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The Prevalence of Sexual Coercion in Intimate Relationships, Including ENM

Updated: Feb 28

We've all been in situations where we witness couples arguing at parties or events. Sometimes, these arguments escalate to physical violence, but oftentimes, there are incidents that happen behind closed doors, hidden from view. Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a serious issue that can affect any type of relationship. While most attention has been focused on IPV in traditional relationships, it is important to recognize that IPV also exists in alternative relationships.

One aspect of IPV that is often overlooked is intimate partner sexual violence (IPSV). Gathering accurate statistics on IPSV can be challenging due to inconsistent terminology and measurement methods. However, it is crucial to shed light on this issue and provide valuable information and education.

The purpose of this article is to raise awareness about the prevalence of IPSV in all types of relationships, including alternative relationships. By increasing our understanding and knowledge about this topic, we can work towards addressing the issue and creating safer environments for all individuals in intimate relationships.



Sexual coercion is a significant issue that occurs in various types of intimate relationships. It involves the use of nonviolent tactics like manipulation and intimidation to pressure a partner into engaging in sexual activities that they do not want. This form of abuse is not limited to any particular relationship structure and can occur in alternative relationships as well, including same-sex relationships, polyamorous relationships, and non-monogamous relationships. In these types of relationships, the dynamics of intimate partner violence (IPV) can manifest in unique ways due to the specific dynamics and agreements within the relationship.



        Statistics from reputable sources, such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, highlight the seriousness of IPV in alternative relationships.

      According to a 2016/2017 report from the CDC, contact sexual violence, physical violence, and stalking victimization were reported by over two in five identifying as male, and approximately one in two identifying as women (CDC, 2021).

  • About one in five women and one in five men reported experiencing contact with sexual violence from an intimate partner, with 13.7% of women and 5% of men reporting experiencing sexual coercion (CDC, 2021).

  • The CDC reports that 26% of gay men and 37.3% of bisexual men experience IPV, compared to 29% of heterosexual men.

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline recognizes that individuals in polyamorous and non-monogamous relationships are also at risk of experiencing IPV, although specific statistics are limited.

Recognition and Prevention

Sexual coercion is a concern that can arise in various types of relationships, including those within the realm of ethical non-monogamy (ENM). Despite the emphasis on consent and equality within ENM relationships, it is important to acknowledge that instances of coercion can still occur.

Research has identified eight common ways that partners use force for unwanted sexual activity in intimate relationships, including ENM:

  • Exploitation

  • Bullying

  • Pressure

  • Relational Threats or Manipulation

  • Humiliation/Intimidation

  • Learned Helplessness

  • Physical Harm/Threats of Physical Violence

  • And general sexual dissatisfaction.

  • Exploitation in romantic relationships, including ENM relationships, can harm the individual's well-being. Recognizing and exposing exploitation is essential to foster a healthy and consensual relationship dynamic. Here are some key behaviors associated with exploitation:

    • Claiming to be in love or using their partner's love against them includes statements like "If you loved me, then you would do this..." or "If you truly loved me as much as you say you do, then..."

    • Encouraging their partner to drink more alcohol: This lowers inhibitions and makes it easier to manipulate their partner into complying with sexual requests.

    • One partner pushing to move faster than the other is comfortable with ENM: Both partners must progress at a relaxed and consensual pace. Pressuring someone to move faster than they are ready can be a form of exploitation.

    • Evidence of a power imbalance between the couple: Exploitation often occurs when there is a significant power imbalance within the relationship. This can involve one partner exerting control and dominance over the other.

    • Weaponizing guilt: Manipulating feelings of responsibility to coerce a partner into complying with sexual requests is a form of exploitation. This can involve making the partner feel responsible for the abuser's actions or emotions.

    • Gaslighting involves manipulating the partner's perception of reality, making them doubt their own experiences and feelings. Gaslighting can be a tool exploiters use to maintain control and power in the relationship.

    • Being dishonest: Exploiters may use dishonesty as a means of manipulation. This can include lying about their intentions, actions, or other essential relationship aspects.

