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Sunday, May 7, 2023

Relationships: How Is Getting Pressure From Your Partner Different From Consensual Sex?

Sexual pressure is also known by the term "sexual coercion" and I'll use these terms interchangeably in this article.

Sexual Pressure vs Consensual Sex

Before delving into sexual pressure vs consensual sex, it's important to define sex as I'm referring to it in this article.

What is Sex?
If you've read some of my other articles about sex, you probably know that I usually have a broad definition of sex that goes beyond heteronormative penis-in-vagina sex.

So when I discuss sex and sexual activity, I'm referring to:
  • kissing
  • intimate touching/petting/stroking
  • erotic massage
  • sucking
  • fingering
  • cunnilingus (performing oral sex on a woman)
  • fellatio (performing oral sex on a man)
  • anal sex
  • penetrative sex/intercourse
And so on.

What is Sexual Coercion and How is It Different From Consensual Sex?
Sexual coercion occurs when someone manipulates, threatens or uses other pressure tactics to try to get you to have sex that you don't want.  

Sexual Pressure vs Consensual Sex

In many situations involving sexual coercion your partner continues to pressure you into having sex even after you have been clear that you don't want to have sex.  

In other words, the other person just won't take "no" for an answer and keeps trying to get you to change your mind.  This refusal is the opposite of accepting that sex should be consensual (see my articles: What Are the Basics of Sexual Consent? and What is Enthusiastic Sexual Consent?).

In this article, I'm focusing on people who are in committed relationships as opposed to people who are casually dating or hooking up (for those situations see my articles: Sex Research: Heterosexual Women Often Find Hookups Less Sexually Satisfying Than Men and Can Hookups Be Safer and More Sexually Satisfying For Heterosexual Women?).

I'm also focusing on sexual coercion that doesn't include physical violence, which would be domestic violence, which is a separate topic.  

Sexual coercion can, however, include emotional abuse and gaslighting.

What Are Common Sexual Coercion Tactics?
If you have turned down sex, your refusal should be respected by your partner and that should be the end of it.  

Sexual Pressure vs Consensual Sex

Unfortunately, some people have poor sexual boundaries and they don't respect your right to turn down sex or they interpret your refusal to have sex as a sign that you don't care about them (more about that later on in this article).

Some common sexual coercion tactics include:
  • Guilt Tripping
  • Making Threats
  • Emotional Blackmail
  • Other Forms of Manipulation
The following short fictionalized scenarios describe common situations in which a partner uses sexual coercion:
  • Guilt TrippingJoe got angry after Lisa responded to his sexual overtures by saying she wasn't in the mood for sex.  He told her that if she didn't have sex with him, she wasn't fulfilling sexual her responsibilities as a wife, which included making sure that he's sexually satisfied.
  • Making Threats: After Jean told her wife, Rita, that she wasn't in the mood for sex, Rita responded by threatening to withhold money she had already promised to lend Jean.
  • Emotional BlackmailWhen Bill's husband, Tom, refused to have sex with him, Bill got angry and, in the heat of the moment, he threatened to tell Tom's parents about his alcohol problem.
  • Other Forms of Manipulation: Dave felt impatient when his wife, Tina, told him that she wasn't in the mood for sex, so he badgered her relentlessly to have drinks with him. He told her that she just needed to "relax" to get in the mood for sex.
There can be many other ways that someone can pressure or coerce a partner into having sex.

Being in a Relationship or Marriage Doesn't Mean Automatic Sexual Consent
Many people believe that if they're married or in a committed relationship that their partner "owes" them sex.  But in a healthy, autonomous relationship where each partner is differentiated, their relationship doesn't mean automatic sexual consent.

Sexual Pressure vs Consensual Sex

Anyone who has ever been in a long term relationship knows that, over time, sexual passion usually isn't the same as it was during the initial phase of the relationship.  

Although there can be differences, for most people the passion begins to dissipate within the first two years of the relationship.  This is a separate issue which I have discussed in prior articles (see my articles: Overcoming Sexual Boredom in a Long Term Relationship and Reviving Your Sex Life).

It's also true that it's common for two people in a relationship to have discrepant sexual desire, which means that they each experience sexual desire in a different way.  This is normal, but it becomes a problem when the two people in the relationship don't know how to negotiate these differences. This is also a common topic that couples discuss in sex therapy.

Similarly, one person might experience spontaneous sexual desire while the other person might need more time to get sexually turned on because they experience responsive sexual desire.  Even though both types of sexual desire are normal, when this difference creates problems in the relationship, it needs to be discussed and negotiated.  This is another common topic for couples in sex therapy.

What You Can Do If Your Partner is Trying to Pressure You Into Having Sex
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this problem because each situation can be very different, so you need to do what you think is best in your situation.

As long as you feel safe, it's often helpful to reiterate to your partner that you don't want to have sex and tell your partner that you don't want to be pressured.  In addition, tell your partner that pressuring you won't change your mind (see my article: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex).

You could also suggest other things that you would be willing to do with your partner--like cuddling on the couch (if you're up to it) or going for a walk.  

Understanding Sexual Pressure vs Consensual Sex

If you think your partner is interpreting your refusal to mean that you don't care about them anymore, you could also reassure your partner that you still love them, but you're just not in the mood for sex.  In addition, you can both read my article, Coping With a Sexual Rejection From Your Partner, to be able to talk about this openly.

What If Your Refusal to Have Sex is Part of a Bigger Problem?
No one should ever have sex when they don't want to do it. Sex should always be consensual.

However, there's a difference between refusing sex occasionally because you're not in the mood versus you don't want to have sex with your partner most of the time.  This can be indicative of bigger sexual problems (see my article: Have You and Your Partner Stopped Having Sex?).

One blog article can't possibly cover all the possible reasons why someone in a relationship doesn't want to have sex, but some common reasons include:
Getting Help in Sex Therapy
It can be difficult to resolve sexual problems in a relationship without professional help.

Sexual Pressure vs Consensual Sex

Sex therapy, which is a form of talk therapy, is often helpful in resolving sexual problems (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

There is no physical exam, nudity or sex during sex therapy sessions (see my article: What Are Common Misconceptions About Sex Therapy?).

Individual adults and couples seek help in sex therapy for a variety of reasons (see my article:  What Are Common Issues Discussed in Sex Therapy?).

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who is a sex therapist so you can have a more fulfilling sex life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.