Pressure and Persuasion: A Closer Look at Sexual Coercion

national domestic violence hotline

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.

Comment section

7 replies
  1. Admin note: This comment has been edited for safety per our community guidelines
    Unfortunately, I had to accept the fact that I’d been sexually abused by my ex-partner. During my pregnancy, I’d be “too tired” or “sleepy” to have sex but he only saw that as an excuse and disregard what I felt. He’d say things to make me feel guilty like, “You don’t want me, you must be having Sex with someone else.” Or “I’m a Man with Needs! I’ll just find a prostitute.” If I said “no” he’d just get angry and throw a fit. So to stop the bickering, I gave in and he did what he wanted. My ex also pressured me to perform certain sexual acts I wasn’t really comfortable with. I thought it was my job to please him, so he’d be satisfied but it seemed to complicate the situation even more. One day after having intercourse, he immediately accused me of having an affair with other men and began “investigating” (again). Hurt and confused about what to do, I emotionally shut down and told myself to leave! Escaping my abusive relationship played in head like a plot from a movie. I began to tell myself that we already broken up and secretly planned an escape route.

  2. Thx you so much for this important information. I was in a horrible abusive relationship, and sexual coercion was a huge part of it, and knowing what I know now, he repeatedly raped me. Thank God for Jesus because my faith got me away from this monster, who was controlling, sexually, emotional & verbally abusive as well as physically abusive. My life was once a living nightmare so full of daily pain, but I am so proud I eventual left him. It was hard, took planning, but I had a team of women who believed in me and helped me. I pray this information is read and listened to by all women, but especially young women. Again, thank you, Gidget

  3. And, Ladies, always remember life is too short to put up with abuse, whether from a man, parents, job, or whatever, you deserve the best!!!

  4. (This post has been modified to remove identifying information per our community guidelines.)


    Thank you so much for adding your insight as a survivor and sharing your experience with us. I am so glad to hear that you are now in a place in your life where you feel safe and valued; your experience and insights are invaluable and the courage to share your story is admirable.

    Thanks so much again for your reply.


    Hotline Advocate AC

  5. For the first time in my 29 years of life I had sex this year that was consensual. I realized my past experiences were various types of abuse and assault looking back. It makes me sad and angered so many people are violated or harmed or forced into these things. It should feel safe and enjoyable for everyone. Part of me wants to express how I feel to past abusive relationships or people I’ve dated because what they did was so wrong and disgusting. It makes me hope our culture around this changes for the sake of young men and women everywhere so they don’t grow up with toxic masculinity or exposures to unsafe situations.

  6. Hi Soph!
    It sounds like you’ve been through a lot! Our advocates are available to provide support 24/7 via online chat and phone (1-800-799-7233).

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