Coercion Vs. Consent: It's Never Too Late To Say No To Sex

Trust your gut.
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“But I want you so bad.” He devoured me with his eyes, but even in the dark I could see they were glassy from all the wine.

You barely know me, I thought.

I kissed him anyway. It was our second date, and despite the fact that he had done most of the talking, it had been one of the most romantic dates I’d been on in months.

All the ingredients necessary for a connection were there. Our mutual love for slow travel, the picnic under the stars, the truffle gouda(!). As a European-born food blogger, he knew how to create a spread. The wine was flowing as well as the conversation, and inevitably we found ourselves entangled in a passion that exceeded the level of actual intimacy we’d created thus far.

I knew inviting him into my bedroom had the potential to create expectations, but the couch was far too small for us to continue making out like teenagers. Since sex was never on the table for me, I didn’t feel like I was getting myself into anything I couldn’t handle.

He respected me after all. Didn’t he?

In hindsight, I’m not so sure. What I thought would be a mutually beneficial experience turned into a PSA-worthy scene. His attention turned aggressive and insistent and any excitement I’d had about the relationship disappeared faster than the truffle gouda.

Were his advances based on cultural differences? Did he think that my incessant “no’s” were a form of coy foreplay? Had he never experienced foreplay as the main act??

These questions and many more plagued me in the subsequent days. I’ve always been comfortable asserting my boundaries, but what about the next girl?

This scene is all too familiar for so many women. How many times have we heard:

  • Let’s just have sex, it’s all the same
  • “Just one pump.”
  • “Just the tip.”
  • Come onnn.
  • “I don’t understand why we can’t have sex.”
  • “I can’t come from anything but sex.”
  • “But we’d be so good together!”
  • “I’ll come in two seconds if we have sex.”
  • “Lets just go to the bedroom.”
  • “You’re gonna give me blue balls.”
  • “But, I want you so bad!”

While many of these phrases can be said in the context of safe, playful banter, if that’s not the situation for both parties, then just whispering any of the above can be enough to shut a woman down, turn her off, and have her rushing to cover up.

Naturally, when two individuals come together, there are expectations from both sides.

How do we know when we’re setting appropriate boundaries and when we’re being misleading? How do you know when it’s okay to say no? To say yes? Or to say “Enough is enough.”

The short answer: Trust your gut.

Pay attention to whether you’re participating out of guilt or some other form of manifested fear. At the end of the day, are you giving consent, or being coerced?

Coercion comes in many different forms, both inside and outside of a defined relationship, and in the end it is every woman’s (and every man’s) prerogative to decline any sexual activity that they are not comfortable with. Without exception.

With California’s recent passing of the “yes means yes” law, in which legislation states that the absence of the word no does not imply “yes”, there’s growing attention on the importance of defining consent.

What’s important for men and women to understand is the difference between coercion and consent. There are situations in which women may be saying yes, even if they don’t want to.

Below are some easy ways to recognize if you’re being bullied into sex, or opting in of your own choosing:

It feels like it’s your duty.

There’s a difference between doing things when we aren’t particularly “in the mood” and doing them because we feel obligated. One implies choice, the other implies guilt.

Possible excuses someone may use for expecting sex, which then lead you feel like it’s your obligation:

  • You have been dating a certain amount of time.
  • You met under the influence of alcohol.
  • You invited him/her back to your place.
  • You’ve been “having such a good time.”

You’re made to feel guilty.

Guilt is obligation’s ugly cousin. Both are interconnected, but a distinction still exists. If you feel like your partner is implying that you’ve brought this situation on, or you should feel bad by not following through, you are being guilted into sex. And there’s nothing safe or sexy about that.

Some possible lines:

  • “If you really loved me”
  • “You shouldn’t have been flirting with me.”
  • “I wouldn’t have bought you dinner.”
  • “Why did you bring me home with you?”

Coercion inside a relationship.

Coercion is not confined to strangers, or casual encounters. Expectations of a sexual nature occur at any point in a relationship. Even inside a committed relationship, women can experience pressure from their partner to perform certain activities that they’re not comfortable with.

These can come out of a sense of obligation, or even guilt. It’s necessary to recognize if you’re being pressured inside what should be a safe and intimate relationship.

Here are some coercive techniques one might experience inside a committed relationship:

  • “If you really loved him” you’d do it.
  • You have been dating a certain amount of time.
  • You’ve performed certain acts in the past.

Of course in any healthy relationship, there are ebbs and flows of desire. It’s important to maintain open lines of communication and show respect for each other’s needs and boundaries. If either partner is ever using the above excuses as a means to pressure the other into sexual acts, this is a form of coercion.

You’re being threatened, implicitly or explicitly. Or you’re doing it to avoid anger or an unsafe situation.

A yes isn’t really a yes if you’re scared to say no. If any of the following are true, you’re likely being manipulated or being given an ultimatum.

  • He threatens to get it elsewhere.
  • He threatens to harm you physically.
  • You feel like just giving in will avoid a fight.

You’re being encouraged or pressured to drink.

“I want you to feel relaxed” followed by repeated attempts to top off your drink, may be an indication of manipulation. Any encouragement to drink in excess, should be observed.

Trust your intuition, is this someone you feel comfortable with or is your gut telling you something’s off about his intentions? Listen to your inner voice about what is right for you, if you want to end things early, or you feel like it’s headed in the wrong direction, then feel comfortable to make an exit.

The truth about coercion.

The unfortunate thing about coercion is that a man’s persistence can undervalue any other emotional or physical connection that you may have already had together. It can leave the woman feeling like it wasn’t enough, and like any pre-existing connection you had is now sabotaged by her not going far enough.

The truth is that it is never a woman’s “fault” for engaging with a man who feels permitted to pressure her into sex. (Same can be said for reversing the roles, or inside of a same sex relationship, as well). For any women who have ever experienced pressure to perform sexually, know that you have support in saying no. It is every person’s innate right to say “no” to any unwanted advances, and it’s never too late to assert that right.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! How do you feel redefining consent can benefit both men and women? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.

For additional support, I invite you to download my free audio training for creating a life that you love, 4 Steps to Designing Your Dream Life.

Listen weekly to The Bold Life Movement Podcast on iTunes:


Need help? In the U.S., call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

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