10 Types Of Sexual Coercion We Don't Talk About Enough

Photographed by: Natalia Mantini.
While sexual assault can take on many different forms, the one thing that remains the same is that assault is never a survivor's fault — including instances in which assault occurs in a relationship.

Even so, sexual violence isn't always easy to recognize. While most of us understand rape as any instance that involves penetration without consent, what's more ambiguous is what a partner might feel obliged or forced to do in sexual relationships.

Cameka Crawford, chief communications officer at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, tells Refinery29 that this is called sexual coercion, a term that refers to the tactics used to emotionally or physically manipulate someone into sex. According to Crawford, it's a form of violence that is based on abuse.

"Abuse is centered on power and control in all aspects of an intimate partner relationship," Crawford says. "So sexual coercion really is when one partner is trying to control another partner sexually." She adds: "It can vary from being egged on to perform a sexual act to being forced to actually have contact."

Sexual coercion, she says, can be much more difficult to recognize in relationships because the boundaries become blurred.

"People are often made to feel like, Because I’m in a relationship, I have to have sex, even if they don’t want to," Crawford says. However, she assures, "Just because you give consent one time doesn’t make it a given every time. And just because you consent to one sexual act doesn’t mean you consent to other actions."

Not only that, you also have the right to change your mind, even if you've already expressed consent.

"If someone says they want to do something on Tuesday morning, they don’t have to be willing to do it on Tuesday afternoon," Crawford says. "Relationships are about open communication. That includes talking about sex."

With that said, it can still be difficult to see the warning signs of sexual coercion or even sexual violence. Ahead, we've outlined a few ways that sexual coercion can manifest. While this list isn't by any means exhaustive (sexual and domestic violence can vary in different relationships), these are a few red flags that can indicate an unhealthy relationship.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.
Advertisement
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more, here.
1 of 10
Illustrated by: Seeta Kanhai.
Your partner demands sex when you're sick or tired.

As Crawford says, you shouldn't have to feel as if you owe your partner sex or that sex is an inherent part of your relationship.

In general, if your partner ignores your feelings regarding sex in any way, that's a big red flag.
2 of 10
Illustrated by: Seeta Kanhai.
Your partner insults you in sexual ways or calls you sexual names.

This can include insulting your sexual performance or your sexual history, such as calling you a "slut" or a "whore" without consent.
3 of 10
Illustrated by: Seeta Kanhai.
Your partner holds you down during sex without consent.

Unless you and your partner have agreed on this, holding you down without consent is a form of sexual coercion and violence.
Advertisement
4 of 10
Illustrated by: Seeta Kanhai.
Your partner hurts you during sex.

Again, unless you've given consent, your partner should not get violent during sex. And even if you have consented to being hurt, your partner shouldn't be going too far without listening to you.
5 of 10
Illustrated by: Seeta Kanhai.
Your partner involves other people in sexual activity against your will.

For example, your partner invites someone else into your sexual encounters without consulting you or initiates a threesome against your will.

It doesn't matter if you've already consented to a threesome before — the important thing to remember is that even if you've consented to a sexual act once, it doesn't mean that you have consented to all future acts.

"If someone gives you consent for something one day, they’re not required to continue performing those acts," Crawford reiterates. "Any person in a relationship has the right to change their mind."
6 of 10
Illustrated by: Seeta Kanhai.
Your partner forces you to watch porn.

It's one thing to encourage you and another thing entirely to not take "no" for an answer.
7 of 10
Illustrated by: Seeta Kanhai.
Your partner forces you to dress in a sexual way.

Even if your partner isn't outright forcing you to do something, making you feel obligated to do something you don't want to do sexually is still coercion. Especially, Crawford says, if your partner reacts with anger or resentment when you say no.
8 of 10
Illustrated by: Seeta Kanhai.
Your partner guilts or threatens you into having sex.

Sexual coercion doesn't have to involve force — it can also manifest in emotional manipulation or coercion.

This can include saying things, such as, "If I don't get sex from you, I can get it from somewhere else," or, "We're in a relationship and you're supposed to have sex with me."
9 of 10
Illustrated by: Seeta Kanhai.
Your partner pressures you into having alcohol before a sexual encounter.

Even if you don't get fully drunk, alcohol can still be a tool of sexual coercion. While many of us do, indeed, have a glass of wine or two to set the mood before sex, alcohol can also be used as a way to get you to drop your defenses and make you more likely to agree to something you might otherwise not.
10 of 10
Illustrated by: Seeta Kanhai.
Your partner pressures you into starting a family when you aren't ready.

Called reproductive coercion, this form of sexual coercion involves pressuring you into becoming pregnant or even terminating a pregnancy against your will.

Some extreme warning signs include hiding birth control or even poking holes in condoms. In short, your partner pushes the boundaries of what you've agreed upon.

"You have the right to make a decision about your body," Crawford says. "In a healthy relationship, your partner would respect your boundaries and respect the decisions you made."
Advertisement