Strategies to Understand and Combat Reproductive Coercion
Reproductive well-being is more than just the avoidance of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or access to birth control. Rather, it means that all people have the information, services, and support they need to have control over their own bodies and to make their own decisions. Unfortunately, amid the COVID-19 pandemic reproductive well-being continues to be endangered. The increasing number of COVID-19 cases and stay-at-home orders have forced many women to delay sexual health care services, such as gynecologist appointments, due to concerns about contracting the virus at health care sites, and recent issues with the US Post Office have made accessing birth control more difficult.
In a challenging time like this, people may be at increased risk for experiencing reproductive coercion, a form of intimate partner violence. ACOG, the American College for Obstetricians and Gynecologists, defines reproductive coercion as, “Behavior intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health by someone who is involved in a dating relationship with another person.” Some examples of reproductive coercion are compelling a partner to have unprotected sex, sabotaging birth control methods (poking holes in condoms, tampering with birth control, removing a condom without the consent of the other partner, etc.), and purposefully trying to pass on a STI.
Reproductive coercion is a dangerous form of abuse because it allows another person in a relationship to take over someone’s bodily autonomy. Reproductive coercion can have harmful lifelong impacts, such as unintended pregnancy, STIs, infertility, and psychological harm from abuse.
There are many ways that people can protect their bodily autonomy and enhance their reproductive well-being. One strategy is using LARCs, or long-acting reversible contraceptives. Some example of LARCS are the Nexplanon implant, which is implanted in the arm and lasts for up to 3 years, and IUDs, which are intrauterine devices that are inserted in the uterus, come in both hormonal and non-hormonal varieties, and provide protection from pregnancy for 3 to 12 years. LARCs are highly effective in preventing pregnancy because once inserted, they work without continuous effort. They can be an important tool in fighting reproductive coercion because they are inserted in a way that allows the user to maintain privacy.
There are other contraceptive methods for users who would like something that is not long-acting. Birth control pills are a good option for this. Hers is an online resource that allows people to get birth control pills delivered discreetly to their home, regardless of their insurance status, and without a primary care physician. BCBenefits is a contraceptive access fund by Power to Decide that allows eligible users to get up to a year’s worth of free birth control pills delivered directly to their home.
Even though it may be more difficult to access resources during the pandemic, remember that there are resources available. If you are experiencing reproductive coercion and need support, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text 741741 to get in contact with a crisis counselor specializing in sexual abuse, or access the National Domestic Violence hotline via a live chat service.
Temilola Adeoye graduated in May 2020 from Ithaca College with a bachelor’s degree in Public and Community Health. She works as a Digital Health Fellow for Power to Decide and is passionate about access to reproductive health for all.