A few days ago, I published an important article on women’s self-worth in a sexualised era. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do before reading this today by clicking here.
In that article, I discussed the case of Sheridan, a bright woman who found herself in a sexual situation that she didn’t want to be in. Yet, due to her sexualised past, her trauma history, and simply not wanting to “rock” the boat with the guy she was with, she allowed the experience to occur, somewhat blaming herself for her stupidity.
Now, what I didn’t expect was the barrel of feedback from women saying they completely understood; that they had been “Sheridan” at one point or another in their lives. Most of these women had been sexualised early on or sexually abused, and therefore, didn’t expect any better of themselves or the men they were seeing.
Pretty sad, but, a harsh reality. The next interesting fact that came up, was the fact that neither Sheridan or these women felt they had been raped. They acknowledged they had chosen to stay there. At no point had they asked the men to stop, voiced ‘no’, or tried to leave. Instead, they complied.
Noticed I didn’t say engaged. I said complied.
Today, I’m writing this article for both men and women to open the conversation as it’s an important one.
Gentlemen, let me ask you. If you were having sex with a woman who closed her eyes through the whole thing, would you not wonder how ‘into it’ she really was? What about if she was frozen through the whole episode?
While I acknowledge it sounds like common sense, clearly based on women’s experiences, it isn’t. Scary to think that for many, sex goes ahead despite some questionable responses. As the mother of four sons, I sure as hell am going to scream the differences on the rooftop until we all get them right.
Signs that a woman is ENGAGED in sex:
- She smiles
- Her pupils dilate
- She makes eye contact
- She touches her partner
- She communicates about the experience before, during, and after
- She feels safe and that’s obvious from her body language and what comes out of her mouth
Signs that a woman is COMPLIANT in sex:
- She may shut her eyes and wont open them unless told
- She may avoid eye contact
- She may follow instructions without initiative
- Her body may be frozen
- She may not remember the experience
- She often will cooperate for a different reason (fear, wanting comfort etc)
- She may attempt to seek emotional comfort more than expected
Between Sheridan’s experience and the feedback I received about the article, I reached out to the amazing sexuality educator Kerrin Bradfield from Open Book Project to seek some insights and understanding about these examples that were popping up right, left, and centre, and here is what valuable information came out of it.
Let’s start with a basic lesson on attachment theory as it’s the basis for what comes next:
Attachment styles and relationships
As you can see, attachment plays a massive part in how adults attach to each other. If you’re lucky to have grown up with a secure attachment, you may not relate to any of these, but if you haven’t, it may make sense as to why you struggle with rejection, emotional pain, letting people in OR SEXUAL COMPLIANCE…
What is socialised sexual compliance?
Consensual engagement in unwanted sexual activity, also described as sexual compliance, refers to “situations in which a person freely consents to sexual activity with a partner without experiencing a concomitant desire for the initiated sexual activity” (O’Sullivan & Allgeier, 1998, p. 234). Therefore, sexual compliance differs from sexual coercion where one partner explicitly “pressures the other for sex” (Katz & Tirone, 2009, p. 348). People may consent to unwanted sex for a range of reasons. These include a sense of obligation, not wanting to disappoint a partner, fear that their partner will terminate the relationship, and to avoid conflict (Basile, 1999; Muehlenhard & Cook, 1988; Shotland & Hunter, 1995). Although sexual compliance involves consent, compliance with unwanted sex is associated with a range of negative consequences including low relationship and sexual satisfaction, increased stress and poor physical health (e.g., Hartmann & Crockett, 2016).
Putting it together…
Essentially the theory tells us that women (it may also apply to men, but my whole training has been on women, so I’ll stick to what I know 😊) with an anxious attachment pattern will do anything to avoid rejection, emotional pain, and distance in the relationship. According to the research (I’ll post articles below), up to 37% of women hope that by complying, they will be more likely to please the men they’re with, increase their odds of feeling loved/wanted, and avoid conflict/violence/fear responses.
