Meaning Making
Understanding Trauma & Violence

Question

How do I know if I was coerced into having sex?

Answer

First, it is important to remember that your feelings are valid and that only you can define your experience. If you have ever felt pressured or obligated to engage in sexual activities, however, you may have experienced sexual coercion. Sexual coercion can occur on a spectrum. By definition, sexual coercion is “the act of using pressure, alcohol or 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.” Sexual coercion can look different depending on the situation. Examples can include someone saying “You would do it if you loved me” or “You owe me.” Sexual coercion can also involve giving you drugs and alcohol to loosen up your inhibitions. Anyone can be sexually coercive - a significant other, boss, friend. However, sexual coercion often results from some sort of power imbalance, whether it is your landlord offering an alternative to paying rent or your partner threatening a breakup. No one has a right to your body, even if you are in a relationship or have previously consented to sex with this person. If your partner is constantly demanding sex, manipulating your birth control, or not relenting until you give in, this may also be considered sexual coercion. Being coerced into sexual activities is manipulative and could even be considered abusive. When it comes to sexual activities, remember that you deserve to have a voice and should not have to do anything you don’t want to do. In a healthy relationship, consent is an ongoing process. Establish boundaries with your partner early and try to be clear, honest, and direct if you don’t want to do something. If your partner is not listening to you, that may be a sign that you should leave the situation. No matter what the situation is, it is okay to feel confused or upset. If you need more help figuring out if what happened to you is coercive, talk to a trusted professional. We believe you and you do not need to go through this alone.

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