Sex isn't always an expression of love. People have it to distract from unpleasant thoughts, reconcile after a fight, raise their self-esteem, ease sexual tension, please their partner, cope with boredom, etc. All of these reasons are perfectly normal and healthy as long as you had sex because you wanted to, even if it wasn't as much fun as you hoped it would be and you wish you took a bubble bath instead.
Sexual coercion, on the contrary, is when you don't want to have sex, but someone badgers you till you reluctantly agree. Once it's over, you're left wondering if this was rape. On one hand you didn't want it, your feelings were disregarded, someone took advantage of you, did things to you that you didn't want done. On the other hand you agreed to it, didn't fight back, perhaps are still in contact with this person, so it feels like what happened might have been your own fault. Sexual coercion is a crime in some jurisdictions, isn't in others, but either way it's not how decent people treat each other.
Figuring out if you're having sex because you want to have it or because you're being coerced can be especially hard for abuse survivors. During abuse, we had no control over what was happening to us, and yet everything was always our fault. As a result, we often feel like we don't really have a choice, take a passive stance, space out, let whatever happens happen, and then blame ourselves for the outcome. It takes courage and determination to change this pattern, voice your preferences, assert your boundaries, and insist that they should be respected, even if your partner doesn't seem eager to take "no" for an answer. There's a lot written on how to not coerce others, but very little on how to know if you're being coerced and what to do about it. This page lists the top seven reasons why one might agree to have sex while they really shouldn't.
If you've been raped before, any time someone tries to initiate sex with you it can feel like rape, like a threat, like you don't have a choice. You freeze and go along with it. It's tragic that anyone would feel this way about sex, but it's crucial to remember that not every sexual encounter is rape and not every person initiating it is a rapist. Your partner might genuinely not know that you're feeling pressured, and would stop immediately if you told them how you feel. Clear communication helps against misunderstandings, so just be straight with them, "I don't want to have sex with you right now, please leave." "Are you threatening me?" "Do I have a choice?" If you're really dealing with a rapist, you don't have much to lose. And anyone else will stop if you say you mean it. Sometimes you can even ask them directly if an intercourse would be worth a felony conviction. Worked for me.
Some jerks try to manipulate you into having sex with them by threatening anything from suicide to breaking up with you. If you're being threatened with actual danger, e.g. "I'll beat you up, I'll kill your kids, I'll get you arrested, etc" - that's rape; do whatever it takes to stay alive, run as soon as you have a chance to, and go straight to the police. Keeping it hush won't resolve the problem: it will only show them that blackmail works, so they'll continue using it. And if the threat is more along the lines of “I'll break up with you, I'll sleep with someone else, I'll tell everyone you're a tease, etc.” - just think if keeping this relationship is worth it for you. Feeling scared to say "no" isn't a good reason to be with someone, so maybe you'll be better off if they follow through on their threats and go their separate way?
Feeling like you owe it:
Obligations to sex only exist in prostitution, and there the boundaries are very clearly spelled out and agreed upon: what sexual acts will be performed, with whom, for how long, and what will be the price for them. Outside of such explicit agreements there are no obligations. Dinner, jewelry, loans, whatever else - are gifts, you don't owe sex in return unless you agreed to it prior to receiving the goods/services. If someone believes you owe them something, they are welcome to take you to small claims court, and have a judge settle this dispute. I bet you $20 that no judge would rule that you owe sex to someone.
Feeling like it's too late to say "no":
Consent to one activity does not constitute consent to others. If you agreed to kissing it does not mean you have to have sex. If you agreed to vaginal sex it does not mean you have to have oral sex too. If you agreed to sex last night it doesn't mean you have to have it tonight as well. If you agreed to have sex with one person it doesn't mean you have to have it with everyone who asks. It's never too late to say "stop", for any reason or no reason at all, at any point in time, in any circumstances, no justification necessary.
Feeling bad for your partner:
Some jerks love to say things like "If you loved me you'd do it", "I have needs", etc. However, sex involves two people, not a person and an object. You also have needs (e.g. the need to have your boundaries respected), and if they loved you they wouldn't pressure. The trauma of unwanted intercourse is a lot more serious than the disappointment of missing out on sex. It can be hard for an abuse survivor to not put needs of others above their own, but valuing yourself and asserting your boundaries is the only way to avoid being taken advantage of over and over.
Some people just won't take "no" for an answer, badgering you till you show them the door or give in. It's annoying and silly because they're nagging you the same way a child nags his mom for a candy, repeating "please, pleeease, pleeeease," hoping that sooner or later she'll get tired of it and give in, and throwing tantrums when they don't get what they want. However, sex isn't candy. If my partner wants adult activities, they need to act like an adult, not like a young child. Childish tantrums in bedroom are a turnoff.
It can be hard to figure out if I want to have sex or not while I'm triggered, confused, mentally ill, manipulated, intoxicated, depressed, too inexperienced to navigate romantic relationships, misled, lonely, etc. However, it wouldn't be fair to charge someone with a violent felony and put them in prison for decades just because you were feeling depressed at the time you agreed to have sex with them. If you are unsure, confused, or feeling pressured - just play it safe and say no. The only reason people have sex is because it feels good, so if anything at all seems fishy - just opt out, you don't have to do it.
~ Abraham Lincoln
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