Consent and Coercion

While most of us understand that using physical violence in order to get sex is wrong, we don’t always recognize the more subtle forms of violence that people may use. 

Consent is more than just saying “yes” or saying “no.” Sometimes sexual violence happens even though the person said “yes.” Survivors of this type of sexual violence often have a hard time recognizing what they went through as assault because they experienced something called sexual coercion. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services defines sexual coercion as “unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a non-physical way.

Like any other type of violence, sexual coercion exists on a spectrum. Coercion can vary from someone wearing you down by repeatedly asking for sex until you give in, to someone threatening you or making you afraid of what would happen if you said no. Sexual coercion often includes elements of verbal and emotional violence meant to make you feel guilty, pressured, or ashamed, and often happens in subtle ways that are hard to identify.


Here are a few signs that sexual coercion may be happening in your relationship.

You’re made to feel like it’s your duty.

Some people believe that being in a romantic relationship means that they are entitled to sex. However, being in a relationship with someone does not mean that they have a right to your body.

What they might say:

“You have to have sex with me because you’re my partner.”

“We’ve done it before, what’s the big deal?”

“We’re dating, we’re supposed to be having sex.”

Your partner makes you feel guilty.

It is manipulative for your partner to try to make you feel bad for not having sex with them. No one is ever obligated to have sex and you should never be made to feel guilty for saying no.

What they might say:

“If you really love me, you’ll do this for me.”

“I wouldn’t have started dating you if I knew you were just leading me on.”

“If you didn’t want to have sex you shouldn’t have been flirting with me.”

You go along with it to avoid a negative situation.

“Yes” doesn’t really mean “yes” if you’re only saying it because you’re afraid of what would happen if you said “no.” If you’re only agreeing because you want to avoid a fight or because your partner is threatening you, then, and this is important, that’s NOT consenting.

What they might say:

“If you won’t have sex with me, I’ll find someone who will.”

“Why don’t you care about our relationship?”

“If you don’t do this, I’ll just tell everyone we had sex anyway.”

Your partner should never try to pressure, guilt, or intimidate you into having sex. You and your partner should respect one another’s choices and be able to communicate your needs in positive, healthy ways. At the Katie Brown Educational Program, we believe in active, voluntary, affirmative consent. Sexual coercion has no place in a healthy relationship.

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