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What Does Sexual Coercion Look Like?

May 02, 2024

Sexual trauma may occur in a variety of ways, and it is not necessarily caused by physical force. For example, sexual coercion can look like when someone presses or manipulates you into having sexual intercourse when you do not want to.

Sexual coercion may be perplexing and upsetting. You know what happened was wrong, but you may not completely comprehend how or why. You may even assume that because you said "yes" at the end, they couldn't have assaulted you.

But here's something you should know: true permission is given willingly.

If you simply assent to stop the other person from pressing or threatening you, you did not truly consent.

What precisely is coercion?

Any attempt to control your conduct using threats or manipulation is referred to as coercion.

Sexual coercion occurs when someone refuses to accept "no" and continues to try to persuade you to engage in sexual behavior.

The tale should end when you refuse sex. However, this is not always the case.

Coercion may be rather visible at times. For example, "If you don't have sex with me, I'll tell everyone we've been having an affair."

At times, it may take a more subtle shape. "Here, have a glass of wine and change out of those work clothes, and we'll see what happens," for example.

Coercion is generally limited to verbal and emotional pressure. However, it is not unusual to succumb to coercion if you are frightened that the manipulation and pressure may escalate to physical assault and violence.

Sexual coercion can happen in romantic relationships, but it may also occur in other settings, such as between acquaintances, coworkers, friends, or family, at school, at a party, or anyplace else.

What is the distinction between coercion and consent?

You aren't agreeing willingly if you don't want to have sex but accept because you feel pressured or don't want the other person to be angry.

Coercion occurs when someone wants you to comply after you have previously said no or indicated indifference. Threats, persuasion, and other strategies may be used to achieve their desired effect.

Consent, on the other hand, is defined as "permission for something to happen, or agreeing to do something." There are many schools of thought around consent, but one thing to keep in mind is that consent is an ongoing process. Learning to check in with your partners will vastly improve the health of your relationships.

To learn more about consent, check out Betty Martin's School of Consent.

When alcohol is present

Most individuals can still consent after moderate drinking, however, you cannot consent if drugs or alcohol impair your decision-making skills.

Assume you're on a date. You've had a few drinks, and the alcohol has given you a lovely buzz, but you're not intoxicated. You have a lot of chemistry with your date. They're gazing at you as though they're thinking the same thing.

"Would you like to come back to my place?" They inquire.

"Certainly," you say.

You can still consent as long as neither of you is intoxicated.

Coercion occurs when someone continues to give you beverages in order to convince you to consent to sex while inebriated.

In a romantic relationship

Being in a relationship does not imply continuous consent.

Everyone has the right to choose whether or not to have sex. Your spouse should respect your decision to say no. Coercion includes any threats, wheedles, guilt trips, or other persuasion meant to wear you down.

With that in mind, you might ask if a partner telling you how attractive you look in that dress or giving you a sensuous massage to get you in the mood is coercion.

Assume you remark, "I'm not feeling it tonight."

"That's OK," they say. Unless you want me to stop, I'm content simply massaging you."

This allows you to maintain your present degree of closeness without feeling obligated to increase it.

If, later on, you realize you truly want to have sex, this isn't coercion — as long as the choice comes from you.

It would be coercive, though, if they insist on helping you relax but then continuously question, "Are you sure you aren't feeling a bit sexier after all this massaging?"

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How coercion might manifest itself

Sexual coercion can take several forms. In summary, someone who makes you feel pressed and uneasy after you've declined sex may be attempting to compel you.

Some such circumstances are listed below:

Direct threats 

Sometimes the other person will state unequivocally what they intend to do if you do not agree to sex.

They may threaten to harm someone else:

  • "It's alright if you don't want to sleep with me. Your friend, on the other hand, is pretty drunk. "I'm sure she won't say no."

A partner may threaten to leave you:

  • "Sex is normal in relationships. If we're not going to have sex, I think we should call it quits."

A coworker or supervisor may threaten to endanger your career:

  • "You know, I can fire you. I could make you appear to be stealing, and no other employer would hire you."

Social coercion

Someone may try to persuade you to have sex by implying that answering "no" indicates you have a flaw.

As an example:

  • "We went on three dates!" "Don't you think it's about time?"
  • "What are you looking forward to? It's only sex. You don't have to take things so seriously. It'll be entertaining."
  • "Don't be such a prude. Everyone else is having a good time. You're too old to be a virgin anymore."

Remember, whether you have sex or not is entirely up to you. Nobody else has the authority to make that decision for you.

It makes no difference what other people think. Nothing else matters, neither the number of dates you've had, your age, or anything else.

Manipulation of emotions

Manipulation of emotions

A partner in a relationship may attempt to influence your emotions in order to persuade you to alter your mind about having sex or doing anything else.

Coercion occurs when others use their emotions to try to persuade you to do what they want.

They may respond, "Oh, I understand" or "That's OK," but their body language says otherwise. They stomp away, slam the doors, and groan deeply. They may go away with their head bowed or maybe in tears.

Some abusive partners may refuse to talk to you until you give in, or they may try to convince you by expressing sympathy.

As an example:

  • "I'm sorry you're so exhausted, but I don't think your day can compare to the week I've had. I'm sure if we could simply have sex, we'd both feel so much better."