  • Bullying in relationships is a serious issue that can cause emotional and psychological harm. It's important to recognize the signs and behaviors associated with bullying to address them effectively. Here are critical behaviors of bullying in romantic relationships:

    • Invalidated opinions: The bullying partner may dismiss or belittle their partner's opinions and ideas, making them feel unheard or unimportant.

    • Constant judgment: The bullying partner consistently criticizes and judges their partner's actions, appearance, or choices, creating a negative and hostile environment.

    • Depreciation of accomplishments: Instead of celebrating their partner's achievements, the bullying partner will downplay or diminish their accomplishments, undermining their self-esteem and confidence.

    • Dictating or controlling everything: The bullying partner exerts control over various aspects of the relationship, making all the decisions without considering their partner's input or desires.

    • Physical abuse: In some cases, bullying may escalate to physical abuse, where the bullying partner inflicts harm or violence on their partner.


      Bullying can sometimes masquerade as jokes or playful banter, which can make it difficult to recognize and confront. However, it is important to understand that genuine jokes are built upon mutual respect and consent and should never result in the belittlement or degradation of one's partner.

Individuals with low self-esteem may be particularly vulnerable to accepting bullying within romantic relationships. Nevertheless, it is vital to acknowledge that bullying is never acceptable and should not be tolerated in any relationship.

  • Pressure to engage in ENM can harm individuals' mental health and well-being and can even lead to coerced consent. Here are some key behaviors of pressure in ENM relationships:

    • Frequent arguments: Partners may frequently argue about wanting to try ENM, which can create a tense and unpleasant environment.

    • Nagging: One partner may continually ask the other to try ENM, creating a sense of unease and discomfort for the hesitant partner.

    • Relentless begging: The partner who wants to try ENM may repeatedly plead with their partner to engage in it, not respecting or considering their partner's doubts and concerns.

         When one partner feels pressured to begin an ENM lifestyle, it can lead to anxiety, fear, and resentment, exacerbating a sense of coercion. If one partner hesitates to engage in ENM, the other partner must respect their boundaries and not coerce or pressure them into doing anything they are uncomfortable with.

  • Manipulation and relational threats can assume various forms, and they can potentially occur in any relationship. An example of concerning behavior is when a partner threatens to terminate the relationship if their partner refuses to participate in consensual non-monogamy (ENM). This conduct hints at emotional manipulation, where one partner attempts to exert power over the other's thoughts, emotions, and actions to satisfy their wishes. Here are some key behaviors associated with relational threats or manipulation:

    • Crossing boundaries: The manipulating partner consistently crosses the boundaries of the other, disregarding their partner's feelings and needs.

    • Unable to take no for an answer: The manipulating partner refuses to accept "no" as a response, persistently pressuring and manipulating their partner until they get what they want.

    • Dramatic statements that cause guilt and shame: They use dramatic statements or emotionally charged language to make their partner feel guilty or ashamed for their reluctance to agree to ENM.

    • Ability to cry on cue: The manipulating partner might fake emotions, such as crying, to generate sympathy and manipulate their partner into compliance.

    • The requirement to prove your love for them: They create a sense that agreeing to ENM is the only way to demonstrate love and devotion to them, using this as a tactic to manipulate their partner.

    • Expected to react in a specific way: The manipulating partner has clear expectations for how their partner should react and respond and may become upset or angry if those expectations are not met.

    • Love bombing: They may overwhelm their partner with excessive affection, compliments, and gestures to butter them up and make it harder for them to say no.

    • Playing the role of the victim: The manipulating partner portrays themselves as the victim, making their partner believe that their hesitations or reluctance are causing harm or pain.

    • Frequently "just joking" when the victim stands up for themselves: They undermine their partner's legitimate concerns by dismissing them as jokes, making it difficult for the victim to assert their boundaries and needs.

  • Humiliation and intimidation in romantic relationships can have profound adverse effects on individuals and can be as damaging as physical abuse. Here are critical behaviors of humiliation and intimidation:

    • Dominating conversations: The person engaging in humiliation or intimidation attempts to control and dominate conversations, not allowing others to share their thoughts or express themselves freely.

    • Screaming and shouting: They resort to loud and aggressive behavior, using screaming and crying to assert power and instill fear in their partner.

    • Creating a scene: They intentionally create public scenes or confrontations, aiming to embarrass and humiliate their partner in front of others.

