There has been a lot of discussion about consent in recent years and the idea that “no means no” and also that the absence of the word ‘no’ does not mean sexual consent. We also need to talk about times when ‘yes’ does not mean ‘yes’ because it is said under pressure. Another name for this is sexual coercion.
Sexual coercion is when someone uses pressure, or tries to trick or force you to get a ‘yes’ from you to have sex. It can be as simple as encouraging you to have another drink or it can be hidden inside a threat – “I’ll leave you if you don’t...”. No matter how it happens, sexual coercion is not consent and it’s not a normal part of relationships.
People who experience sexual coercion can suffer from the same effects of sexual assault – anxiety, depression and PTSD - without understanding that what happened to them qualifies as sexual assault. It’s your body, your choice and no one has a right to persuade you otherwise. If you have said “yes” when you really don’t want to, you may have been sexually coerced. It’s not your fault.
Here are five situations that could be sexual coercion:
1. You’re having sex because it’s expected. If your partner behaves as if being in a relationship means always “yes”… it’s not true. Being in a relationship does not give someone a right to your body. You are not your partner’s property. You can say “no” anytime. Healthy relationships are based on respect that can hear “no” or “not now”.
2. You’re having sex because you were threatened. If you are having sex because you are afraid of what will happen if you don’t, not because you don’t want to – then it’s sexual coercion. It’s never “yes” if you are too scared to say “no”.
3. You’re having sex out of guilt. Guilt is one of the biggest tactics used in sexual coercion. If someone says you “led them on” …that’s a guilt-trip and it’s coercion. Couples don’t grow closer by pushing each other to do things out of a sense of guilt.
4. You’re being pressured to drink. A drunk person can’t give consent for sex. You don’t have to be wasted for a situation to be sexually coerced with alcohol. It’s very easy for someone to feed you drinks to ‘loosen’ you up. If your partner knows you don’t want to have sex and you find them repeatedly topping up your glass – be aware that you might be being coerced.
5. You’re having sex to avoid making your partner angry. If you know that saying “no” is going to make the other person angry and you are afraid of what will happen, that’s more than sexual coercion. It’s a red flag that you are in an abusive relationship. Sex should never be something that happens out of fear or to protect yourself. Sex like that is sexual assault – even if you say “yes”.
If you have experienced any form of sexual coercion, know that it’s not your fault. You have experienced a trauma. Trauma affects everyone differently. Seek support for yourself.