By Amy Fournier
Posted on November 5, 2021
This article contains discussions of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
What is it?
According to love is respect, a domestic violence and sexual assault helpline based in the United States, sexual coercion is the act of using pressure, alcohol, drugs, or force to have sexual contact with someone against their will and includes “persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused.”
Often there is a verbal or emotional pressure to engage in sexual behaviours from the coercive partner as well as added guilt or shame if the partner does not want to comply with the desires of the perpetrator.
In a relationship or instance where sexual coercion is present, there is a lack of consent. The coercive partner disrespects boundaries and often manipulates the victim into having sex with them.
Healthy relationships involve both partners feeling comfortable with the level of physical intimacy such as hugging, kissing, touching, and/or intercourse.
Coercing someone into having sex with them is a form of sexual assault.
What is consent?
In order to better understand sexual coercion, it may be helpful to review what consent in a relationship means.
According to Family Planning NSW, consent is “when one person agrees or gives permission to another person to do something.”
“It means agreeing to an action based on your knowledge of what that action involves; its possible consequences and having the option of saying no.”
Coercion versus consent
Coercion happens if you have expressed your disinterest in engaging in sex, but the coercive partner does not take no for an answer. They may use various persuasion tactics in order to get their way.
For example, they may:
- Make you feel like you owe them
- Give you compliments that sound extreme or insincere as an attempt to get you to do something
- Yell at you or hold you down
- Play on the fact that you’re in a relationship with them (e.g., “if you love me you would care about my desires”)
- React negatively if you say no to something
- Continue to pressure you even if you’ve said no
- Try to normalize their sexual expectations (“everyone has sex this often,” “I’m a guy, I need it,” etc.)
- Badgering (repeatedly pleading or bothering you to engage in sex or sexual acts)
When drugs or alcohol are involved:
Many people can still give consent after having a few drinks. However, if your date is constantly offering you more to drink with the goal of having sex with you, then this is an act of sexual coercion. Someone who is highly intoxicated cannot give consent.
In a relationship:
Everyone has the right to decide when and if they want to have sex. Being in a relationship does not mean ongoing consent. If you express not feeling up to having sex at a particular time, but your partner dismisses your wishes, then they are being coercive.
Sometimes the person may try and threaten you into having sex with them, by saying they will hurt someone else, threaten to break up with you or jeopardize your job. Usually, this is a way to try and exert power over you.
Society can make us believe that certain things about sex that are not true. For example, the belief that sex happens after three dates with someone, or that we need to have sex by the time we reach a certain age. The coercive partner can try and use these misconceptions as a way to make you feel bad about your decision to not have sex with them.
What to do in the moment:
It is important to be firm in your stance and maintain your boundaries. Be direct and call them out on their inappropriate behaviour, if it is safe to do so.
You may say:
- “I don’t want to have sex tonight, and constantly asking will not change my mind.”
- “I want to spend time with you, but I don’t want to have sex. Let’s do something else instead.”
Sometimes, the best option is to just blankly say “no,” and walk away. If you feel like the person is being persistent, call a trusted friend or family member for support.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
What to do after:
Human resources or school counselling services can be helpful if you are experiencing sexual coercion at school or work.
If you are dealing with an ongoing sexually coercive partner, try talking to them about it. Assert your boundaries and tell them how this behaviour makes you feel. It is important not to tolerate sexually coercive behaviour for the sake of maintaining a relationship.
As well, talking with a therapist can be a good way to gain some guidance on the next steps. They may offer compassionate support, alleviate distress, and help you create a plan for leaving the relationship if necessary.
Overall, it is vital not to minimize sexually coercive behaviour, as no one should have to experience unwanted sex.
There are plenty of resources online (such as this one), as well as hotlines to call for support.