Do you feel you can’t say no to intimacy with your partner? Do you have little say on what happens between the sheets? Does he (or she) coerce you to do things that make you uncomfortable? Then you could be in an abusive relationship with someone for whom sex is a weapon. Here are THREE ways in which abusive individuals use sex as a tool to establish and maintain control over their partner – and why it works.
“You’re lying there like a dead body”
My ex wanted sex up to four times a day, and a refusal could trigger the silent treatment, a prolonged guilt-trip, or a jealous meltdown that lasted all day or night. I had sex with him many, many times when I didn’t want to. The lowest point came when he spent several days straight getting high on cannabis, lolling around the house, refusing to go out because he was in the grip of paranoid delusion.
Our child was still just weeks old. With a colicky new baby to care for single-handedly, I was more sleep-deprived and exhausted than I had ever been in my life. So when my man began demanding sex yet again, I just wanted to cry. The last thing I wanted was to get naked. He cajoled me for two hours. He told me he wouldn’t let me sleep until I gave him what he wanted. I knew he meant it. So I put the baby in his crib, stripped, and lay down as expected.
“You’re lying there like a dead body,” he said, successfully ignoring the tears spilling from my eyes. He usually insisted I show sufficient enthusiasm during sex. He wasn’t wrong in comparing me to a corpse. I felt like I was dead.
Since making my escape from domestic abuse, I’ve often reflected on how I felt that day. I’ve never told anyone the story, because it made me feel ashamed. But, more than a year into my post-abuse recovery, I’ve finally got a handle on how and why sex is a weapon of control in abusive relationships.
1. You don’t get to choose when or how often you are intimate with your partner
If you refuse sex, he may accuse you of being ‘frigid’ or not loving him enough. He may take this as proof that you are being unfaithful, triggering an abusive episode fuelled by paranoid jealousy. He sees refusal to have sex as you rejecting him or defying him – both of which are like a metaphorical body-blow to his already fragile ego.
There is always a consequence when you refuse. He may berate, blackmail, threaten or hurt you. He may rape you, or wait until you fall asleep before beginning to have sex with you. Before long, you find yourself never saying no to him, figuring it is easier (and less painful) to go along with his wishes.
Your partner may withhold sex as punishment for perceived misdemeanors. You feel unloved and unwanted, your self-esteem plummets. He calls you a slut, and tells you that your libido is abnormally high. He may make ‘jokes’ to his friends that you are addicted to sex, or suggest that you see a therapist (both examples of gas-lighting) You experience guilt, shame, and lose the confidence to leave him in search of a healthier relationship.
2. You have little or no say in how you have sex
You long for closeness, and physical intimacy that is an expression of love. Yet being intimate with your partner is like starring in a porn movie, with him (or her) as the director. He calls the shots, you move into the required position. There is little joy and pleasure for you.
This is especially common amongst sociopathic/psychopathic and narcissistic abusers, who often also have a penchant for risk-taking. High-risk sexual behaviours could include sexual infidelity, extreme sex games, and other things that put you at risk.
He uses sex to belittle or degrade you. He may insult you, make fun of your body or tell you that you are the worst sexual partner he has ever had. He pushes you to do things that you are uncomfortable with, and then later reminds you how much you wanted it. You feel ashamed. He may threaten that if you try to leave, he’ll publicise intimate snaps or sexual footage of you.
3. Sex is about your partner’s needs, never your own
He may be a selfish lover, refusing to allow you to orgasm or acknowledge pleasure. Or, he makes any steamy session feel more like a feat of endurance, as he repeats moves rehearsed from BustyBabes.com and shows off his sexual prowess. He’s too caught up in how amazing he is to check whether it’s working for you or not. You feel like a piece of meat. That’s exactly what he wants.
Why does he do this?
Perpetrators of domestic abuse are deeply insecure and weak. Nothing and nobody can fill the void in their soul, but they lack the self-awareness to acknowledge this. Instead, they focus their energy on controlling their significant other. They try to make themselves feel more powerful by degrading another. More than anything in the world, they need a weapon which they can effectively use to establish and retain control over you.
Many demand and withhold sex – often without apparent rhyme or reason – deliberately to destablise you. Through sexual control, he makes you dependent upon him for physical (and perhaps in your head, emotional) intimacy, which may be doled out for good behaviour or refused when he says you’ve stepped out of line. By shifting the goalposts on a whim, they make sure you never know what is the ‘right’ thing to do. Other than, of course, whatever he wants, whenever he wants it.
Abusers treat you as a sex object because that is how they see you. They have needs and you do not. You are there only to fulfil their needs. They are essentially masturbating, rather than nurturing a healthy sexual partnership. They will put you at physical and emotional risk, and use this later to shame and erode your confidence so you are less likely to hit the exit.
He threatens you with so-called revenge porn, hoping that the fear of humiliation will keep you tethered to him for as long as he wants you. This is a form of emotional blackmail. Some perpetrators actually go ahead with this violation, although it is now a criminal offence in many countries.
What can you do about it?
Few of us are really comfortable talking about sex – especially when it is used to hurt or control us. That’s one of the primary reasons that sexual offences such as rape are so hugely under-reported.
Women in particular are surrounded by cultural contradictions around sex. We consume magazines such as Cosmo, which talk empowerment at the same time as they cram us with advice on how to give the world’s best blow jobs. We criticise the bodies of women pop stars at the same time as aspiring to impossible images of physical perfection.
The debate around violence against women rarely moves beyond victim-blaming, and the 50 Shades series is amongst the bestselling franchises of our time. We are told women are empowered, sexually liberated, but the ‘ideal’ woman is expected to be perfect, virtuous, submissive, even chaste.
With all of its social taboos, sex is an ideal weapon for most perpetrators of domestic abuse. By understanding this, you can:
- recognise the early signs of sexual control
- realise that you are not to blame – your abuser is
- refuse to be shamed into silence and acceptance.
Sexual control is not normal, and it is not okay. You don’t have to accept it. You do have to accept that you can’t change it, because you can’t change him. Find out more about escaping domestic abuse and open the door to a healthier, happier future.
What’s your viewpoint? Do sexual control and domestic abuse go hand in hand? Is it something that we need greater awareness of?
© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14