December 7, 2023 Dec 07, 2023 6 min read
Understanding sexual coercion is an important step in cultivating a healthy relationship to sex and consent. Once we know how to recognize sexual coercion, we become more skilled at understanding our experiences and setting healthy boundaries in our relationships. In this article, we’ll outline a definition for sexual coercion, discuss how it shows up, and propose some ideas for how to recognize it in the moment.
Sexual coercion is any non-physical act of pressuring, persuading, tricking, threatening, or otherwise manipulating someone into sex. While someone might eventually cooperate or even verbally agree after facing persistent pressure, any sex that occurs as a result of coercion, however subtle, is not consensual.
Sex that occurs as a result of coercion is defined as sexual assault and/or rape. Despite common misconceptions, physical force is not required for an encounter to be classified as an assault. Many examples of sexual coercion are verbal, emotional, or psychological in nature.
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Sexual coercion exists on a spectrum. It can include anything from threats and intimidation to the strategic use of drugs or alcohol.
While sexual coercion can show up in a variety of ways, the techniques can be broken down into four basic categories – manipulation, persuasion, guilt, and threats.
Examples of sexual coercion through manipulation include:
Examples of sexual coercion through persuasion include:
Examples of sexual coercion through guilt include:
Examples of sexual coercion through threats include:
Recognizing sexual coercion can sometimes be difficult, especially when the strategies used are subtle or manipulative. However, it’s important to tune into your internal sense of desire and consent to determine if you’re being coerced. In most cases, someone who’s experiencing sexual coercion will feel a sense of pressure, hesitancy, uncertainty, or uneasiness.
To help yourself determine if you’re experiencing sexual coercion, ask yourself the following questions…
If you’re feeling a sense of external pressure or obligation or feeling fearful about saying no to a sexual encounter, these are sure signs you’re experiencing a form of sexual coercion.
Understanding sexual coercion is a critical part of developing a safe and healthy relationship to sex and the other people in our lives. To deepen your understanding further, check out our article titled “What Is Consent?”
Sexual coercion is the non-physical act of pressuring, persuading, tricking, threatening, or otherwise manipulating someone into sex. Though it comes in many forms, sexual coercion can be broken down into four categories – manipulation, persuasion, guilt, and threats. Sex that happens as a result of coercion (even subtle forms) is considered sexual assault. Recognizing sexual coercion can sometimes be difficult, but most people who experience sexual coercion feel a sense of pressure, hesitancy, uncertainty, or uneasiness. To understand sexual coercion fully, it’s important to also develop a nuanced understanding of consent, which requires tuning into one’s own internal sense of desire.
Dana Anastasia (they/them) is an independent writer, editor, podcaster, and artist. With a degree in interdisciplinary sociology and a background in domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy, Dana brings a keen awareness of victim and survivor needs and experiences to their work. Learn more at www.danaanastasia.com.