’s boyfriend hide birth control pills or flush them down the toilet; they sweet-talk, threaten, even rape. Why? Not because they’re dreaming of booties, blankets, and Daddy-baby yoga. “It’s about one person controlling another,” says Leslie Walker, M.D., chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital. (Talk about control: experts say some men force their girlfriends to get pregnant—and to have abortions.) It’s the ultimate form of control: of your body itself and—if you have a baby, or get an STI, some of which cause infertility—of the rest of your life.
Reproductive coercion happens to teens and adults, rich, poor and average; any race or religion; women in long-term relationships, hookups, and in-between; women like Anya Alvarez, 21, who was having sex with a guy she’d just started seeing when she spotted her NuvaRing on her rug—which, needless to say, was not where she had put it. Yep: he’d yanked it out. “He said he’d done it to other women and they didn’t mind,” she says. Even in a new relationship, or something you wouldn’t call a relationship at all, you need to be careful.
One clear warning sign: a partner who doesn’t support your using whatever contraception you want,” says FVPF senior policy director Rebecca Levenson. “Even if it’s subtle, like weird-supportive, it still gets him what he wants.”
- Does he refuse to wear a condom? “That’s near-universal with reproductive coercion, and can start on sexual-date-one,” says Heather Corinna, founder and director of Scarleteen and author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College.
- Does he equate birth control with cheating? As one woman (“Erika”) reported to the FVPF: “He said the pill made women want to have sex all the time, and that I’d cheat because I wouldn’t need to use a condom.”
- Do you go behind his back to get contraception? “Erika” snuck to a clinic for the pill. “For a year, I made sure he never saw them,” she says.
- Does he say things about hormonal birth control (Pills, implants, IUDs) like (MYTH ALERT!!!!), “Those make you gain weight, which you struggle with. I love you so much I wouldn’t want you to do that”?
- Does he threaten to hurt you if you use contraception—or consider abortion?
There’s also sweeter-sounding baby-making talk. “It can seem like he’s trying to express commitment or get serious,” says Corinna. “Only people who love you want to make babies with you, right? Wrong. Some people want to create a family for the best reasons. Others want to control you, make it harder for you to leave, or create new, smaller people to control. The folks with the good motives will not ever pressure or trick you.” Does he:
- Say things like “If you have a baby we’ll always be connected” or “If you really loved me you’d have my baby”?
- Refer to sperm as mini-hims? Alice: “My boyfriend would congratulate himself for sending in his buddies to get the job done.”
- Say someone who uses contraception doesn’t love their partner? Or contraception keeps people from being close?
- Talk about pregnancy or parenthood without including your needs or your body?
New guys may deploy all sorts of lines. Check your gut; don’t take a chance. If something sounds off to you—like “I had a vasectomy” or “I smoke pot so I’m infertile”—it probably is.
And some actions say it all:
- Do your pills keep disappearing?
- Does the condom keep “breaking”? The third time this happened to “Libby” in Illinois, her boyfriend admitted he’d removed it. After that, he began raping her without one.
- Have you caught him messing with your birth control or poking holes in condoms?
- Does he break his promise to “pull out”?
- Does he sneak off the condom (NuvaRing, etc.) during intercourse?
- Does he physically force you to have sex without protection?
What to do?
If even one of the above sounds familiar to you…one is too many. Steps to take to protect your health:
- If on date one refuses a condom—“ground zero for safer sex,” says Corinna—kick him out.
- If sex suddenly feels different, check the condom.
- Consider contraception you can hide, or that’s tough to sabotage, like Depo-Provera or IUD. (Note: This alone does not prevent STIs.)
- Get tested for STIs. Some are symptomless, but can do future damage.
- Talk to a healthcare provider. If it doesn’t make sense for you to leave the relationship now, you can at least try to prevent STIs or pregnancies.
- Imagine a healthy relationship. No pressure, no tricks; just love, support—and, if you’re ready, sex that feels right. “If a female patient whose partner refuses condoms says, ‘They don’t feel good for me, either,’ I say, ‘That’s because he’s not sharing a real, intimate relationship with you,” Dr. Walker explains. “It’s not about the condom.”
Lynn Harris is an author, essayist, commentator, and award-winning journalist. Her most recent book is the satirical novel Death By Chick Lit, which New York Magazine called “brilliant.” She is also co-creator—with supergenius Chris Kalb—of the award-winning website BreakupGirl.net, online headquarters of the only superhero who rescues men and women from romantic emergencies.
