Updated: Mar 6
Revisiting a heartbreaking topic…
(I recommend watching the video here for reference, since this whole article is about it– but don’t freak out about how different I look, this video is from five years ago!)
So here’s the deal. I made that video in September of 2017, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, when a woman who went on a date with actor/comedian Aziz Ansari accused him of sexual assault. The woman, who wrote an essay detailing what what down between them on their date, very clearly felt that Aziz had assaulted her, but many people who read her story felt differently, and quite a few even got angry and said that “this whole Me Too thing was getting out of hand,” because Aziz hadn’t done anything wrong, and she had just gone on a shitty date with an annoying guy.
I understood where both sides were coming from, but was shocked to see how few people seemed aware that there might be anything in between “sexual assault” and “a bad date” worth talking about.
As someone who has been in more sexually coersive situations than I could ever begin to count, I felt this woman’s description of their date deep in my bones. I understood exactly why she felt like she couldn’t just say no, or come out and directly tell him to stop pressuring her, or even leave. I understood how years of subconscious conditioning around pleasing and appeasing men’s egos to stay safe overrode any desire to tell him off for not respecting her boundaries and leave. I understood how the power differential between them echoed in her body on an evolutionary level, and kept her small.
I also understood exactly how unaware Aziz was that he was doing anything problematic or harmful.
In the video, I introduced the term “sexual coersion,” and explained a bit about what it is and why it matters. (Although for the record, I use oversimplified and binary gender language in the video, which I wouldn't use today, and I don’t make it clear enough that people of any gender can both coerce others, and be coerced.)
I talked about how it applies to scenarios like this woman’s story, in which a person asks repeatedly, begs, pleads, convinces, negotiates, guilts, demands, or or otherwise applies pressure to get another person to do sexual things, and how the person being pressured will often say yes to things they don’t really want to do, because–for any number of reasons–they don’t feel safe or free to say no.
Then I talked about how, in the mainstream heteronormative script, men are subconscously or consciously taught to view this sexual dynamic —in which he has to convince someone to be sexual with him — as normal and ok (and sometimes even preferable!). After all, what’s the exact and specific difference between “wooing” or “seducing” someone, and coercing them? Where does that line get drawn?
For this reason, there are a lot of people (but especially men) out there are doing an absolute fuck-ton of harm to others around sex, without even realizing it. And there are a lot of heteronormative men specifically, who would consider themselves really good guys– moral and ethical guys, even progressive or feminist guys– who have no idea their actions in this area have contributed to or caused trauma to women.
This conversation, about which I am still incredibly passionate, obviously hit a nerve, because over the years this video has been the most popular by a landslide. The comments section is, in fact, absolutely heartbreaking, as dozens and dozens of people share their own traumatic stories of being sexually coerced, often even asking questions like “my husband does this, how can I get him to stop?” and sharing insights like “whoa I didn’t know there was a word for this, but that’s exactly what happened to me in college, and now I can see why it fucked me up so bad.”
Sexual coercion was and is an extremely common cause of trauma (especially to women who partner and sleep with men), and therefore a massive cause of people feeling unsafe in their bodies, and the world. But because it doesn’t seem “as bad” compared to the horrific stories of rape and sexual assault that were uncovered in the #MeToo movement, it never really got the attention it deserves.
So, for a long time, I’ve wanted to revisit this topic. Maybe make a new video; a sort of “sexual coersion discussion 2.0.” I could answer some of the questions that have been left in the comments, update the gender concepts and language, and talk about how and why this is still such a common form of trauma.
I’m curious if this topic still feels relevant to you, and if so, what you’d like to ask or hear about it. What does the topic of sexual coercion bring up for you? I’d love to hear any and all thoughts, stories, questions, or insights (including from men, if you’re comfortable sharing!) as I consider what to cover in the 2.0 video.
All that I ask is that you watch the old video first, so you already have context and know where I’m coming from. ;-)
So go ahead and watch the old video on sexual coersion here, and then hit reply with your thoughts!
Looking forward to hearing from you,
PS: Looking for help feeling more connected to, comfortable in, and accepting of your body?? Apply for private coaching with me here! Packages start at $850/month for 1:1 coaching, and I have space in my schedule for another client (or maybe two) starting in November!