Back in 2011, John Stamos played the perp in an episode of Law & Order: SVU called “Bang.” His damage: poking holes in his condoms before sleeping with dozens of women, then manipulating them into bringing his “accidental” babies to term.
Seems crazy, right? But a new study out of Michigan State University, which aims to help doctors and nurses intervene in situations like this, has found that the practice is more widespread than anyone with a halfway decent idea of humanity might hope for.
Men’s practice of making women pregnant against their will is called “reproductive coercion,” and it works in two main ways: pregnancy coercion and, yes, for real, condom manipulation.
Pregnancy coercion covers things like men telling their partners not to use birth control pills or other methods of contraception, threatening to leave their partners if they don’t get pregnant or actually flushing their birth control pills down the toilet. Condom manipulation includes taking off a condom during sex, somehow intentionally breaking it during sex or poking holes in it beforehand.
According to the paper out of MSU, this shit happens all the time. Using data from two recent studies conducted in Pennsylvania and California that asked young women (between the ages of 16 and 29) at reproductive health clinics like Planned Parenthood to anonymously talk about their experiences, the paper found that, out of 4,674 women:
- 294 experienced some form of reproductive coercion
- 182 said that their partner had told them not to use birth control
- 126 said their partners had taken off the condom during sex “to get them pregnant”
- 30 said their partner had broken the condom on purpose during sex
- 20 said their partner had “put holes in the condom”
- 18 said their partner had thrown away their birth control methods.
That means one out of every 16 women experienced some kind of coercion, one in 25 women had boyfriends or husbands who were actively trying to get them to stop taking birth control and one out of every 200 women was with a guy who was trying to make them pregnant against their will by poking holes in their TROJANs.
The population of women that find themselves at a reproductive health clinic isn’t representative of the American population at large. But even if you take those statistics and apply them to the 2.7 million women who went to a Planned Parenthood affiliate health center last year, it means somewhere around 13,500 monstrous assholes are secretly sabotaging their condoms before sex.
The main aim of the paper, which was led by an assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies named Heather McCauley, was to propose a simple set of questions for doctors and nurses to ask patients to try and ascertain whether their partners were pulling this kind of shit — not only because it’s heinous, but also because it’s strongly correlated with physical violence. Prior studies have found that more than one-third of women who experience reproductive coercion also experience some sort of physical domestic abuse.
Since this research is based on women reporting their experiences with their partners, usually in response to short yes-no survey questions, there isn’t much data on why these sperm smugglers are going against all the pregnancy-panic stereotypes — the figure of the condom-poking woman, trying to “trap” a man with a baby, is the more common bogeyman in pop culture.
But one of the first studies in the field, conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Miller, took a more qualitative approach — and the women she interviewed had some creepy anecdotes to share:
‘‘Like the first couple of times, the condom seems to break every time,” a 17-year-old told her. “You know what I mean, and it was just kind of funny, like, the first six times the condom broke. Six condoms, that’s kind of rare. I could understand one but six times, and then after that when I got on the birth control, he was just like always saying, like you should have my baby, you should have my daughter, you should have my kid.’’
‘‘I was on the birth control, and I was still taking it, and he ended up getting mad and flushing it down the toilet, so I ended up getting pregnant,” another 17-year-old explained. “I found out that [before this] he talked to my friends and he told them that we were starting a family. I didn’t know that. I didn’t want to start a family. I wanted to finish school.’’
The SVU episode revolved around the fact that what Stamos’s character was doing wasn’t technically illegal, so the team had a hard time stopping him.
Five years later, little has changed. In the absence of physical abuse or rape, there’s no legal recourse for a woman who finds herself pregnant after a partner tricked or bullied her into carrying his child. But as care providers start paying more attention to the issue, and figure out how to flag it using the diagnostic questions proposed in the MSU paper, the hope is that the women who find themselves with abusive baby addicts will have an easier time getting help.
In the meantime, a PSA for any men out there who think this is a fun way to start a family. At the end of that SVU episode (~spoiler alert~), John Stamos ends up not only dead but exploded, after the expert in reproductive coercion decides to take justice into her own hands and stab him with an “injection knife” like this: