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Michele Weston describes herself as “a smart girl with a college degree” who, for a while, dated a “jerk.” Sure, he got physical with her sometimes, but Weston didn’t classify it as abusive. “I just thought he was mean,” she says.
It wasn’t until much later, after the relationship had ended and she was speaking to a domestic violence counselor about said jerk, that her counselor asked her if her ex had ever used sex as a tool to get Weston to do what he wanted.
Yes, he did, she answered.
It was then Weston learned she was a victim of not just physical, but also sexual and psychological abuse. Her jerk-ex was more than just mean—he was abusive.
As though she had just received a diagnosis she didn’t see coming, Weston says it took her a while for this to sink in. “I didn’t fully believe it until months later when I was coming to terms with admitting that I was under [his] control,” she says. “The more I thought about how he handled our sex life, the more I realized to what degree he was using sex against me.”
When Sexual Abuse Overlaps with Emotional Manipulation
In relationships where domestic violence is present, abusers often use forced sexual acts to assert power and control over women. This can include anything from rape to attempted rape, abusive sexual touching, rape using an object other than a body part, unwanted exposure to pornography, forced pregnancy or abortion, or sexually abusive language or threats. In a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 2, or 44 percent of women, have experienced a form of sexual violence other than rape at some point in their lives. Nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped.
But in Weston’s case, her abuser withheld sex rather than force it upon her. It was a manipulation tactic, and one that made Weston begin questioning herself.
“I thought that maybe I was just too sexual, that I put too much emotion into sex, that maybe sex was more important to me than it should have been. I thought that maybe I shouldn't want it so much.”
In many relationships, it’s often the man who asks for sex more often than the woman. But sometimes, roles are reversed. Weston freely admits she has “either a higher libido than most women or am more sexually liberated,” and it was something her abuser discovered he could use against her.
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“Our relationship was largely based on my sexual attraction to him, and sex was used as weapon in order to control me,” she says. Weston knows it’s hard for some survivors to understand. After all, why would you want to be intimate with your abuser? But she says intimacy brought her hope—maybe things were going to get better now—and it was also a way to fix things when they went awry. “I wanted to do everything I could to make him happy when things were rocky and unpredictable,” she admits.
Four Tactics of Withholding
What was happening to Weston could be categorized as emotional or psychological abuse, the trademarks of which can involve humiliation, criticism, blame and gaslighting. She says her abuser used the following tactics to assert his power over her:
1. Rejection. Weston says her abuser used to withhold sexual contact during times when she asked to be intimate. He also used withholding affection as a punishment. “If I looked at him wrong, he refused to kiss me,” she says.
2. Prelude to abuse. Weston says her abuser used sex to manipulate Weston into getting into her house or let her guard down. That’s when other abuse would begin, such as physical abuse.
3. Carrot tactic. “He also used to tempt me and taunt me with the expectation of sex to get me to be nice to him when I shouldn't have, or to lessen my the response to some other abuse he just inflicted. He used sex to reel me back in, time after time, when we’d break up.”
4. Fake-out. Weston also says her abuser used intimacy to convince her he cared about her, specifically when Weston would begin doubting their relationship or was contemplating leaving.
To learn more about the tactics of emotional abuse, read, “The Mind-Trip That Is Emotional Abuse.”
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