    • Unnegotiated degradation: They humiliate and degrade their partner without consent or negotiation, undermining their self-worth and dignity.

    • Punching structures to cause fear includes physically damaging objects or structures around the partner, not necessarily targeting the partner directly but inducing fear and intimidation through the destruction.

    • Breaking things to induce fear: The person who engages in humiliation or intimidation may purposefully break objects or belongings to cause anxiety and create a threatening atmosphere.

  • Learned helplessness is a psychological phenomenon that can occur when a partner feels they have no control over a situation, resulting in a belief that their actions will not make a difference. This can particularly apply to areas of a relationship, such as a lack of sexual autonomy, where a person may feel powerless and unable to advocate for themselves. Here are key behaviors associated with learned helplessness:

    • Passive behavior: Individuals experiencing learned helplessness may exhibit passivity, often deferring decision-making and relinquishing control to others.

    • Low self-esteem: They may have a diminished sense of self-worth and confidence, feeling incapable of influencing or improving their circumstances.

    • Avoiding decisions: They may actively avoid making decisions or taking actions because they believe their efforts will be futile or not result in any positive change.

    • Quick to give up: Individuals experiencing learned helplessness may quickly give up or become apathetic in the face of challenges or difficult situations, feeling a lack of motivation or belief in their ability to effect change.

    • Lack of solid effort: They may lack sustained effort to change their situation, as they have learned to believe their endeavors will not lead to a different outcome.

  • Physical harm and threats of physical violence are severe forms of abuse that can create an environment of fear and control within a relationship. When victims feel threatened by the potential for violence or harm, they may engage in uncomfortable behaviors to avoid the consequences. Here are critical behaviors associated with physical harm and threats of physical violence:

    • Extreme jealousy: The abuser may exhibit possessiveness and jealousy, monitoring the victim's interactions with others and displaying unwarranted suspicion.

    • Isolation from friends and family: The abuser may isolate the victim from their support system, restricting their contact with friends and family and creating a dependence on the abuser.

    • Accusations without evidence: The abuser may make baseless accusations against the victim as a means of control, undermining their trust and self-esteem.

    • Intense anger: The abuser may have frequent or severe outbursts of anger, which instill fear and establish a power dynamic within the relationship.

    • One partner is 'allowed' to do things the other is not permitted to do: The abuser may create double standards, permitting themselves to engage in certain activities while forbidding the victim from doing the same.

    • Emotional dysregulation: The abuser may be unable to manage their emotions, resulting in unpredictable mood swings and heightened volatility.


      In conclusion, it is vital for us to recognize and acknowledge that Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) exists in all relationships, including alternative ones. By understanding the prevalence of IPV and being aware of the signs, we can cultivate a culture of inclusivity and support. Our collective efforts can contribute to the creation of safe spaces for individuals in all types of relationships.

Within the realm of IPV, it is crucial to address the issue of sexual coercion, which can manifest through nonviolent tactics such as manipulation and intimidation. These actions seek to pressure a partner into engaging in sexual activities against their will. By recognizing the existence of sexual coercion and actively working to combat it, we can take significant steps towards building and nurturing healthy and safe relationships for everyone involved.

Through education, awareness, and continual efforts, we can strive for a society that understands the importance of consent, equality, and respect within intimate relationships. By collectively addressing IPV and sexual coercion head-on, we can make meaningful progress in creating a world where all individuals can experience relationships free from abuse and coercion.

Dramatically yours,

Dr. Stephanie

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered professional advice. If you or someone you know is experiencing IPV, please seek help from a qualified professional or a local domestic violence hotline.

Phone: 1-800-799-7233

Text: START to 88788

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Dr. Stephanie, PhD is the founder of Evolve Your Intimacy. Being ethically non-monogamous in her personal life, she is passionate about helping others discover their relationships’ true potential regardless of the dynamics. She specializes in working with individuals in alternative relationships in her private practice, hosting workshops and playshops at events, on cruises, and through her online platform. She holds a PhD in Clinical Sexology, an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas, Arizona, and Florida, and a Certified Sex Therapist. If you want to work with Dr. Stephanie, schedule a free consultation. 

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