Sexuality

The Rules of Ooohs and Ahhhs (Hint: there aren’t any)

Heather Corinna

Are you supposed to moan when having sex? If so, is there a technique to what you are saying or do you just do it?

This article is published in partnership with Scarleteen.com.

Ohhhyess asks:

I think that I am on my way to being ready to have sex with my boyfriend but I am just worried about the whole moaning thing…during masturbation I sometimes moan, but mostly keep it quiet. Are you supposed to moan when having sex? If so, is there a technique to what you are saying or do you just do it?

Heather Corinna replies:

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One of the biggest messages I (and most other sex educators I know) wish everyone would receive and embrace is that when it comes to how you express yourself sexually with things like this, there is no “supposed to.” All there is, and should be, is what feels true and real for you, what you find feels good for you and what you find doesn’t.

It’s hard for people to really create and nurture a sexuality and sexual life that feels like their own — like an expression of who they are, rather than who someone else is, looks or seems like — and they enjoy if and when they’re trying to follow someone else’s script or somebody else’s idea of how to be or respond sexually. If we were making a list of the top ten things that tend to keep people from having sex lives they really enjoy, focusing on responding to sex in ways they feel they should, rather than going with how they are really, truly, feeling and responding would be right up at the top.

Human sexuality and sex are so diverse because people are so diverse. No one sex life, way of having sex or way of responding to sex fits all. The trick is to explore and experiment to find out who we are sexually, how we feel, what we want, what we like and what feels right for us, very individually. If anyone expects sex with one partner to be just like sex with another, or thinks that the way they watched one person responding to sex is how everyone else is going to respond, they’re going to need to adjust those expectations.

By all means, there are some parts of partnered sex where we can’t just do our own thing, because we’re not the only person there. There are ways we need to do our best to be mindful about how we behave sexually with others and ourselves to help prevent and avoid physical or emotional harm, and with some of those things, we may need to adjust how we’d behave if we weren’t thinking about those things. For instance, even if it doesn’t feel 100% natural to ask others for consent and verbalize our own, it’s very important to do that. We need to make sure the things that feel good to us also feel good to others, so we can’t just go with our own flow completely when someone else is also part of what’s going on, who doesn’t have the same body we do and who isn’t the same person we are. If we don’t want to take big risks with our health, we also need to keep safety in mind with any sex that we have, doing the things we can to reduce the risk of injury and illness for ourselves and our partners.

But when it comes to how you experience pleasure and respond to it in ways that aren’t about things like safety, consent, and how far someone’s leg can really go back behind their head or what they really do or don’t want to risk with their life or body, there are no rules like you’re thinking. No one is going to be harmed if you do or don’t shave your legs, if your partner likes to keep his socks on or not, by what words you use for your gender or body parts or if you moan or you don’t. (Well, not unless you’re so loud you put someone at risk of being evicted from their apartment. Then you might want to turn it down a bit.) But otherwise? There’s no supposed-to here: just what feels okay to you and to your partner on the whole and in the moment.

What’s the technique with making sounds (or not)? You experience sex however you do at a given time, and if sounds feel like they want to come out of your mouth, you let them out. If they don’t, you don’t try and force it. You just be you, having whatever experience you’re having, and you just let your vocal chords reflect that, like the rest of your body and the ways you express yourself. And you think about it enough to just make sure that whatever is coming out of your mouth isn’t something likely to hurt the other person’s feelings or make them feel unsafe.

It should always be okay to express yourself as you’re feeling and as who you are sexually, even if it’s different from who the other person is, what their previous partners have been like, or from what they might expect from you for some reason or another. So long as the way you express yourself sexually involves kindness, consideration and room for anyone else engaging in any kind of sex with you, sex is a place where you get to be yourself.

The fact of the matter is that, for the most part, sex is something with very few rules and regulations, unlike so much of the rest of life. For instance, there usually aren’t any rights or wrongs with sex about things like:

  • what sounds to make or how soft or loud they are
  • how you dress or how much or how little you want to be undressed
  • whether your eyes are closed or open
  • how to groom yourself (like what you do with the hair on your head or anywhere else on your body, or if you do or don’t wear lipstick)
  • what to ask for or not to ask for, unless a partner has expressed boundaries about anything unwanted or off-limits for them
  • what words to use for your own sexuality and identity
  • what to like or what not to like; what to want and not want
  • what to reach orgasm from or not to reach orgasm from and when to reach orgasm
  • when to start a sexual activity and when to stop, or how to position or touch someone else or yourself, beyond what feels good, comfortable and otherwise okay for each of you (and again, let’s make sure we remember safety: ideally, you don’t want to injure yourself or anyone else, physically or emotionally)
  • how to feel

Sometimes you might find that any of those things or other things like them influence a partner’s comfort or arousal (how turned on they are). That’s the way in which you or someone else might have rules, boundaries or preferences with this stuff, and/or where you or someone else may need to make adjustments sometimes so you both feel able to be your real selves without stepping on the other.

If something you want to do or don’t makes someone else feel unsafe or physically or emotionally uncomfortable, you can talk it through together, creating middle ground and/or boundaries that work for you both. Some things you or a partner might want to like might make the other so uncomfortable or turned off that you just don’t do those things with that partner. You or a partner might sometimes need to make some adjustments so something that works for you but doesn’t for them can work for you both. For instance, maybe you will find a partner is very quiet during sex, and while you’re cool with that, it leaves you with less communication than you need or less responsiveness than you want. If that were the case, you could both brainstorm to find other ways to do those things that do work for both of you, like, for instance, having your partner talking about what they enjoyed most after sex, using words instead of moans, or engaging in more direct eye contact.

