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Is it seduction or coercion? Know the difference!

By Jilly Mcbane

When I was younger, my parents set strict curfews for me. Finally got my driver’s license? Yes!!! Home by 10 p.m. on a weekend night? Hell no. Or, I mean, ugh fine … But as the time approached and none of my friends had left the party yet, I had to say, “C’mon, mom, make it 11 p.m.? Just tonight?”

I didn’t know it at the time, but in a way, I was coercing my very own parents, trying to convince them to give me something I wanted and pushing the limits they had previously set. They were worried about me. They wanted me home safe and at a reasonable time. I wanted to stay out and have fun.

We’re in college now and don’t have our parents to monitor our every move. Coercion happens all around us: We plead with our professors to raise a bad grade or pressure our friends to come to an event that we don’t want to go to alone. A lot of times, coercion can be harmless and we might not even realize we’re doing it.

But when it comes to sex, coercion quickly runs the risk of being harmful and that is the last thing anyone wants. The issue is that coercion can be mistaken as a form of seduction when it’s more like the evil twin of seduction.

Since they are so often confused with each other, let’s break it down.

Seduction is normal and healthy and fun. It’s a way of presenting yourself in an attractive or desirable way that is welcomed and invited by the other person. It’s biting your lip or playing with your hair or asking them what they want to do, and it gets both of you excited to have sex.

Coercion, on the other hand, requires far more force and persuasion. It’s a way of getting something you want when the person you’re trying to have sex with isn’t interested or in the mood at all. It might be excessive or forceful touching or unwelcome remarks concealed as banter. It can sound like: “I can’t help myself,” “We’ve already gone this far” or saying “please” repeatedly. This type of manipulation can seem nice and it can even feel flattering, but at the end of the day, it’s excessive and forceful and ignores your partner’s boundaries.

Sex isn’t something that’s supposed to be earned or granted. It’s not like some big jackpot you have to bargain for. We can think of any reason under the sun to tell someone that they should have sex with us. But at the end of the day, don’t you want them to genuinely want to have sex with you back? So, know the difference: What you say and do and how you say and do it matter more than you think.

Jilly Mcbane (she/her/hers) is pursuing a degree in psychology and is a member of Greek Life. Jilly is a staff  member at the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research & Education.