Combine anxious attachment patterns with sexual trauma, no wonder women like Sheridan struggle with sexual boundaries. We call this a dialectical conflct; two important needs that conflict with each other:
- I want to feel loved BUT I don’t feel like having sex
- I just want a cuddle BUT I don’t want him to reject me
- I want comfort BUT I don’t want to be used
Great news!! Good men can make all the difference…
As a mother of teenage sons, it’s important for me to make sure that we do not put all men in the same basket. Hell, it’s important for us women to take some accountability in how our previous trauma and attachment injuries drive our lack of boundaries and communication (I say this with love and include myself in this life lesson). Because if a guy asked ‘is this nice’ and we answered ‘yes’, how are they supposed to know it really isn’t?
I reckon, for this to change for our children and their children, we need team work now. Women working hard at healing, men working hard at seeing what isn’t always staring them in the face, and good men kicking bad men in the ass 😉
Gentlemen, this may include:
- If she says yes, but looks petrified, please wait…
- If you have to take her clothes off because she doesn’t, please wait…
- If she avoids looking at you, answers in yes/no question, or rehearses what is stereotypically said in sex, trust me, she’s being a semi good actress.
- If she said yes, meant it, but looks a little lost, cuddle her. Kiss her. Remind her she’s respected as the bare minimum
- If you’ve had sex with a woman, please don’t throw her out within five minutes.
- Be a gentleman and use manners. Send her a quick text to say thank you/hope you got home safe/was lovely to see you…
- Express your intentions. If you’re after a one night stand, tell her that so she can make an informed decision.
- If you recognise, in hindsight, that you had sex with a woman who was ambivalent, reach out. A simple “hope you’re well”, “how’s your day”, or “Let’s catch up for a beach walk” would be enough to make a massive difference.
- Finally, treat her like you would want your daughter, sister, or mother treated.
Where to from here….
Last article, I provided some suggestions as to how to address things. Today, let’s see how to address the issue of socialised sexual compliance in women:
- Become familiar with your attachment pattern. It will help make sense of why you feel/behave the way you do in relationships (do the quizz for free)
- Learn communication skills and practice them in non-threatening environments
- Resolve old grief and wounds (talking to a therapist may help)
- Find securely attached role models and learn from them
- Challenge your self talk (easier said than done)
- Hypnosis and tapping are great therapies that will help with emotions (I do not offer these at this stage, however check out the amazing Katina Gleeson if you’re local).
- Practice healthy boundaries. As discussed in my last article, harder to find yourself in a sexually compromising position if you meet in a public place!
- Make your expectations clear to partners; I am willing/unwilling….
Until next time,
I hope that this was a helpful discussion, one that gives women an opportunity for hope, and men an opportunity to continue being strong role models for other guys.
As always, I’m only an email away if you have any questions, want to give feedback, or simply want to reach out!
- Brewer, G., & Forrest-Redfern, A. (2020). Attachment Anxiety, Rape Myth Acceptance, and Sexual Compliance. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520948526
- Drouin, M., Tobin, E. (2014). Unwanted but consensual sexting among young adults: Relations with attachment and sexual motivations. Computers in Human Behavior, 31, 412–418.
- Fraley, R. C., Shaver, P. R. (2000). Adult romantic attachment: Theoretical developments, emerging controversies, and unanswered questions. Review of General Psychology, 4, 132–154.
- Hartmann, A. J., Crockett, E. E. (2016). When sex isn’t the answer: Examining sexual compliance, restraint, and physiological stress. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 31(3), 312–324
- Hazan, C., Shaver, P. R. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511–524.
- Impett, E. A., Peplau, L. A. (2002). Why some women consent to unwanted sex with a dating partner: Insights from attachment theory. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26(4), 360–370.
- Katz, J., Tirone, V. (2009). Women’s sexual compliance with male dating partners: Associations with investment in ideal womanhood and romantic well-being. Sex Roles, 60(5–6), 347–356.
- O’Sullivan, L. F., Allgeier, E. R. (1998). Feigning sexual desire: Consenting to unwanted sexual activity in heterosexual dating relationships. The Journal of Sex Research, 35, 234–243.
- Shotland, R. L., Hunter, B. A. (1995). Women’s “token resistant” and compliant sexual behaviors are related to uncertain sexual intentions and rape. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21(3), 226–236.