The “Alarm Clock” Method of Sexual Coercion
Sexual abuse isn't limited to the overt, physical aggression of domestic rape; it can be more subtle, insidious, and difficult to detect.
Many women don’t realize they’re victims of sexual abuse because they haven’t experienced the extreme level of spousal assault—rape within marriage. Yes, rape can and does happen within committed relationships, and the effects are horrific and tragic. However, there are other forms of sexual abuse that are crucial to understand, and that’s why in this post I’m focusing on the sad, subtle, and insidious manipulation of sexual coercion.
Not giving consent to sexual contact isn’t limited to an overt and obvious no. Many women don’t realize they’ve been victimized because they argue, “well, eventually I did say yes” after coercion, guilt trips, and after their spouse refused to take no for an answer. However, finally agreeing to a sexual encounter simply to get him to stop verbally pressuring and guilting you isn’t true consent, nor is it an act of mutual self-giving or love.
I repeat (because this needs repeating, again and again):
Agreeing to a sexual encounter in order to get him to stop verbally pressuring and guilt-tripping you into compliance is not true consent. IT IS SEXUAL ASSAULT in the form of SEXUAL COERCION.
With this type of coercion, your partner may
tell you that it’s been “too long” and he has “normal male needs” that you must satisfy
guilt-trip you by saying that you must not love him or you must not find him attractive if you don’t want to be intimate with him whenever he wants
badger and exhaust you by asking for sex repeatedly, until you finally give in
tell you that you’re obligated as a wife to satisfy his sexual urges when he demands it
compare you to past sexual partners by saying you’re “just like” his frigid ex, who also supposedly didn’t pay enough sexual attention to him, or by bragging about obliging women who were all over him in the past (unlike you …)
(Feel free to add your own coercive experience to this list)
One of the most common sexual control tactics an abuser uses is the “alarm clock” method. Perhaps this will sound familiar to you, or perhaps you can take pieces of the tactic and see some of your own situation mirrored in it. The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Don’t Plant Your Seeds Among Thorns: A Catholic’s Guide to Domestic Abuse:
Imagine this: your partner wants sex at a certain time (which you should know without him telling you, because apparently he thinks you should be able to read his mind and anticipate all his needs even before he does, and comply accordingly). In this hypothetical (yet all-too-true) scenario, every three or four days the timer goes off and he expects sex. However, you always have to initiate because again, you should read his mind and be his sexual slave. Or perhaps he’s the one to initiate, but in a gratuitous rather than loving manner. He wants to “get off.” I apologize for being so blunt. I hate that, too, but, I have to be honest at the same time.
Sadly, this type of sexual coercion is all-too common; domestic abuse expert Lundy Bancroft has noted that “a majority of my clients seem to believe that the woman loses her right to refuse him if the man determines that it has been ‘too long’ since they have had sex… he watches his internal clock and expects access when the alarm goes off.”1
If the allotted time period goes by and his sexual expectations aren’t met according to his standards, all hell breaks loose. “Hell” can be overt violence, or his tactics could be more covert.
If the allotted time period goes by and his sexual expectations aren’t met according to his standards, all hell breaks loose.
The covert manipulations are exceptionally insidious and damaging because they’re so baffling due to their subtly, causing the target to feel as if perhaps she’s going crazy, not being kind enough, making things up, or blowing a minor situation out of proportion (she’s doing none of those things).
Aggressors often take the form of victimhood: “Oh, poor me, you don’t love me, you don’t find me attractive, you hate me, I’m so ugly …” etc. They may mope, blast you with the silent treatment or with a verbal onslaught of abuse, become even more critical and controlling than usual, and even eventually blow up in a rage. They may threaten to find sexual satisfaction elsewhere, or accuse you of having an affair.
If you deny him sex for any reason—a headache/backache/any ache, exhaustion from a day with the kids, emotional exhaustion from a day with him, or for any other reason—you’ll be blamed and labeled “cold” and “insensitive.” This causes you, the victim of domestic sexual abuse, to feel empathy and love toward your spouse, and therefore to give in to your abuser’s sexual coercion. However, please remember: he’s playing on your love. He’s capitalizing upon your empathy and your ability to forgive. He’s playing the victim, so he can play you.
Whether this is conscious or not within the mind of the abuser depends upon the individual, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the coercive control and ultimate sexual degradation.
This doesn’t make you to a co-partner in his sexual game; it makes you a forced victim, even though you weren’t physically forced.
With covert abuse, you don’t even realize you’re being sexually assaulted. And that, perhaps, is most tragic of all.
Counting the days until the next sexual encounter, knowing he’ll “expect it” after a certain amount of days have passed, does not and should not pass for intimacy. It doesn’t make a wife feel wanted, loved, cherished, respected, or part of a relationship. It makes her feel like an object to be used, which is exactly what is going on in such sexually coercive situations. As Pope Paul VI said,
A conjugal act imposed on one’s spouse without regard to his or her condition, or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife.2
Amen. And all the rest.
Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, 175.
Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, The Holy See, http://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html, accessed May 1, 2021.