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Salud mental

versión impresa ISSN 0185-3325


SALDIVAR HERNANDEZ, Gabriela; RAMOS LIRA, Luciana  y  ROMERO MENDOZA, Martha. What is sexual coercion? Meaning, tactics and interpretation in young university students in Mexico City. Salud Ment [online]. 2008, vol.31, n.1, pp.45-51. ISSN 0185-3325.

Sexual coercion in the context of flirting or courtship is a form of sexual violence that has rarely been explored in Mexico, with studies mainly being undertaken in the United States and some European countries. This may be due to the fact that it includes the use of certain practices that have traditionally not been regarded as violent and, on the contrary, been viewed as <<normal>> within intimate heterosexual relations. Like other forms of sexual violence, the definition of social coercion involves conceptual and methodological problems, since the term has been used interchangeably with other forms of sexual violence. Generally speaking, violence on dates or during courtship and sexual aggression tend to refer to a domineering behavior in sexual behavior in which physical aggression is used. At the same time, sexual coercion comprises a continuum of practices ranging from subtle psychological pressure and the use of language to the utilization of physical aggression to secure a sexual encounter. This form of violence may trigger major problems in the areas of mental, sexual, and reproductive health. For the purposes of this study, sexual coercion is defined as any type of physical or emotional pressure used by a person to impose acts of a sexual nature on another person within the context of a mutually agreed on heterosexual encounter to go out together, get to know each other or engage in a romantic or erotic relationship or in a more formal relationship such as courtship. This type of sexual violence occurs in Latin American countries where couple relationships continue to be regulated by certain cultural traditions that may prevent the problem from being detected. These norms, which are often stereotyped, create <<sexual scripts>>, in other words, structural blocks of information processing that combine concepts, categories and relationships based on the social experience that indicate how heterosexual relationships <<should>> be conducted. These scripts and their particular expression are strongly influenced by cultural attitudes and beliefs for men and women. In view of this context, it is hardly surprising that men and women engage in coercion in different ways to secure a sexual encounter. These different forms of coercion have been conceptualized as <<tactics>>, whether direct or indirect. Given the need to know how sexual coercion is defined, how it is exercised and whether coercive behavior is in fact identified, this study seeks to determine the meaning of sexual coercion, the tactics used by both sexes and the way in which young university students interpret the same coercive event. Method One way of dealing with the significance of a phenomenon, as well as its interpretation, is through the qualitative approach; for the purposes of this study, focus groups were used. Participants A total of 27 students comprised four focus groups, two comprising women, two comprising men. Three of these groups consisted of seven participants and one of six. The age range was 18 to 25. Data gathering techniques In order to obtain the information, thematic guidelines were drawn up to explore the meaning and interpretation students give sexual coercion as well as the type of tactics they recognize as being used by men and women. Procedure The study was carried out at two universities, after inviting participants to attend a focus group. At each public and private university, two groups (one of men, one of women) were formed. Analytical strategy For the analysis of the focus groups, audio-recorded interviews were transcribed. For each of the study, the entire transcription was read out for the first level of analysis. This was followed by segmentation, the extraction of fragments or paragraphs, sentences, phrases of words regarded as significant. Results As far as the significance of sexual coercion is concerned, it is striking that both men and women associate the term with extreme force, divided into three main categories: physical force, rape and violence against women. To a lesser extent, the term is identified with family violence and a continuum of sexual violence ranging from subtle to extremely severe. In order to obtain the meanings attributed to a situation of sexual coercion in courtship, participants discussed the two characters in a cartoon in order to reveal the aspects that could be regarded as accepted, permitted, questioned or rejected as means of obtaining a sexual relationship. The group discussion revealed two different points of view: men's and women's. In the analysis of the female character in the story, the men described her as a <<victim>> while the women regarded her as being responsible for what had happened. As for the male character in the story, the men perceived him as someone who was tactless and abusive, whereas the women labeled him as <<sick>>. The analysis of the tactics of sexual coercion used by men and women to obtain a sexual relationship revealed that indirect tactics are most commonly used by men and women. Conclusions It is important to note that although there are very few studies on sexual coercion in Latin American countries except in Argentina, Peru and Mexico, they must be undertaken, since failure to do so would mean neglecting a significant part of young people's sexual, reproductive, social and mental health. The following conclusions may be drawn from the results of this study: a) Most of the subjects interviewed are unclear as to the meaning of the term <<sexual coercion>>; b) Both the men and women in this study blame women for their victimization. This is particularly evident from the discussion of the cartoon on sexual coercion; c) Sexual coercion is a more common problem in women, although it has been said that men can be victims of sexual coercion as well. This finding opens up a significant line of research on how men perceive this type of violence, and d) Although both the male and female students in this study mentioned that men and women used indirect tactics more frequently to secure a sexual encounter, it is important to note that these are different, since men use subtle tactics with threats whereas women do not. This study showed that women are more likely to suffer some type of sexual coercion and that men use indirect tactics with threats. Although the subjects that participated in this study mentioned certain types of tactics used by women to obtain a sexual relationship, this result must be treated with caution, since further study is required on this issue. This exploratory study on the phenomenon shows the need for prevention strategies to enable men and women to identify an event in which they perceive they are being pressed in to having a sexual encounter. This is why it is important for sex education programs to include a gender perspective and to emphasize the notion of people's rights in order to eradicate inequalities of power and thereby eliminate any type of violence.

Palabras llave : Sexual coercion; tactics; significance; students; gender.

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