The Startling Truth About Sexual Coercion

“I didn’t know that was considered coercion!”

Over the years, what is considered consent has changed drastically. It used to be that one had to say “No” in order for rape to occur. Now one must say “Yes” for consent to be given. That “Yes” also must come without any coercion or threats attached to it. If a victim says “Yes” but she says it because she’s scared her abuser will harm her, then it is considered sexual coercion.This pretty much throws the “No means No” campaign into the water. It should be –  “YES! means yes”. As we venture through the different areas of consent, I guarantee that each of you will say at least say, “I didn’t know that was considered coercion!”

Growing up as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I didn’t understand what was considered consent and not consent in sexual relationships. Although I felt uncomfortable being pressured to do something I didn’t want to, I didn’t understand the best way to say no. I am a freezer. That means when I get scared, I freeze. So likely when I feel uncomfortable with something, my whole body will get rigid, my eyes will get big, and I will become mute. When I learned more about consent by working at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, I soon realized that nearly all my relationships involve sexual coercion.

 What Is Consent?


Sexual coercion is the act of using pressure or influence to have sexual contact with someone. So pretty much it is engaging in non-consensual exchanges with an individual. Sexual coercion can encompass anything from coercion to rape. Consent is key in avoiding these situations. 

Miriam-Webster defines consent as, “to concur with what has been proposed.”  That definitely doesn’t really apply to sexual consent. Sexual consent involves agreeing to an intimate act while not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, being coerced, being threatened, I have always loved Scarleteen’s definition of sexual consent and used it often when speaking to domestic violence victims.

 “An active process of willingly and freely choosing to participate in sex of any kind with someone else, and a shared responsibility for everyone engaging in, or who wants to engage in, any kind of sexual interaction with someone. When there is a question or invitation about sex of any kind, when consent is mutually given or affirmed, the answer on everyone’s part is an enthusiastic yes.”


I think it can’t be more plain than that. We’re not talking about a yes with a question mark, a scared yes, or a reluctant yes. We are talking about an ENTHUSIASTIC yes!

 What is not consent?


Consent is not automatic. Just because you are married, does not give someone rights to your body.

Consent can be taken away at any time. It doesn’t matter how far you and your partner have gone. You can take consent away at any time.

If your partner is asleep, then it is non-consensual sex. Wait until they are awake.

Someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs can not give consent for sex. That one blew my mind when I learned it. How many of us have had drunk sex? Well, it’s a big no-no.

“I’m not sure”… “Maybe later”… “I guess a little bit”…  These are all words that breathe non-consent. Unless there is an ENTHUSIASTIC yes then it is sexual coercion.

Being blackmailed, threatened, or physically forced to have sex is non-consensual and rape.

Giving non-verbal signs of non-consent, such as pushing someone away, crying, avoiding eye contact, “just lying there” – you guessed it, continuing the sexual acts when your partner is showing these signs is considered non-consensual sex.

Speaking with Your Partner

 If your partner is not respecting your boundaries or your body, then they are an abuser. Sexual coercion is one of the many forms of power and control that abusers use. There are many great agencies willing to speak to victims of sexual coercion, assault, and rape at any time.

If you feel confused about whether you have been coerced/raped or not, then speaking with one of these agencies will help.


National Domestic VIolence Hotline


Both of these agencies provide online chat options, as well.


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