A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me an article that made the hairs on the back of my neck rise. It highlighted a study that suggested 1 in 16 U.S. women felt that their first sexual experience was forced or coerced. The lasting health repercussions of this formulating experience is what hit me in my personal core: “In the years after coerced or forced sex, affected women had more sex partners, unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and more reproductive health problems including pelvic pain and menstrual irregularities than women whose first sexual experience wasn’t forced.”
To be clear, it’s important to define coerced or forced sex for what it is: rape. Though it’s important to label these experiences correctly, many people (myself included) feel incredibly uncomfortable describing one, or multiple, of their sexual encounters with this term. To find out about the experiences of others, I turned to Instagram and asked our community their thoughts. I specifically asked the same question the study did: Was your first sexual experience coerced or forced?
The answers, though varied, predominantly exposed that many people felt they’d lost their autonomy because of their first sexual experience. Whether the experience was pleasant, or transpired because of social pressure, or because someone used force (rape), the answers showcased the extreme importance in sharing our experiences — and really, how these experiences continue to influence our behaviors, psyche, and lives. For me personally, hearing your stories made me feel supported. I thought I was the only one.
I was 14, he was 16. I thought it was voluntary and then found myself crying in the bathroom afterwards feeling really confused about what happened. I wasn’t old enough to be making that decision but made it because I was curious (having been raised by parents who were conservative and avoided any detailed conversation about sex and told us to wait til we were married) and felt pressure from my older, “cool” boyfriend, who broke up with me 2 months later. I can’t say it was non-consensual but in hindsight it wasn’t something I knew enough about to be making an actual decision for myself on a physical or mental/emotional level.
After reading that article I feel incredibly grateful about my first experience. It was the summer before uni, so I was 17. Second boyfriend & he’s a really great friend still to this day – just a great human. We talked about it all summer and came close many times but I would stop because I wasn’t ready and he 100% respected that. I didn’t know how lucky I was at the time to have that. He had experience as he was older and had a couple girlfriends before me. He checked in at every stage making sure that I was okay and I still wanted to keep going. He even bought (blueberry) lube & told me all about it & how it could help it feel better. It was very sweet and brings back such heartwarming feels as I look back on it. I felt taken care of, educated, loved, and safe. I can’t believe how lucky I was, it breaks my heart that other people haven’t had, or even heard of, similar experiences.
I feel that my early sexual experiences were in a way self coerced through ingrained ideas about what a beautiful desired woman was and what that should look like. I made myself available to anyone who showed interest in me, even though I look back now and realized I wasn’t fully respecting myself because most of those men were shit heads. And way older– I was 16-19 and they were 27-38. It’s interesting to think about what free will is in a world with many opinions and judgements about what we “should” do and be.
My first encounter with intercourse was with a guy who was in 12th grade when I was in 9th, on the first night we met. We had been hanging out with a group of people including my best friend at the time. When it came time for her and I to go home, he and his friend insisted that they drive us back to her place separately. On the way home, he stopped and parked in front of the corner store by our school. It was late at night. I remember trying to act cool in front of this older boy who had a truck and thought I was pretty. I still had braces and wore a bra from the little girls department. He was physically very large and had a dominant personality.
I don’t remember what he said or how it all came to be, but I ended up losing my virginity in front of the store in his truck. It was painful and I remember seeing my blood on his hands. I have definitely blocked a lot of it out as a defense mechanism, but I believe that I likely consented to kissing and then felt powerless to stop his advances when he took things further. Afterward he dropped me at my friends house, and when she asked what happened, I told her, playing it off like I had intended for that to happen. After all “all the girls were doing it”. The following week I convinced myself that for it to not be a shameful experience, I had to date him and become his girlfriend. What followed was nearly two years of humiliation. Being that I was so much younger, once our peers at school found out, I was instantly labeled a slut. His friends would bully me in the hallway.
He even once recorded us having sex and sent the recording to his friends — an incident that a concerned classmate of his reported to the school councilor. My relationship with him put a wedge between my mother and I, greatly straining our already challenging relationship. He would ignore me at school and then come over to have sex at night. He even took another girl that he hardly even knew to prom. He would often buy sex toys and talk me into allowing him to use them. I was 15. I had no idea what was ‘normal’ or appropriate and what wasn’t.
There was no point in saying no ever, he would just talk me into whatever he wanted. Towards the end of our relationship, as I began to wise up to his manipulation and abuse, I recall what I hope was our last sexual encounter, where I told him I didn’t want to, and he held me down and did it anyway. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve started to unpack the heaviness of this situation. By the time I was finally able to break up with him, he had already graduated from high school. I haven’t seen him since. I’ve shared the details with a few friends, and bits and pieces with my partner, but this is the first time I’ve written it all down.
My second time was clearly coerced, easily defined as rape (an acquaintance pretending to host an after party, me drunk out of mind and going along with his advances when the “party” ended up being his bedroom) but my first time actually felt empowering. I also felt some pressure to not be a virgin, but it was internal. I was ready to not be, and didn’t see what the fuss was about. Being in love seemed like more of a stretch than having sex, so I just chosen an older male friend I’d had a crush on, created an environment where we started kissing, and told him I wanted to have sex. He asked if I was sure, I said I was, and we had sex. It started to snow for the first time that year when I left his apartment. I was 17 and felt powerful, and it was magic. (And in many ways I’m so glad it wasn’t built up as a fairy tale or bound in love. It was a decision, and one that I got to make for myself.