Standing Up to Idiots: Responses and Reflections
Originally published on May 15, 2010 on SexReally.com.
Ever since I came out with my story about Mr. Idiot thinking he had the right to take off his condom and pull out my NuvaRing without consulting me, I have received numerous responses, all expressing varying degrees of disgust and disbelief that this kind of stuff does actually happen. The most interesting thing, however, is who I have been receiving responses from. A number of men have written me apologizing for their gender, asking me if I’m okay, and if there is anything they can do for me.
A few examples of responses I have gotten from men:
Good for you for writing about it and sharing it. A lot of women will learn something about those idiots out there and maybe find a way to protect themselves from it. Yes, I know the law doesn’t make this a crime, but in my mind you are right to see this as a form of assault. —John
OMFG! I cannot believe this happened to you (or to anybody)! As a male, this is embarrassing and disgusting. I know I can’t apologize for my gender and/or stop my fellow men from doing terrible things, but, wow. What an outrage. In my book, this is absolutely a form of rape. I’m so sorry this happened to you, Anya. I absolutely support you and commend you speaking out about it. —-Paul
Unacceptable behavior. In my mind, removing protection without consent is a horrible invasion of privacy, as bad as rape. There need to be laws to protect both men and women who are taken advantage of like this. — Drew
These impassioned responses from men lead me to believe that men can help make a change concerning this issue. If men continue to stand up against such repulsive behavior and vocalize their opinions on birth control sabotage, awareness of this issue will increase significantly. After all, this issue doesn’t just affect women, it affects men as well. Men need to hold themselves and other men accountable for their actions towards women. One of the best ways we can ensure a decrease in sexual assault is to make it known within male culture that a majority of men do not condone or accept it.
Of course men can also be victims of birth control sabotage. Women have been known to lie about birth control in order to get pregnant without their partner’s consent. And what about gay men whose partners slip off the condom, increasing the chances of passing a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
But where do we go from here? What steps do we take to ensure that we’re all protected from Idiots such as this one?
First, we need to understand and truly believe that birth control sabotage is a form of assault.
Second, in order for change to happen, there needs to be a united front. While the response from women to my facebook post has been minimal, I truly believe that women would support a law that would protect them from this sort of abuse if given the choice. I also believe women would not be afraid to vocalize their opinions if they knew a majority of men do not condone this type of repulsive behavior.
I had someone write to me and ask why it is that strong, independent women allow men to continuously abuse them. He was referring to a friend of his whose ex-boyfriend always slipped off his condom during sex without asking. She, a local community leader, a business owner, and an educated woman, never said anything to get him to stop. I believe that while women are strong and independent in many ways, we are still taught to be feeble and are often reminded to act “like a lady.” The message constantly espoused is for women to keep silent and women are shamed into believing that the reason why they are getting abused is because they made bad choices and didn’t have more discernment when it came to men. They shouldn’t have slept with that guy or they should have seen the signs. But how often do we find that people are not what they seemed after we get to know them? Isn’t it a bit ridiculous to assume that a woman will know immediately if a guy is a jerk?
On a related note, I also believe many women don’t have high enough standards for themselves. We’ve made behavior acceptable in our minds because we are afraid to expect something more from someone, afraid to ask too much. So we keep finding ourselves in abusive relationships.
I encourage women (and men) who have similar occurrences—whether it was a hole poked in the condom or removed without you knowing, or sabotage of another birth control method—to speak up and tell your story. You have a right to your body and when someone takes it in their own hands to endanger your sexual health, you have the right to be protected by law. The more we make it known that we expect to have complete control over our sexual health, the less likely it is that others will try to tamper with it.
If we decide to become sexually active we must clearly communicate our needs when it comes to contraception use, what we expect from our partners, and how we want to be treated in any type of sexual relationship. It’s our responsibility to take a proactive role in our own well-being.
To personalize this story more and to help you understand why I feel so strongly about this issue, when I was 16 I was raped. I never pressed charges because I was afraid of what my rapist might do to my family and to me. To this day I regret not taking action and wonder whether he has done this to other women or if he will. I made a promise to myself never again to sit back and allow someone to get away with putting my sexual health in danger. That is why I feel passionately about this and I hope people will support me and other women and men who have experienced birth control sabotage.
Anya Alvarez, from Gallup, NM, is studying political science and history at the University of Washington. She plays on the university’s golf team and hopes to one day (soon!) combine her interests in public policy and writing.