Sexual Coercion is the act of using subtle pressure, trickery, emotional force, drugs or alcohol to force sexual contact with someone against their will and includes persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused. At it’s core, Sexual Coercion/Abuse is about an imbalance in power and control.
Sexual Coercion is sexually aggressive behavior that exists on a continuum from tricking, lying, badgering the victim to the use of physical force and rape.
Emotional pressure is used more often than physical force, and is the most subtle of all sexually coercive behaviors.
Researchers have found that both men and women are perpetrators of sexually coercive behavior and that one in ten women and one in seventy men have experienced sex against their will since they turned 13, and that over half of them have never told anyone. Domestic Violence author Lundy Bancroft call this experience the “Hidden Hurt.”
Sexual Coercion can exist in an environment where there is an imbalance in power and control.
Sexually coercive behaviors are especially hard to recognize for those who have been in a continuing intimate relationship with a personality disordered individual. Aggressors often prey upon those who struggle with boundaries, expressing wants and needs, and people-pleasing behaviors, making them vulnerable to victimization through fear, obligation, and guilt and interfering with the ability to recognize sexually aggressive behavior.
Cultural and religious teachings that sex is an expected and important part of a relationship can confuse the ability of Non-PD's to distinguish between normal "give and take" behaviors and those that qualify as sexual coercion.
Examples of Sexual Coercion:
- Emotional Pressure and threats.
- Accusations of withholding sex or affection
- Shaming over sexual performance, past partners or sexual experiences
- Anger, bad moods, silent treatment or withdrawal of affection when told "no".
- Withdrawal of emotional, physical, and financial support
- Verbal abuse, nagging, name calling, intimidation and bullying
- Inducing pity
- Physical Abuse
- Using alcohol or drugs to loosen inhibitions and prevent the ability to say no
- Compliments and Gifts
- Porn Revenge
- Continuing to apply pressure after being told "No", or reacting with sadness & despair
- Insisting on sex when partner is asleep, tired, ill, weakened in some way, or after physically abuse.
- Refusing to use protection
- Blocking access to bedroom and personal belongings
- Making sex conditional on agreement to practices you are uncomfortable with
What Sexual Coercion Sounds Like:
- “If you loved me you’d prove it.”
- “If you’ve forgiven me you’d prove it.”
- “You won’t have sex with me because you are cheating on me.”
- “You are my wife/husband/partner/GF, BF you owe me.”
- “If you don’t give me what I need I will have to go find it elsewhere.”
- “I thought you were different and wouldn’t use sex against me.”
- “I didn’t know you were such a prude.”
- “We’ve had sex before.”
- “You’ve been flirting with me all night.”
- “I’ll share rumors/photos/intimate details about you if you don’t have sex with me.”
- “Don’t make me stop now.”
- “You’re a tease.”
- “You started this and now you want to stop?”
What it Feels Like:
Sexual coercion is often experienced along with ongoing domestic violence, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse. The same person who is cruel and violent, caustic and discarding, suddenly turns very loving and affectionate. This serves to further confuse us. We hope the “good” caring person is who they really are. Pain and love become linked in our minds and we come to believe that we may not be able to have one without the other.
Enduring abuse over time can lead to breaking down our self esteem and developing deep shame and embarassment, isolating us from supportive family and friends and preventing us from seeking help and clarity from therapists and domestic violence resources. Without support and outside input, we are easily manipulated into believing we have done something to deserve this treatment, or that it is “love”. We begin to believe that the abuse is mutual, or that we are the problem - that we are overly sensitive, have misunderstood and misjudged the intentions of the aggressor. Denial about the extent of the abuse becomes a way for the aggressor to minimize and increase the non personality disordered individual’s tolerance for these behaviors. See Normalizing
What NOT to do:
- Don’t allow alcohol or other substances to reduce your inhibitions or ability to communicate your wishes.
- Don’t yield to emotional pressure, nagging, and threats.
- Don’t assume a known aggressor will not take advantage of you again if you are in a vulnerable state.
- Don’t believe that your relationship status entitles someone to have sex with you.
- Don’t let shame and embarrassment keep you from reaching out for help.
- Don't resort to unhealthy coping behaviors such as people pleasing and denial.
- Don’t deny the negative consequences of sexually coercive abuse.
- Don’t let anyone convince you that these dangerous and aggressive behaviors are acceptable.
- Don’t believe seductions and lies meant to overcome your boundaries and wishes.
- Don’t fall for flattery, compliments, and gifts that are over the top or insincere.
- Don’t believe that the absence of no means yes - if you are too fearful to say no, that is not consent.
- Don’t believe that if you have said yes you cannot change your mind at any time during a sexual encounter.
- Don’t allow yourself to be coerced into not protecting yourself with safe sex practices.
What to Do:
- Understand what healthy consent is, that it is ongoing in nature and the responsibility of both parties to determine and communicate.
- Recognize sexual coercion for what it is - a continuum of sexually aggressive behavior up to and including rape that is illegal and dangerous.
- Work on your boundaries when someone is pressuring you to do something against your wishes.
- Seek help and support from Domestic Violence organizations, therapists, support environments, trusted friends and family members.
- Develop tools and strategies that assist you to clearly state your wishes.
- Take the responsibility before a sexual encounter to determine the boundaries and comfort of each participant - talk about it.
- Protect yourself physically - avoid or remove yourself from physically threatening situations when at all possible.