On Reproductive Coercion

Interesting article published this week from the inimitable Liz Jones – the walking, talking embodiment of the Daily Mail.  In it she confesses to attempting to become pregnant by “stealing” the sperm of her then boyfriend using the contents of the condom in the privacy of her bathroom.  It didn’t work (probably as one of the commentators on the article points out, because condoms are slathered in spermicide).  She goes on to confess that she attempted similar subterfuge within her short-lived marriage, and tells anecdotes of other women she knows who have attempted similar deceptions.

The meme of women trapping men into longstanding relationships, particularly marriage, through pregnancy has a long history.  The traditional narrative is that women benefit financially from pregnancy, either through the financial benefits that marriage brings, or through the child support that they would receive should they remain single.   Yet research demonstrates that it is men who benefit most from marriage and the stronger child support laws are the lower the rate of women raising children on their own.

The advent of the pill in the mid-60s is often credited with both the rise of free love and of women’s liberation.    Yet contraception has been around for hundreds and possibly thousands of years.  The difference the pill made was that for the first time women had a contraceptive method which was not visible to their partners nor relied on their partner’s acquiescence.  Women had a means of controlling their own fertility, although prescriptions were only initially given to married women until 1964.

New studies have suggested however that it is less than women use pregnancy to entrap men into marriage or financial support, and more that men use coercion and subterfuge to impregnate their partners.  A phenomenon known as “pregnancy ambivalence” within the field of reproductive health – where women say that they don’t wish to get pregnant, yet at the same time appear to take no active measures to stop – has been revisited over the past few years.  A study published in 2010 found that 20% of 16-29 year old seeking reproductive healthcare had experienced pregnancy coercion with 15% reporting that their attempts at fertility control had been actively sabotaged.  A small scale study of women who had experienced intimate partner violence discovered that almost three quarters had experienced reproductive control.
In this confessional piece, rather than being ashamed and horrified at her prior behaviour Liz Jones states that

I still have days now when I wished the sperm-theft had worked; that I had a daughter or son my husband felt compelled to visit.

suggesting that her motivation for becoming pregnant was less to experience motherhood, a state which she has consistently denigrated, but to keep a connection with and exert control over a former sexual partner.  A control she felt she was owed due to the number of Marks and Spencer ready meals she had bought her unsuspecting potential sperm donor.

Liz Jones’ attempts to induce a pregnancy were ultimately unsuccessful, a state of affairs for which her non-existent hypothetical children are no doubt grateful, but it highlights the use of reproduction as a means of control, not only in the instance of forced or coerced pregnancy, but frequently on an ongoing basis through child contact as a means to continue control over a partner who has long since left.

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