We're (mostly) all familiar with the terms "rape" and "sexual assault." We know the damage that rape and sexual assault can cause others; how hard it is to heal from a rape. But sexual coercion is a name of not many are familiar with, although it does lie on the continuum of sexual aggression. While rape is (generally speaking) identifiable, sexual coercion is more covert, subtle, and harder to identify.
What Is Sexual Coercion?
Sexual coercion is the act of using subtle pressure, drugs, alcohol, or force to have sexual contact with someone against their will. Sexual coercion is ongoing attempts to have sexual contact of some kind with another person who has already made it clear that he or she does not want to have sexual contact.
Sexual coercion is the act of being persuaded to have sex (or engage in other sexual activities) when you don't want to.
The act of sexual coercion can be damaging to many who have dealt with it - it's often really hard to identify the situations in which sexual coercion has taken place.
What Constitutes Sexual Coercion?
While rape is defined (loosely) as unwanted vaginal or anal intercourse after the victim has said no to the sexual act, sexual coercion may be include other types of sexual acts as well. Kissing, touching, petting, oral sex, genital stimulation are all types of sexual behavior included in sexual coercion.
The important consideration about sexual coercion is that it makes the victim feel uncomfortable and is done against his or her will.
What Are Types of Sexual Coercion?
It may be very hard to identify sexual coercion while being sexually coerced. These examples may assist in clearing up any confusion about the types of sexual coercion that may take place:
Verbal Sexual Coercion: often words are used by someone using sexual coercion in an attempt to achieve sexual relations out of someone who has previously said no to sexual advances. The words that are used may be flattering, outright begging, calling names, arguing, lying or deliberately misleading. Examples of verbal sexual coercion may include the following:
- "You know you want it."
- "I'm so hot for you."
- "Don't make me stop now."
- "Don't be a prude."
Emotional Sexual Coercion: In this type of sexual coercion, a person takes advantage of trust, intimacy, or emotional instability to garner sexual favors. Emotional sexual coercion may include the following:
- Exploitation of emotions of the other person.
- Using emotional pressure
- Threatening that if sexual encounters do not occur, the friendship will be lost.
- Using guilt for not being involved in a sexual activity.
- Wearing one down through constant, emotional-laden phrases.
- Saying things like, "If I don't get sex from you, I'll find it elsewhere."
- Saying things like, "If you LOVE me, you'll have sex with me."
- Saying things like, "You're not a virgin - why not have sex with me?"
Social Sexual Coercion: This type of sexual coercion may involve peer pressure and/or threats of social isolation. This can include the following:
- Buying dinner means owing sexual favors.
- Using social standing or power to get sexual favors
- Buying gifts to make someone feel they "owe" sexual favors.
- Saying things like, "Everyone expects that we're having sex."
- Saying things like, "You're a prude."
- Saying things like, "You're a tease."
Intoxicated Sexual Coercion: This type of sexual coercion is the most frequently used type of sexual coercion. Intoxicated Sexual Coercion involves using drugs or alcohol to loosen up the inhibitions of the victim or target of sexual coercion.
How Common Is Sexual Coercion?
Sexual coercion, while not a new behavior, is still a new area of sexual aggressiveness to be researched. The newest research indicates that sexual coercion is far more common that previously thought.
Both men and women are at risk for being victims of sexual coercion. About 70% of college students have reported being the victim of sexual coercion while 33% of college kids admit to having used sexual coercion on their partners.
Who Is At Risk For Being Sexually Coerced?
While sexual coercion has happened to a good number of us, there are certain types of people who are at greater risk for being exploited this way. People at greater risk for sexual coercion include (but are not limited to or by the following:
- Those who have low self-esteem
- Those who are in college
- Those who have low opinions of themselves.
- Those who want romantic attention from other people
- People who are insecure about their body
- Those who were victims of childhood sexual abuse
- People who are into abusing alcohol or drugs
Who Is Likely To Use Sexual Coercion?
While anyone can be the instigator for sexual coercion, there are a number of people who are more at risk for being the perpetrator of sexual coercion. These may include:
- Someone who feels insecure about his or her ability to have a healthy relationship with another person.
- Guys who have very rigid feelings about masculinity and may use the conquest of sexual coercion as a "way to be a real man."
- Someone with major control issues.
How To Fight Sexual Coercion:
Sexual coercion can be powerful and often covert actions on the part of a perpetrator. Here are some tips for avoiding sexual coercion:
Know your limits. If someone is pushing you to try and do something you don't want to do, say so. It's better to risk hurting their feelings than it is to do something you regret or feel uncomfortable about.
Speak your mind. If someone is using sexual coercion tactics with you, try out some variation of these phrases:
- "I do like you, but I'm not ready to have sex with you."
- "If you care for me, you'll respect that I don't want to have sex right now."
- "I don't owe you an explanation or anything."
- "Dinner doesn't mean sex - what are we, in the 1950's?"
- "I said no, asshole."
Respect Thyself - if someone is pushing you into doing something you don't want to do, respect yourself. Say NO.
Increase your self-esteem - if you're struggling with saying no because you feel badly about yourself, remind yourself that YOU are WORTH IT.
Read more about increasing your self esteem.
Heal from childhood sexual abuse - being the former victim of child sexual abuse can make your views about sex and sexuality skewed.
Read more about adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Don't get wasted - if someone is pushing you into sex, don't get wasted via drugs or alcohol around them. Booze and drugs can make your inhibitions lower and make it easier for someone to take advantage of you.
Read more about date/acquaintance rape.
Remember that you'll never forget - if becoming an adult has taught me anything, it's that you'll never be able to fully forget those whom you have had sex with - no matter the circumstances. Remember that before giving into sexual coercion.
Know the signs of sexual coercion - and be prepared to spot them.
You don't owe anyone anything. Period.
If it feels wrong, don't do it - it's better to be called a "prude" than to do something you don't feel comfortable doing.
Real love - wait for it. Anyone who really does love and value you won't treat you with such thoughtlessness. It's hard when we want so badly to be loved, but sex isn't love, and anyone who respects you as a person wouldn't try to pressure you into ANYTHING you wouldn't want to do.
Am I Being Sexually Coerced?
Sometimes, it's really hard to identify if you've been, or are being, sexually coerced. You ARE being sexually coerced if the following behaviors are noted:
- You don't feel you have a choice
- You're being pressured constantly
- You're being pressured even after you've said "no."
- You face possible social consequences if you don't engage in a certain type of sexual behavior.
- Someone uses their authority or power to get you to engage in sexual behaviors.
Additional Sexual Coercion Resources:
National Sexual Assault Hotline:
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline:
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN): Provides information on how to get help for both victims and loved ones, links to local agencies and international resources, and on reporting sexual crimes to the police.
Joyful Heart Foundation: Created by Law and Order’s Mariska Hargitay for survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence and child abuse. Their mission is to educate, empower and shed light into these terrible crimes and help the survivors heal.
Hope for Healing: A website dedicated to helping male victims of rape/sexual assault.
End the Backlog: A charity organization seeking justice for survivors by working in partnership with government, non profits, advocates and survivors to bring attention, funding and new legislation to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits across the country.
National Sexual Violence Resource Center: the nation’s principle information and resource center regarding all aspects of sexual violence.
SOAR (Speaking Out About Rape): runs national awareness, education and prevention programs to empower survivors of sexual violence and enhance the public's understanding and acceptance of rape victims.
It Happened to Alexa Foundation: provide funds for families to travel and be with a rape victim for the duration of the trial.