The issue of how sexual coercion operates in the lives of women and girls has received relatively little attention from the family planning and reproductive health practitioners and researchers.
Two of the most commonly documented consequences of sexual abuse are early onset of sexual activity and an inability to distinguish sexual from affectionate behavior1 The idea that violence and dominance are somehow inherent to men’s nature is an idea with many adherents in different parts of the world. Men are portrayed as captive to their libido and therefore not fully responsible for their actions.
The belief in the “naturalness” of men’s aggression is a core one that must be challenged in order to build a global consensus against abuse. Far more important are the powerful social factors – male socialization, peer pressure, the media, and the military – that virtually breed violent behavior in men.2 The U.S. culture is one of a “masculine mystique” that encourages toughness, dominance and extreme competitiveness at the expense of honest emotion, empathy, and communication.
Television, films, video games and combat sports further reinforce rigid gender roles and violent behavior. There is the powerful influence of peer pressure and culture. Teenage girls want so badly to be liked that they are willing to put up with tremendous abuse. These girls find themselves in extremely risky sexual situations because for too many, sex is the only way they know of getting attention, touching, and intimacy. Sex in which they are submissive to a partners’ need is often all they know. Similar to boys, the intense neediness of these girls, which is partly rooted in their personal abuse histories, makes them significantly more vulnerable to coercive sex.
1 “Sexual Coercion and Reproductive Health,” by Lori Heise, Kirsten Moore, and Nahid Toubia, New York, The Population Council, 1995