Who Controls Your Birth Control?

On the day after Valentine’s Day, the National Domestic Violence Hotline released a report about disturbing behavior that may be displayed by many abusive partners. According to the New York Times, the hotline collected stories of abusers sabotaging their partners’ contraception, whether by hiding their birth control pills, poking holes in condoms, or refusing to use condoms altogether:

[A]bout a quarter [of respondents] said yes to one or more of these three questions: “Has your partner or ex ever told you not to use any birth control?” “Has your partner or ex-partner ever tried to force or pressure you to become pregnant?” “Has your partner or ex ever made you have sex without a condom so that you would get pregnant?”

One in six answered yes to the question “Has your partner or ex-partner ever taken off the condom during sex so that you would get pregnant?”

The survey was not part of a scientific study. The respondents were not made up of a representative cross-section of the general population, but rather were a self-selected group, already in abusive relationships and willing to talk about their experiences. From the data released by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, it is impossible to tell how widespread such forms of abuse are in society as a whole. Despite this, the data collected do point to a disturbing way that intimate partner violence can manifest itself. It is important to recognize interference with one’s birth control — and therefore one’s bodily integrity — as abusive behavior. 

It is dismaying to hear about such sinister stories in the same month that we have heard rumblings about the Obama administration’s investigation into requirements for health-insurance companies to provide free contraception to their customers. Supporters of coverage for birth control claim that it falls under the category of preventive health services. Such policy would be scientifically sound, as the evidence strongly supports the idea that contraception decreases the incidence of unintended pregnancies and empowers women with the ability to decide whether and when to have children. Likewise, family planning has been strongly linked to a reduction in infant mortality, complications in pregnancies, and birth defects.

Also under discussion is the possibility of requiring more female-centered preventive health-care coverage, such as well-woman exams, cervical and breast cancer screening, and screening for intimate partner violence. This is especially poignant in light of the report about incidences of birth control sabotage at the hands of abusive partners. Such sabotage, however, is only one way that abuse can rear its ugly head in a relationship.

Healthy relationships can be an enriching part of one’s life. Likewise, it is important to be aware of the signs of an abusive relationship, and to be willing to confront them in your own life. Abuse can occur in any type of relationship, regardless of the genders or sexual orientations of the people involved. An abusive relationship is characterized by a skewed power dynamic that allows one member of the relationship to coerce or control another. According to a Planned Parenthood fact sheet, such behaviors have countless manifestations, and the resulting abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological.

Physical abuse can include:

  • nonconsensual physical restraint or contact, such as slapping or biting
  • violent acts such as stabbing, shooting, or even murder
  • putting a partner in unwanted physical danger, such as subjecting them to reckless driving, locking them out of the house, or abandoning them in strange places

Sexual abuse can include:

  • unwanted touching or forced sex
  • sexual insults
  • unwanted sexual objectification, such as forcing a partner to strip
  • refusal to practice safer-sex methods, despite the other partner’s wishes to do so

Emotional and psychological abuse can include:

  • behavior that makes a partner feel ridiculed, humiliated, insulted, or degraded
  • isolation of a partner from family and friends, whether by denying access to the means to contact outsiders or by guilt trips or other coercive behaviors
  • not allowing a partner access to money or sabotaging attempts to get a job
  • threatening to disclose secrets, such as “outing” a same-sex partner
  • exhibiting undue jealousy or checking up on partners and demanding they account for their time
  • threatening suicide if partners do not comply or attempt to terminate the relationship

There are many resources available for someone who is concerned that his or her relationship might be abusive, whether this person needs a place to stay, counseling, legal advice, or medical care. You can talk to a friend or another trusted figure, or contact one of the following toll-free numbers:

  • 1-800-799-SAFE — a confidential hotline, to speak with a counselor in private
  • 1-800-230-PLAN — to reach your local Planned Parenthood health center for support and local referrals
  • 911 — call the police if you feel you are in immediate danger or need help right away
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline — for information and resource listings
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2 responses to “Who Controls Your Birth Control?

  1. It’s interesting to me that the questions in the survey of women in abusive relationships focused so much on partners sabotaging/preventing usage of contraception in order to cause pregnancy. Another frighteningly common abusive behavior is for one partner to try to prevent use/proper use of birth control and/or STI protection for a wider range of reasons–not necessarily because they particularly want their partner to become pregnant, but because it “feels better”/is an exercise in control/whatever. I wonder how much higher the numbers would have been had the questions allowed for broader motivation?

    • So true! I had similar thoughts while reading the NYT article — refusing to use protection in general, not just in the context of pregnancy, could apply to a broader variety of relationships and situations. Getting a partner pregnant could be one way to “control” that person, but so could a refusal to use barrier methods for other reasons. It comes down to a lack of respect for the other person’s bodily integrity, whether the person wishes not to become pregnant, not to be exposed to sexually transmitted infections, not to have contact with certain bodily fluids, or whatever else.