When you hear the term sexual coercion, is your first thought of a man being pressured by a woman? Probably not; although it happens more frequently than you might think. These cases fly under the radar in part because of the tendency of some men to decline to report the behavior, or even to identify as a victim.
In reality, however, sexual pressure is experienced by both men and women, in a variety of different settings and types of relationships. There are differences, however, in how men and women respond, and how often such activity is reported.
Consent is Not Forever: The Role of Sexual Precedence
Sexual precedence refers to prior consensual sex. But prior consent does not guarantee future consent. Many relationships begin consensually, and become coercive. Research demonstrates how sexual precedence impacts the perception of sexual coercion based on the gender of the parties involved.
R. Lance Shotland and Lynne Goodstein examined this subject in a study with a title that reflects their findings: “Sexual Precedence Reduces the Perceived Legitimacy of Sexual Refusal” (1992).[i] Participants read a scenario about a rape of a resisting woman. They perceived that she should agree to sex, and were less likely to label the encounter as rape, if the couple had a history of 10 prior sexual encounters.
What about the men? Regarding the impact of sexual precedence on men who are resisting sexual activity, Shotland and Goodstein found that participants believed that both genders were obligated by sexual precedence to progress to sexual activity after foreplay. They describe their results as “reflecting norms that function to preserve mutually satisfactory relationships.”
Men as Victims of Sexual Coercion
Sexual coercion is not gender specific. Judy M. Ross et al. observe that prior research demonstrates that sexual coercion is experienced by both men and women, although in the United States, it is reported more often by women, and different genders use different tactics.[ii]
They note that one study found that although majority of men (58%) and women (78%) reported having experienced some type of coercion or persistence after refusal, almost twice as many women reported persistent begging or deception, while men reported that they were more likely to have engaged in unwanted sex “after being continually aroused or enticed.”
They report that for men in the sample the examined, the relationship between coerced activity and subsequent nonconsensual participation differed based on the activity. The link between sexual coercion and unwanted intercourse turned out to be much stronger for men than between sexting coercion and unwanted sexting.
They also report that similar to the women, men who were subjected to the highest degree of sexual coercion also reported participating in unwanted intercourse more frequently than other participants. The authors speculate, “Perhaps men’s UCI (Unwanted but Consensual Intercourse) is mediated by strong feelings of sexual arousal, or perhaps men believe that it is not acceptable or masculine to refuse sex when pressured, as some data on ’masculinity scripts’ suggest.”
They note that other research has found differences in perception based on gender, resulting in more negative attitudes regarding male as opposed to female sexual coercion victims.
Men and Coerced Sexting
Bianca Klettke et al. in “Sexting and Psychological Distress: The Role of Unwanted and Coerced Sexts” (2019) explored, among related issues, how sexting under coercion can adversely impact mental health.[iii] They defined sexting as including sending nude images electronically, which they note is common amount young people. Although they acknowledge the possibility that such sharing can lead to unwanted content dissemination as well as harassment, they did not find sexting in general to be linked to any general mental health issues.
They did find, however, that sexting under coercion, as well receiving unwanted sexts, were linked with higher degrees of anxiety, depression, and stress, and lower self-esteem. Klettke et al. noted that both of these types of sexting scenarios independently predicted psychological distress.
Regarding gendered differences, in comparing the impact on men versus women, they found that males suffered poorer outcomes than females as a result of receiving unwanted sexts.
It appears that both men and women can be victims of sexual coercion, pressured into participating in unwanted sexual activity—ranging from sex to sexting. Unwelcome advances from a partner does not bode well for a couple´s relational future. Healthy pairings are based on mutual consideration and respect, not pressure.
[i]Shotland, R. Lance, and Lynne Goodstein. 1992. “Sexual Precedence Reduces the Perceived Legitimacy of Sexual Refusal: An Examination of Attributions Concerning Date Rape and Consensual Sex.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 18 (6): 756–64. doi:10.1177/0146167292186012.
[ii]Ross, Jody M., Michelle Drouin, and Amanda Coupe. 2019. “Sexting Coercion as a Component of Intimate Partner Polyvictimization.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 34 (11): 2269–91. doi:10.1177/0886260516660300.
[iii]Klettke, Bianca, David J. Hallford, Elizabeth Clancy, David J. Mellor, and John W. Toumbourou. 2019. “Sexting and Psychological Distress: The Role of Unwanted and Coerced Sexts.” CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking 22 (4): 237–42. doi:10.1089/cyber.2018.0291.