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Feminspire | April 24, 2014

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On Experiencing Sexual Harassment in a Relationship

On Experiencing Sexual Harassment in a Relationship

We all seem to expect that sexual harassment primarily occurs on first dates or at parties, or when a creep hits on someone late at night on a subway or on the street, or maybe even from co-workers or bosses. But it happens in relationships too; we just don’t recognize it as harassment because of our expectations about what relationships are supposed to be.

Here’s how it happened to me.

When I was just a couple of months shy of my 20th birthday, I met my first serious boyfriend. We were both still virgins, and he was eager to lose his virginity; I was not. Nonetheless, after we had been dating for two months, I began to consider having sex with him.

I had a lot of feelings about losing my virginity. I wanted it to be meaningful, to lose it to someone who I was in a committed relationship with, to someone who I loved. At this point I still did not love him, so my proposition was that we at least wait until I turned 20, an age that seemed a lot more “adult” than 19. I set a tentative date for us to do it: my parents were going on vacation a month after my birthday. We could do it then.

Even after I clearly articulated my feelings about my virginity and my ideas about how I would lose it, my boyfriend still pushed me. In one breath he would say that he did not want to make me do anything I did not want to do, and in the next he would complain, moan and quite literally beg me for sex.

“My parents won’t be back for an hour,” he said one day, as I entered his house. “We should do it now.”

“No, we shouldn’t,” I said. “I told you.”

We were going out to spend the day together. “But I want to fool around first,” he said to me. He pulled me into his arms at once, the minute we entered his bedroom. I remember thinking “Ok fine, just a little.” Red flag number one: why do I have to fool around with him anytime he’s horny? At the time my answer to myself was because that’s what boyfriends and girlfriends do.

It was really uncomfortable, mostly because my boyfriend was very, very juvenile. He had a childish fascination with my breasts, and when he pulled up my shirt he said in a ridiculously babylike voice “I just wanna play with em.” It was not a turn on for me.

I was giggling nervously because the whole situation was so ridiculous. If this were just another guy I’d most likely have been angry, but I remember thinking that I should be okay with this and endure it because he was my boyfriend.

I kept telling him that I just wanted to go out. He started pulling my clothes off. Even as I giggled I was saying “No.” Then I got annoyed. He unhooked my bra and I pushed him off me, got up from the bed, and looked in the mirror as I re-fastened my bra.

I turned around and my boyfriend was sitting there with his penis out.

I was offended. And then he started begging – legitimately begging, like a little boy – for a blowjob. I could have laughed at the complete absurdity of the situation. Especially when he started chasing my around his bedroom smacking his penis against my leg.

I told him to put his dick back in his pants. He did, and we went out.

I broke up with him later that month. I began to ponder the idea of sex with him and I didn’t like it one bit. I was not ready for it, especially not with him. I told him that I wanted to still be friends – because I did. And we remained friends for another month after that.

He said to me, on two occasions: “So, we’re still going to have sex, right?”

I wasn’t a girlfriend. I was just someone he was attracted to enough to have sex with – at least that’s how I look back at it. He never treated me in a way that I thought was indicative of someone in a relationship. He never brought me out on a single date or bought me any gifts, little surprises – you know, the things I thought couples do for each other.

I brought him to a Fourth of July party at my friend’s house a month later. We were sleeping over, and things got heated between us again. We were kissing… until I felt him shift underneath the blanket we were sharing. I couldn’t see what he was doing because it was dark, but I had a bad feeling that I knew all the same.

“Is your dick out?”

“Yeah,” he said. I knew at once that even after I told him earlier that day that I did not want to have sex with him that he wanted to have sex tonight. I swore, got up, and walked into the other room.

We both went to sleep in separate rooms. I think he stayed up all night, waiting until he thought I was sober enough to drive, and then shook me awake and demanded that I drive him back to my house, where he had left his car. I had only been asleep for about 3 or 4 hours at this point; it was 7 am. I drove him back to the house in silence. That was the last time I ever saw him.

I have related the story to several people since then, but it was only two months ago that I truly realized that what I experienced was sexual harassment. I was discussing the situation with one of my friends, and I remembered how I had said “NO” time and time again, all to no avail; he still begged. Throughout the whole relationship I had felt manipulated into doing things I was not ready to do or not comfortable doing.

But I endured it because it was my boyfriend – I felt guilty for being so timid. And the worst part is that I don’t think my ex-boyfriend was actively trying to be manipulative.

