Sexual Assault Awareness Month is almost over, but it’s never too late (or too soon!) to talk about sex and healthy relationships. In a healthy relationship, both partners feel comfortable with the level of physical activity, whether that means holding hands, kissing, touching, and/or having intercourse.
One aspect of your life that you always have complete control over is how far you want to take it with your romantic partner, your significant other, your crush or even someone you’re just hooking up with. When it comes to anything physical, you absolutely have a voice and do not have to do anything you don’t want to do.
If someone makes you feel obligated or forced to do something you don’t want to, you may be experiencing 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.”
Think of sexual coercion as a spectrum or a range. It can vary from someone verbally egging you on to someone actually forcing you to have contact with them. It can be verbal and emotional, in the form of statements that make you feel pressure, guilt or shame. You can also be made to feel forced through more subtle actions. For example, your partner might:
- 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.”
In a relationship where sexual coercion is occurring, there is a lack of consent, and the coercive partner doesn’t respect the boundaries or wishes of the other. Let’s review what consent means:
- Consent is not a “given.” Just because you’ve consented to an act before, doesn’t mean you’ve consented to it forever. This idea also relates to new relationships — just because you’ve given consent to something in a different relationship doesn’t make it “automatic” in a new relationship.
- Consent is not a free pass. Saying yes to one act doesn’t mean you have to consent to other acts. Each requires its own consent. For example, saying yes to oral sex doesn’t automatically mean you’re saying yes to intercourse.
- Consent can be taken back at any time. Even if you’re in the middle of something, if you start feeling uncomfortable, you always have the right to stop.
- It’s not consent if you’re afraid to say no. It’s not consent if you’re being manipulated, pressured, or threatened to say yes. It’s also not consent if you or a partner is unable to legitimately give consent, which includes being asleep, unconscious, under the influence of conscious-altering substances or not able to understand what you’re saying yes to.
- In a healthy relationship, giving and receiving consent is an ongoing process. Establish boundaries by discussing what things you and your partner are comfortable with and what things you may not feel comfortable with. Always ask first. Communication is key.
- Be clear and direct with your partner if you don’t want to do something. Don’t be embarrassed to say that you don’t want to get physical. Be honest and make sure that you are heard. If the other person is not listening to you, leave the situation.
If you have questions about sex, consent, or just what is healthy or not healthy in a relationship, our advocates are here to help – just call, chat, or text us!