Ian Somerhalder and Reproductive Coercion

The Vampire Diaries star Ian Somerhalder set the Internet aflame after an interview in which he laughingly recounted throwing away his wife’s birth control without her consent in order to start a family sooner. After a brief conversation over dinner about being ready for children, Somerhalder secretly took Twilight actress Nikki Reed’s birth control out of her purse and popped each pill into the trash. He recalled her waking up and “freaking out” when unable to find her pills, which he caught on camera.

After backlash, both members of the couple addressed the issue and claimed a joke was taken out of context. Reed’s consistent advocacy for sexual assault victims, including a feature in Lady Gaga’s 2015 “Til It Happens To You” video, further complicates the matter. However, rather than pry into the couple’s affairs any further, as they have made their desire for privacy evident, this is instead an opportunity to raise awareness about a form of assault that is often neglected in discussion.

According to Planned Parenthood, reproductive coercion “involves behaviors that a partner uses to maintain power and control in a relationship that are related to reproductive health, such as explicit attempts to impregnate a partner against her wishes, controlling outcomes of a pregnancy, coercing a partner to have unprotected sex, and interfering with birth control methods.” While this often coincides with relationships of intimate partner violence, reproductive coercion can also occur in otherwise loving relationships.

College-aged women are particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse, and are more likely to proceed with a pregnancy conceived by this violence. Because reproductive coercion does not easily fall into a category of physical or emotional violence, it is oftentimes not taken seriously. As a result, victims of reproductive coercion repeatedly feel trapped and accept their predicament as normal.

Though no one but those present can determine whether Ian Somerhalder in fact performed sexual coercion, Somerhalder’s final declaration, “I kind of decided [to start a family],” can be taken as a lesson in recognizing reproductive coercion and protecting one’s self from similarly threatening situations.