Pressure and Persuasion: A Closer Look at Sexual Coercion

consentSome things are beyond our control — like when it starts pouring rain on the day you’ve forgotten an umbrella, or when you’re forced to wear that awful bright pink bridesmaid dress at your friend’s wedding. While you may not be able to choose the weather or a better sense of style for your friend, there are certain things in life that you can always make decisions about.

One aspect of your life that you have complete control over is how far you want to take it with your romantic partner — whether that’s your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, or anyone you’re involved with. You should never feel forced into anything that you’re not comfortable with or don’t feel like doing.

Have you ever felt pressured by your partner to have sex? Have you ever felt guilted into it, or felt like you weren’t able to say no? Abuse is often centered on power and control in all aspects of the relationship, so it’s not uncommon that an abusive partner will try to force intimacy.

This is often referred to as sexual coercion, which lies on the continuum of sexually aggressive behavior. It can vary from being egged on and persuaded, to being forced to have contact. It can be verbal and emotional, in the form of statements that make you feel pressure, guilt, or shame. You can also be made to feel forced through more subtle actions. For example, your partner:

  • Makes you feel like you owe them: ex. Because you’re in a relationship, because you’ve had sex before, because they spent money on you or bought you a gift
  • Gives you compliments that sound extreme or insincere as an attempt to get you to agree to something
  • Gives you drugs and alcohol to “loosen up” your inhibitions
  • Plays on the fact that you’re in a relationship, saying things such as: “Sex is the way to prove your love for me,” “If I don’t get sex from you I’ll get it somewhere else”
  • Reacts negatively with sadness, anger or resentment if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something
  • Continues to pressure you after you say no
  • Makes you feel threatened or afraid of what might happen if you say no
  • Tries to normalize their sexual expectations: ex. “I need it, I’m a man”

Even if your partner isn’t forcing you to do sexual acts against your will, being made to feel obligated is coercion in itself. Dating someone, being in a relationship, or being married never means that you owe your partner intimacy of any kind.

A coercive partner may feel that consent is ongoing. However, consenting to something once doesn’t make it a “given” each time. Consenting to one action doesn’t mean you have given your consent for other actions. In a relationship where sexual coercion is occurring, there is a lack of consent, and the coercive partner doesn’t respect the boundaries or wishes of the other.

To learn more about sexual coercion, an important read is our article on healthy consent, or check out The Consensual Project. No one should be made to feel pressured into a sexual act. If your partner acts in any of the ways mentioned, it could be helpful to speak to someone about it. Our advocates are available to talk confidentially, 24/7, at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) — give us a call.