I was 28 years old before I had a complete understanding of what is sexual coercion. I remember driving my grandmother to her general physician. There were pockets of pamphlets lined up on the wall talking about everything from pregnancy, to depression, exercising and other things. Among those pamphlets, there was one that read, “What is sexual coercion?” I grabbed it immediately and stuffed it into my purse to read later.
When I was in my early twenties, I knew a guy. He told me a story of a girl he’d had a crush on. The two of them had been at a hospital visiting a mutual friend. While visiting this friend, the two agreed they would go to his house afterwards to have sex. On the way there, the girl changed her mind and asked him to take her home instead. According to his story, he took her home but not before stopping the car in the middle of nowhere to inform his passenger that she could either have sex with him right there in his car or walk home. She opted for the former.
Maybe it was not my best response but I immediately got upset and called him a rapist. He asked me how it was rape because he hadn’t threatened her with a weapon. That is when I began to educate him on sexual coercion and that he should never tell that story, in that smug sense of accomplishment tone that he had, ever again.
I’ve heard third hand stories similar to this involving gang rape and drunken scandals. I even had such an experience of my own where a guy refused to allow his cousin (a guy I had been consensually involved with) to take me home in his car because I wouldn’t let him smash, too. That situation ended with me threatening to call the police and accuse them both of rape.
I talk about sexual coercion in the post Stop Running Pussy Scams.
What is sexual coercion?
By definition, sexual coercion is “the act of using pressure, alcohol or drugs, or force to have sexual contact with someone against his or her will” and includes “persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused.”
Coercion can filter through guilt, shame, or pressure in any of the following forms:
- Make you feel like you owe them — ex. Because you’re in a relationship, because you’ve had sex before, because they spent money on you or bought you a gift, because you go home with them
- Give you compliments that sound extreme or insincere as an attempt to get you to agree to something
- Badger you, yell at you or hold you down
- Give you drugs and alcohol to loosen up your inhibitions
- Play on the fact that you’re in a relationship, saying things such as: “Sex is the way to prove your love for me” or “If I don’t get sex from you I’ll get it somewhere else”
- React negatively (with sadness, anger or resentment) if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something
- Continue to pressure you after you say no
- Make you feel threatened or afraid of what might happen if you say no
- Try to normalize their sexual expectations: ex. “I need it, I’m a guy.”
It was not until I had this complete understanding that I recognized I had heard not just one but many stories of sexual coercion, that I had watched women being coerced into sex, and I myself had even been a victim of sexual coercion. I believe the most common occurrence of sexual coercion happens under “persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused.” Known even more commonly as it’s very normalized, seemingly harmless alias, PEER PRESSURE.
There is this incredible wow moment when you realize that rape, sexual coercion, and peer pressure (to have sex) is essentially the same thing. The craziest thing of all is that we ALL, men and women, believe that this is normal and we place the responsibility to reject pressure on the person being pressured instead of teaching that pressuring people into doing things they have already refused and passing it off as “normal” is wrong. So wrong.
Everyday sexual coercion
Who here is NOT familiar with the term Blue Balls? Basically, blue balls is when a male’s testicles become swollen and painful after sexual play that does not result in orgasm.
Now, who here is familiar with how the condition is used to coerce girls/women into sex? Basically, after sexual play, the guys tell the girl she has to help him reach orgasm so he doesn’t get blue balls. I’ve heard this story so many times from so many women. SMH. More on blue balls.
Just recently I was hanging out with a friend who, needless to say, is no longer a friend. As we sat on his sofa watching a movie, he placed his had on my inner thigh. I politely moved his hand and placed it back onto his leg. He then took his hand and placed it back on my thigh and then I moved it again. Later he brought it up saying that I was acting like I didn’t want him to touch me as if he was irritated or insulted by such a suggestion.
Goddess help me, I had to sit with this forty something year old man and ask him, “If you come on to someone and the person refuses, what is it called if you continue without their consent?” His response, ***DRUM ROLLS*** “RAPE!” Rape, his response was rape. So he knew that what he was doing was not the appropriate thing to do yet he did it anyway.
What if I had not been firm in my refusal? What if I had not been well versed on sexual coercion and what it entails? Is it safe to say that he would have continued as he demonstrated when he later attempted to make me feel some kind of way for refusing his advances? Of course he would have!
“In some twisted, sex negative way, his behavior was absolutely justifiable to himself.”
It was a shitty fucking experience. I was so pissed when he later said he was only trying to express his care and affection towards me and did not intend to cause me any harm. Even as he said those words, I could sense some truth in what he was saying. In some twisted, sex negative way, his behavior was absolutely justifiable to himself. I think what angered me the most is that even after I had explained the wrong in it and he seemed to follow what I was explaining, he still attempted to deny that it was wrong. I could only picture him doing this to someone else. Someone who is not as empowered as I have grown to be.
Culturally embedded behavior
Since this has happened, I’ve sat with others, men and women, with the goal of making sense of it and learning more about the occurrence of sexual coercion. The majority of the women I’ve spoken with have had the experience of being coerced into sex. Many of them stating that they didn’t realize or understand that they didn’t have to go through with it particularly after it had progressed to a certain point like making out or nudity.
And well why not, just listen to the lyrics of the 2004 song “Lover’s and Friends”
She said, “Ohhh-ohhh, I’m ready to ride, yeah”
‘Cause once you get inside, you can’t change your mind
Don’t mean to sound impatient, but you gotta promise, baby, ohh
Really!? I can’t change my mind?
Sexual coercion is so normal that entertainers write songs about it as we joyously sing along to the lyrics. I graduated high school in 2004 from a school in suburban Atlanta. I loved listening to this song with my friends. We knew that this was normal (disclaimer: Normal, doesn’t make it right). We knew that occasional there would be this guy you have to practically fight off because of this mode of thinking. And we just thought it was normal. Men just have no self-control, right? Wrong! All wrong.
Men are also aware of the occurrence and believe it is the best and sometimes the only way to get sex from a woman because as one guy put it “women aren’t as into sex as guys are.” For real, dude!? I need to know the origins of that myth because you must definitely not be interacting with the same cisgender, heterosexual women I interact with or you’re doing something wrong. And at this point, I’m more in favor of the latter.
Now the question is, how do we change this?