Sexual Coercion

Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a non-physical way.  Coerced sexual behavior occurs more frequently than forcible sexual assault, and typically involves repeated begging for sex or pressuring someone who is resisting sexual activity until they give in, often to end the coercion or to preserve the relationship.*

What does UMKC policy say about sexual coercion?
Under University policy (link), sexual coercion invalidates consent.  This means that if you experienced any form of coercion, ultimately giving in to or going along with sexual activity, you did not give consent.  Sexual contact without your consent is sexual assault. 

What does sexual coercion look like?
Sexual coercion is any type of non-physical pressure used to make you feel as though you have no choice but to participate in sexual activity despite your disinterest, unwillingness, or protests.  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. 

Methods of Coercion** *** Coercive Statements** ***
Wearing you down by asking for sex again and again or making you feel bad, guilty, or obligated
  • “If you really loved me, you’d do it.”
  • “Come on; it’s my birthday.”
  • “You don’t know what you do to me.”
Making you feel like it’s too late to say no
  • “But you’ve already gotten me all worked up.”
  • “You can’t just make someone stop.”
Reacting negatively if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something
  • “This really pisses me off.”
  • “Sometimes I hate you.”
  • “I can’t believe you’d hold out on me like this.”
Telling you that not having sex will hurt your relationship
  • “Everything’s perfect. Why do you have to ruin it?”
  • “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex with me.”
  • “If I don’t get sex from you I’ll get it somewhere else.”
Trying to normalize their sexual expectations
  • “I need it; I’m a sexual person.”
  • “You should want to have sex with me like I do with you.”
  • “I’ve always had sex this much in a relationship.”
Giving you compliments that sound extreme or insincere as an attempt to get you to agree to something
  • “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
  • “Baby, only you get me this excited.”
  • “I can’t focus on anything else but you.”
  • “I’ve never known anyone who can _____ like you.”
Lying or threatening to spread rumors about you
  • “Everyone thinks we already have, so you might as well.”
  • “I’ll just tell everyone you did it anyway.”
Making promises to reward you for sex
  • “I’ll make it worth your while.”
  • “You know I have a lot of connections.”
  • “You’ll get an A, no problem.”
Giving you drugs or alcohol to loosen up your inhibitions
  • “Here, have another drink. It will loosen you up.”
  • “Smoke with me – you need to relax a little.”
Threatening your children or other family members
  • “If you won’t, I’ll hurt _____.”
  • “Just wait – you won’t have to worry about that dog anymore.”
Threatening your job, home, or school career
  • “I really respect your work here. I’d hate for something to change that.”
  • “I haven’t decided yet who’s getting bonuses this year.”
  • “Don’t worry about the rent. There are other things you can do.”
  • “You work so hard; it’d be a shame for you not to get an A.”
Threatening to reveal your sexual orientation publicly or to family or friends
  • “If you don’t do this, I’ll tell everyone you’re gay.”
  • “I’m going to make sure your coworkers know you’re trans.”
  • “You have to do it, ’cause if you don’t, I’m outing you on Insta.”

For more detailed examples, visit Does This Count? Sexual Coercion Scenarios (link).

How do I respond to sexual coercion?
One aspect of your life that you should 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 when the person you’re with respects your boundaries.**

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 in whatever way makes you uncomfortable. Be honest and make sure that you are heard. If the other person is not listening to you, leave the situation.  It is better to risk a relationship ending or hurting someone’s feelings than to do something you aren’t willing to do.  

Some possible verbal responses include:

  • “Let’s talk about something else.”
  • “I’m not rejecting you – I just don’t want to _____.”
  • “I don’t want to do this because of [reason/experience/feeling].” 
  • “If you really cared for me, you’ll respect that I don’t want to _____.”
  • “I don’t owe you an explanation, or anything at all.”
  • “This is not a negotiation.”
  • “I’m into what we’re doing now, but I don’t want to _____.”
  • “You must be mistaken. I don’t want to _____ with you.”
  • “I don’t think that question is appropriate for you to ask me.”
  • “That is not what this is about, so don’t go there.”
  • “Thanks for the invitation, but no, I don’t want to _____.”
  • “Thank you for asking, but no, I just want to be friends.”
  • “I’m good, but thanks!”
  • “I’m out; have a good night!”
  • “I said no. I don’t want to _____.”
  • “STOP.”
  • “NO.”

Sexual coercion is not your fault, no matter what your partner says, and you don’t have to be with someone who makes you feel pressured into doing something that crosses your boundaries.  If you’re in a relationship with that involves sexual coercion and you want to talk with someone confidentially, contact RISE or visit Make Connections (link).


*From Wendy L. Patrick, JD, Ph.D. (link)
**Adapted from Office on Women’s Health (link)
***Adapted from (link)