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J Sex Res. 2019 Oct 8:1-15. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2019.1671302. [Epub ahead of print]

From Freewill to Force: Examining Types of Coercion and Psychological Outcomes in Unwanted Sex.

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Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology and Kinsey Institute, Indiana University.


Unwanted sex is sex that is not fully desired, whether an individual agrees to it or not. It can be coerced-when one person compels another unwilling person-or not coerced-when a person willing agrees to participate. Experiencing unwanted sex, especially when coerced, has been associated with negative psychological outcomes. Researchers have created severity continua of coerced sex based on type of coercion used, but relative severity of outcomes across the range of unwanted sex has not been fully evaluated. This study aimed to identify types of coercion experienced in unwanted sex and evaluate differences in psychological outcomes as a function of type of coercion experienced. Participants (N = 276) provided narrative descriptions of an unwanted sexual experience. Three categories of coercive tactics and two categories of unwanted but non-coerced sex were identified. Differences across categories emerged for the following outcomes: PTSD symptoms, perpetrator blame, situational blame, societal blame, negative thoughts about the self, negative thoughts about the world. Individuals who experienced actively forced sex reported significantly more symptoms than individuals who experienced other types of unwanted sex on most measures. These results are a first step in better understanding the psychological influence of the entire range of unwanted sexual experiences.

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