Compatibility can also be an issue here: we’re not going to be a good sexual fit with everyone we have sexual, romantic or other feelings for. We’re also not going to be super-turned on by absolutely everyone, and everyone isn’t going to be super turned-on by us, either. If you ever find that however your sexuality and/or someone else’s is just really doesn’t seem to work for one or both of you — whether that’s about not feeling comfy or safe, not feeling able to be who you are, or just not feeling the buzz — that’s okay, too. You just will probably need to shift that relationship to one that’s not sexual and seek out sexual partners who are a better fit for either of you.

What you will want to make sure you do, however you do it, is to communicate with partners in some clear way and that they do the same with you.

Without some ways of communicating, you can’t do a good job of keeping each other safe and knowing what’s working for each of you and what isn’t so that you can enjoy yourselves. When you’re masturbating, not only might you feel and respond differently than with sex with a partner, you don’t need to communicate with anyone, since you can hear yourself in your own head. It’s a different story with a partner.

Making noises is one way of communicating, sure, but since “Ooooh” can also sound a lot like “Oooof,” and they tend to express two very different things, moans and groans alone only get us so far with communication, anyway. So, if you do find you’re not a moaner, don’t feel comfortable doing that or it takes you a while to feel comfortable making noises with someone, it’s not like that means you can’t communicate. Even if it turns out moaning and groaning feels great for you and you do it constantly, to have good sexual communication, you’re going to need to say more than “Mmmm,” or “Yeah, baby.” The very clearest way to communicate with sex is with words, not just monosyllables, in whatever language you and your partners share and both understand. Ideally, we want to do that before, during and after sex in some way that lets everyone involved feel filled in.

My best advice with this as with so much of your sexual life is just to be authentic. In other words, to behave in whatever way feels real to you, feels really reflective of what you’re feeling, rather than being something you fake or put on or do because you think that’s what you should be doing. Chances are that during your life, with any kind of sex you’re having, there will be times when you’ll feel quiet, and times you’ll feel loud. There will probably be times you choose to be one way or another and also times when you just do either without even realizing you are because you’re deep in the moment. Aiming for authenticity also means making sure you’re leaving room for a partner to respond (or not) in the ways that feel true and real for them, too.

That said, sometimes people enjoy being theatrical during sex — and sometimes being so can feel like what’s real in the moment, rather than someone trying to pretend to be someone they’re not out of insecurity — and there are a lot of ways to do role play, some of which include different ways of talking of vocalizing than we might do otherwise. So, don’t feel like this isn’t something you can’t experiment and play with sometimes if you want: just like a lot of different parts of sex, it’s always okay to try things differently now and then to see what they feel like for you.

I understand that having a lot of freedom of expression or being without clear direction can sometimes feel intimidating or even scary. Know that when a sexual scenario or partnership is really right for us, and we’re doing a good job with consent and care for each other, it’s always going to be okay and feel okay for us to experiment with things like this, even if we are a little vulnerable or even make an ass out of ourselves now and then. Like, if you find you’re more quiet most of the time, or are mostly a gentle sigh-er, but one time feel the urge to yell “COWABUNGA!” to express your feelings during sex, it should be okay. Hilarious, sure, but still okay. It’s okay (and usually fun!) to laugh or be goofy during sex. It’s sex, after all, not a funeral service.

Now and then a partner may also ask you to try something that you wouldn’t think to try yourself, and when that happens, you can either try whatever that is or decide not to. Sometimes we’ll want to step a little out of our sexual comfort zones because we think it could be a good thing, while other times we won’t, either because whatever that involved doesn’t really rev our engine, or because even if we think it might, we’re just not comfortable doing it. All of that is also okay, and once more, your best bet is just to lead with what feels most right for in in general and at that time, in that place, with that person.

If this or other things around your possible sexual responses still feels precarious to you or has you feeling insecure, you can talk together with your boyfriend about it. You could tell him that you are often quiet in your own masturbation and aren’t sure about what sounds you will or won’t make during sex with him, and need a little reassurance sounds or no sounds are okay, maybe even talk about how you are going to communicate together, which is a great idea, anyway, and would be even if you were the loudest moaner on earth. If you want to feel free in exploring what sounds you might make, you could ask for support in doing that, maybe giving him the same kind of permission and reassurance to explore what sounds he does or doesn’t make, too. He may be thinking or worrying about this stuff just like you are, after all.

Last, but not least, if you find you’re feeling pretty self-conscious about this, and really worried about doing sex right or wrong, you might just want to check in with yourself about your readiness for sexual activity with this person at this time in your life, relationship and sexuality.

How long or quickly it takes any of us to get comfortable being sexual with others is as individual as every other part of sex, and sometimes we may really want to be sexual with someone, and feel all the way there in some ways, but not others. For sure, it’s common to be nervous or unsure about anything that’s big and new to us, but if you’re finding that you’re really worried about things like this, and talking together doesn’t really help, what you might want to do is just hold off a little longer or take more time with the ways of being physical or sexual you’re already doing and feeling comfortable with to build more trust, comfort and confidence. If and when we ever think we might need a little more time before doing anything sexual, it’s always a good idea to give ourselves that time.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

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Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”