What is Sexual Coercion and Why is it Harmful?

With all the social movements for women’s empowerment, it may seem as though the pressure to have sex is a thing of the past. This couldn’t be less true. In today’s society, the pressure on women to have sex with their significant other is just as strong as it was decades ago. There are many factors that contribute to this sexual pressure, but it all comes back to the fact that while, yes, things have improved in terms of female sexual freedom, they are by no means as perfect as we want them to be.

Let me begin by saying that it is never, under any circumstance, okay for your sexual partner to try and pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do. They may say things like, “if you love me you’ll have sex with me,” or try and guilt you into having sex with them. This is called sexual coercion and, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, lies on something called the continuum of sexually aggressive behavior. This behavior is unacceptable and is not part of a healthy relationship. 

But...why does this even happen in the first place? One of the reasons may have to do with the constant objectification of women, which, in media, is practically inescapable. The image of scantily clad women is quite common and is used in everything from advertising to everyday television. These ideas transfer into everyday life. A new study showed that men in heterosexual relationships who frequently stare at their partner’s body expected sex whenever they wanted it and were more likely to use sexual coercion in their relationship. This study also looked at heterosexual women and those who experienced this sexual pressure; they often had decreased sexual agency and an increase in body shame.

 

While the pressure to have sex normally comes from men, it is possible for it to come from other women as well. This is often seen when women are pressured by other women to have children. The idea that every woman should have children is, unfortunately, still very prevalent and may pressure women into having sex in order to have kids. This pressure on women, particularly young women, to have kids often comes from the older generation. These may be older women who are still sadly stuck in the mindset that all women should have children at some point in their lives.

No matter who this pressure to have sex is coming from, it is not right. It is not right to try and force your desires on another. It only serves to have the woman being pressured feel lesser, like she has no say in her own life. A decrease in objectification can also lead to a better, healthier, and more stable relationship overall.

As Dr. Laura Ramsey says in Medical Daily, "I think that men are more likely to have a sexually satisfying relationship when they have a willing and eager partner, and it is hard to imagine that a woman who feels objectified and experiences sexual pressure and coercion is a willing and eager partner," which is an excellent point and nicely sums up much of what is wrong with sexual pressure.