For the longest time, men have acted as if women are ‘sperm bandits’, just lying in wait to seize every opportunity to get pregnant. Men maintain that as the greatest gift to womankind, they have to be wary of all women scheming and plotting to ‘trap’ them.
Let me first explain why I’ve never bought into the idea of female trapping as a common occurrence. To state the obvious, sex takes two people, and so does conception. This simple concept means everyone has a responsibility to safeguard themselves from both pregnancy and STIs. If pregnancy occurs, then there was some kind of negligence involved.
What I’m saying is, you cannot refuse to wear a condom or participate in contraception, and then act surprised and bamboozled when a pregnancy happens. You leave it all up to your sexual partner, then self-righteously blame her for the fallout? That’s just poor decision making.
That said, there are cases where both parties were sexually responsible but were failed by their contraception method of choice. Studies in family planning report that 40% of 213 million pregnancies that occurred globally in 2012 were unintended, with Africa recording the highest rate of unintended pregnancies per 1000 women aged 15–44 years.
Contraception failure rates are low-ish overall, but they aren’t rare. Hormonal methods such as the shot and oral pill have a failure rate of 4% and 7% respectively, while male condoms, which are the most used method, have a failure rate of 13%. This high failure rate in condoms is due to production malfunctions, the use of lubricants that weaken them, and general handling.
Once you consider irresponsible sexual practices, lack of contraception ownership, and contraception failure, it’s easier to see why female ‘trapping’ cannot be as common as it has been made to seem.
However, that does not take away from the women who do purpose to trap men. Nor does it reduce the effect it has on the lives of men who are forced into lifelong situations that are not of their choosing. Are women really the only ones guilty of this? Turns out they aren’t.
Here is a term you probably have not heard often: ‘reproductive control’, which is a collection of behaviours that interfere with women’s decision-making towards their reproductive health. It includes pregnancy coercion, which is pressure or intimidation by male partners to become pregnant, and control the outcomes of pregnancy, and birth control sabotage, which is partner interference with contraception and forced abortions.
Examples of sabotage include hiding, withholding, or destroying a partner’s oral contraceptives; breaking or poking holes in condoms on purpose, and even removing a condom during sex (that’s stealthing) or not withdrawing when that was the agreed-upon method of contraception.
In a Cut article, an obstetrics and gynaecology resident found that 16% of women who had received routine ob-gyn care at the hospital in which she worked “had received unwelcome pressure to get pregnant. Their boyfriends and partners made it hard for them to use birth control — poking holes in condoms or hiding their pills — or threatened to leave or harm them if they didn’t get pregnant.” She now recommends more permanent contraception which is harder to detect, interfere with, and predict because “there are some men who count the days of women’s periods.”
Pregnancy coercion and birth-control sabotage are no longer the tactics used by seemingly opportunistic or baby-crazed women. They have become the tools for male emotional and physical abusers who want to exercise control over their partner’s body to make her dependent upon them, or secure a long-term presence in her life. A high percentage of women who report intimate partner violence also report these tactics. Wild, right?
Is it worse?
For both genders, the highest risk factors for reproductive coercion and sabotage are being unattached and sexually active. These leave you vulnerable to ill-intentioned partners.
Although it is definitely not a competition, the evidence demonstrates that for women, violence and poor reproductive health outcomes are strongly linked. Many women who experience reproductive and sexual coercion also experience physical or sexual violence.
The predominately violent basis of male trapping and society’s ignorance of it make it a silenced evil which is arguably worse. Nevertheless, giving language to it and naming it will liberate women who do not know how to ask for help, prompt more awareness and research in this area and push health care providers to include it as part of the differential diagnosis (standard reproductive health care practices) when patients are seen for pregnancy testing or STI testing, emergency contraception, and unplanned pregnancies.
Some established harm reduction interventions and solutions for women in this position range from discreet and confidential methods of contraception e.g. plainly packaged options, hormone shots, or an IUD with the strings clipped, to gaining education on safety planning and support services.
Now that you know the other side, it's important to acknowledge and discuss what many women are experiencing in private.
Has your partner ever tried to get you pregnant when you did not want to be pregnant?