My first time was shortly after my 16th birthday. “Sweet 16” – being a ‘virgin’ (I have since questioned the actual sense in using that word) till you’re 16 was a thing. Then the pressure to be sexually active and cool was very apparent. I didn’t want to be a virgin anymore, I literally chose one of my guy friends who I used to have a crush on and made it happen after school one day. Zero romance. I don’t have any regrets, I appreciated at the time that I didn’t put so much pressure on my first time being special. Looking back though I find that’s a very odd decision for a 16 year old to make and realize I probably just did it out of peer pressure (none of which was from my sexual partner).
I had never heard the term “coerced sex”. Though I know in my heart, so many of my sexual experiences have been exactly this. My first time, I wanted to. But, I wanted to because I wanted him to like me. I wanted to because I wanted my friends to think I was cool. I wanted to because boys never picked me, always my seemingly perfect friends – maybe this would be my advantage. My first ended up being extremely abusive. Both physically and mentally. He went on to use sex as leverage “maybe I’ll stop being angry with you if you give me a blowjob” or “I’ll forgive you if you take your clothes off”. 16 years later, I can think of all the times I have given myself away because it was easier to let them have me than it was to say no – if I said no, maybe they wouldn’t have liked me anymore.
The pressure to be cool, hook up, have sex was huge and then once I’d done it, I remember being called “McDonalds because she’s fast, cheap and easy” by a male classmate who knew my boyfriend IN FRONT OF A TEACHER and the rest of my peers. That paired with a weird, minor sexual assault at my place of work as a teen and parents who didn’t know how to talk about sex, love, relationships so in turn promoted celibacy equaled a lot of shame that I’m only recently realizing I carry to this day.
My first experience was definitely coerced. My boyfriend at the time told me he would leave if I didn’t have sex with him. At this point, I already loved him and our relationship had begun to show signs of emotional and verbal abuse so I allowed it. After he left me (because he thought I was cheating) I was raped by my best friend’s boyfriend. I then had a very hyper sexual phase and felt like something was wrong with me because I wasn’t acting the way I thought a survivor of sexual violence should.
I was just shy of my 19 birthday. I had been sexually active since 16 and had had very good sexual boundaries up to that point, and they had always been respected by my partners. I liked sex and was very into it, I just didn’t feel comfortable with the risks of VI so I didn’t do it.
After being raped by a friend of my roommate-at-the-time it was almost like my boundaries evaporated. He got me very, very drunk and was much older than me (10+ yrs). I said NO to him multiple times and he wouldn’t stop so I froze and just wanted it to be over. When I told my roommate what happened later that day she said “yeah, that happens sometimes.” (How sad for both of us.)
After that it was like… I had been shown my NOs (boundaries) didn’t always work and so I was afraid to try using them again somehow? My next relationship started with sex I didn’t want to have. I had so much sex I didn’t want to have over the next decade (and plenty that I did want too, of course.) Mostly in relationships where I felt obligated because the person was my partner.
It took me 5 yrs after being raped just to realize/admit/accept it for what it was. And the next 5 years to process and accept the reality of the situation and see the long-lasting fallout of that one act. It’s impact on my boundaries, self-esteem, autonomy, sovereignty and sexual health. I felt like I had been complicit in my own repeated rapes for that following decade. (That’s a strong statement and I’m not calling all the sex I had after being raped rape, but when I look back there’s such a deep feeling of self betrayal that only a big strong statement can adequately express it. Especially after having my own back so firmly as a young person.)
It was two weeks before I turned 16. My parents were out of town and my friends convinced me that we should have a small party. He was a senior that I barely knew, and I was extremely drunk for the second time ever in my life. He convinced me to start making out with him, and I thought I should be honored that a cute guy like him wanted a tomboy like me. Then he took me to the bathroom, I voluntarily went with him. We started hooking up, and I even gave him oral, but when he started to try to take my jeans off, I kept saying “no, I don’t want to, please.” He didn’t listen. He had me pinned and I was too drunk to overpower him. Looking back now, I think part of me was paralyzed by fear of being hurt and the other convinced myself I should be grateful that I was wanted. I said no and please stop multiple times, but he went ahead took my virginity. I started to silently cry from the pain, but he didn’t notice or care. I cramped and was in pain for a week after. I had bruises on my wrists from being pinned down. I cried tears of relief when I got my period on my 16th birthday. I convinced myself it was all my fault. I told my friends that we had sex, and all they could say was his ex-girlfriend who also happened to be in my home room was going to hate me now. I had to endure six months of seeing him in the halls everyday.
I didn’t tell anyone about me saying no and trying to stop him until I went to college and my roommate was date raped. People didn’t believe her and bullied her. I felt this fierce need to protect her, and she was the first person I told. I finally admitted that my first time was non-consensual. I didn’t even say the word “rape” when referring to my first time until a decade later to my therapist. And even then she had to convince me that consenting to giving oral sex, does not mean that I was consenting to vaginal intercourse. She said saying no should have been enough to stop.
I somehow found a way to enjoy sex after I experienced it with someone I really liked, but I do feel like I slept around more because I felt this need to erase the bad beginning of it. I felt shameful of my sex life and kept most of it secret. I carried around this feeling of being damaged goods. I should be lucky if anyone wanted to be with a girl “like me”. I also experienced a myriad of reproductive health issues in my twenties.
I’m truly grateful for finding an amazing therapist who helped me work through all this. I’m confident enough now to know my worth and that I don’t have to always say yes. It took a very long time, but I’m more hopeful than ever.