Coercion is sometimes as easy as repeated sex demands.

This can happen with someone with whom you've never slept or even dated. They may continually email you, pleading for a chance, or show up at your workplace or school to persuade you in person.

This constant bothering can also occur in a relationship.

Perhaps you haven't felt like having sex recently due to physical health issues, stress, or something else.

Rather than asking how they can help, your lover virtually everyday asks, "Do you think you'll feel up to sex tonight?"

Perhaps they'll drop more subtle signals instead:

  • "I can't wait for you to feel better."
  • "I'll do the dishes for some hot time afterwards."

Guilt trips

Another typical coercive strategy is guilt.

Sometimes it can be easy to feel guilty when you're in a relationship. Meaning, you don't want to hurt your partner since you care about them. However, in some instances, they could take advantage of this fact.

As an example:

  • "I've been feeling quite lonely. I desperately need you right now."
  • "We haven't had sex in over a week, and I'm finding it tough to go so long without."
  • "I can't believe you don't want sex on our anniversary. You can't possibly love me as much as you claim."

People may also make you feel guilty by twisting the issue in such a way that it appears as though you did something wrong:

  • "You haven't wanted to have sex in a long time. You must be lying. If you aren't, then show me that you want me."

Refusing affection

Even if you don't want to have sex, you may bond by kissing, snuggling, talking, or resting together.

However, they may try to persuade you to change your attitude about sex by mistreating you until you agree.

They could:

  • abruptly rise or shove you away
  • stonewall, or shut off from you
  • make disparaging or harsh remarks

If you try to kiss or touch them, they may withdraw if it becomes evident that you do not want to go any further.

Making you feel self-conscious

Put-downs are another typical kind of coercion.

When you say no, they may try to undermine your self-esteem or appear as though they're doing you a favor by wanting to have sex with you.

As an example:

  • "Good luck finding someone else to sleep with you."
  • “You should feel grateful I’m here with you. I could sleep with anyone, and you’d never know.”
  • "You're probably useless in bed anyhow. It's no surprise you're single."

Requiring you to follow through

Consent to sex once does not imply consent every time. Similarly, you may always withdraw your consent after you've granted it.

So, if you say, "Hold on, I'm not feeling so well about this after all," or "Let's take a break," your partner must respect your wishes and promptly cease.

Any other answer crosses the line into compulsion.

As an example:

  • "But you said we would have sex tonight."
  • "I'm so turned on, though. We got to keep going."
  • "I'm so upset and stressed out that I really need this."

These reactions reflect their desires rather than any regard for how you feel.

Excessive love and flattery (aka Lovebombing)

Someone might try to manipulate you into having sex by using positive pressure, such as praises, presents and gestures, or other forms of affection.

They may take you to a nice restaurant for dinner, send you flowers at work, or buy you expensive presents in the hopes that you would reciprocate their generosity with sex.

"You look so amazing I can't take my hands off you," they could add, or "I get so turned on just thinking about you."

Compliments alone might not usually imply coercion. Pay attention if they back off after you set a boundary or if they continue to pursue you.

Not giving you the opportunity to say no 

Affirmative consent implies that saying "yes" is the sole way to consent. Saying nothing does not constitute consent.

In some cases, you may not want to say yes but are hesitant to say no.

A courteous individual will undoubtedly detect that you are uncomfortable based on your body language and will take a time to find out whether everything is okay.

Someone who initiates sexual contact without first addressing limits or asking what you want may expect you to simply go along with what they want. Perhaps they woke you up for sex, upsetting your sleep and expecting you'll be too sleepy to object.

What should I do right now?

What should I do right now?

When you see that a partner, or anybody else, is attempting to push you into having sex, a smart first step is to call them out, as long as you feel safe doing so. Be firm and straightforward.

You might say:

  • "I stated that I do not want to have sex. Putting pressure on me will not make me change my opinion."
  • "I'd want to hang out, but I'm not looking for sex. "How about we go for a walk?"

If they won’t drop the issue, it’s a good idea to leave or call a trusted friend or family member.

Even if you aren't comfortable articulating your feelings, having someone to chat with (or, better yet, drop by for a visit) might make you feel safer and less alone.

Saying no to a boss, coworker, instructor, or anybody else with influence over your employment, living circumstances, or academic career might be daunting.

In this case, expressing "no" plainly and walking away — directly to the counseling center or human resources department to file a formal complaint — might be a viable alternative.

Defining what occurred

Sexual coercion, like rape, comes under the wide category of sexual assault.

Rape, according to the United States Department of Justice, is unconsented sexual intercourse.

Any sexual contact that occurs without your explicit, voluntary permission is considered assault. Consent obtained by compulsion does not count as consent since it is not freely given.

As a result, coerced sex (where it involves penetration) would be considered rape even if the other person did not use physical force or violence.

However, you are free to use whatever phrase feels most natural to you.

More information on detecting various kinds of sexual assault may be found here.

What should I do next?

Your next moves are entirely up to you if you are coerced into having sex.

Consider the following: Coercion is assault, and you have every right to report and prosecute this crime.

Your healthcare practitioner can do a sexually transmitted infection exam, prescribe emergency contraception, and gather evidence if you wish to file a police report.

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