I think guys can unknowingly shame or guilt girls because of the expectations we all have about the roles that boyfriends and girlfriends play. I was willing to tolerate legitimate sexual harassment – to let him get away with pushing me even after I said the word “no” over and over again – because he was my boyfriend. He didn’t take me seriously even when I said the word because I did not emphatically and angrily say it. I was giggling because I was uncomfortable and nervous, and he took advantage of that.

It does not matter how the girl says it: no means no, end of story. That should be all you need to hear in order to stop. We need to reevaluate our expectations, and how we approach our relationships as a result.

Written by Taylor Morgan

  • sarah

    this is such a great article…and after hearing what you had to say, I realized I’ve been sexually harassed too in a relationship…I just thought it was me. Thanks!

  • Jenn

    When I read this, I’m actually forced into introspection. I’ve never thought about it before, but I used to have a very high libido, and would get very frustrated with my boyfriends for not wanting to engage in sexual activity as often as I’d like – ie more than once or twice a month. Granted, they weren’t perfect, and clearly neither was I, but I think men can be expected to have a high libido and when they don’t, a lot of girls wonder if something is wrong, either with their partner, or with themself. I used to badger him often, and I’ve since realized how cruel it was. We’re still together, much happier and on equal ground (and I’ve learned to use those pent up hormones for more creative and constructive pursuits).
    Thanks for the great article!

  • Sara

    Thank you for writing this. There are definitely parts that I can identify with

  • Christina

    My husband used to grab at me almost every time I walked past him. He said things out of the context of the bedroom that made me feel wrong and ashamed. He would try taking off my shirt or putting his hands down my pants without asking permission. When we were having sex, he would push things far beyond my comfort zone, but like the author I thought I had to endure it because I was taught that a good girlfriend/wife/partner just had to make the other person feel good. After almost three straight years of this I finally broke down and told him off. We got into therapy and he’s been better. All it took was me realizing that I didn’t have to put up with it, and our situation is so much better. I hope others read this and understand that they don’t have to “tolerate” sexual behavior from others just to make them happy. If they don’t respect you enough to change their attitude, you don’t have to stay in that situation.

    • Judith

      Old comment, I know, but I haven’t found anything like this anywhere else on the Web. Thing is, I’m going through the same situation with my BF right now. I’ve been really vocal about this for a year now but it’s only recently that I’m realizing what a violation it is. He’s got one last chance. If he doesn’t shape up, I’m leaving!

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  • J

    “It does not matter how the girl says it: no means no, end of story.”

    I’m sorry but I do not agree with this what so ever, maybe in YOUR particular situation where you were both virgins and things were a little bit uncomfortable, but definitely not if you have been in a 2 year sexual relationship.

    I have never said no to any of my girlfriends advances, but if I did, with a light hearted tone she wouldn’t take me seriously. In any interaction, what you say has very little to do with how it comes across, but how you say it & your body language tells you much much more about how the other person feels than simply what is said. A good example of this would be the typical “I’m fine” now this can be taken in pretty much anyway possible ranging from “I feel completely normal and comfortable at this present time” to “I have never been so angry words can’t even describe it” and everything in between.

    I thought girls were good at this shit.

    • Taylor Morgan

      “I’m fine” is not the same kind of example as “No,” especially when a guy is pulling clothing off of you. I’d argue that words themselves are much better indicators than body language in such a situation because there is always a chance of misreading body language, or using it to justify doing something when the girl says no. Are you saying that of a girl says “no, I don’t want you to pull off my clothes” that her “body language” may say that “yes, I do want it”? In which case, shouldn’t you stop what you are doing and clarify rather than simply assume body language is intimating what exactly the person means?

      When I told my boyfriend no, I was trying to push him off of me. I was giggling because he was acting like a child, and the whole situation was ridiculous to me. But I clearly told him I was not comfortable. I was stiff and uncomfortable, and unresponsive throughout. It didn’t have to do with us being virgins at all, it had to do with him pulling my clothes off after I told him I didn’t want him to. It had to do with me being manipulated into feeling as though girlfriends and boyfriends were supposed to share their bodies, and that I was more or less required to let him fool around with me, after dating him and having him constantly begging for sexual favors. Begging me to send him nude pictures, asking for sex time and time again even after I sat him down to very seriously tell him how important it was to lose my virginity in a specific, special way. He wanted to take me up to his bedroom for the hour his parents were out one day to just lose his virginity. He did not care in the least about how precious my virginity was to me.

      What, by the way, does that last sentence mean? “I thought girls were good at this shit”? First of all, I am not a girl, I am a woman. Second of all, how dare you.

      You disagree completely with the idea that “no means no, end of story.” You are the person who needs to read the article again and reassess themselves. You are the type of person I dated. And you are wrong.

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