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Sexual Pressures

General Information
What is sexual pressure?
When is peer pressure not okay?
Can I say no after I have said yes?
How do I deal with pressure to have sex?
Other Resources

Whether you are in a relationship, dating, or just meeting new people, sexual pressures become an issue, especially in college. As you try to fit in or find your niche at college, a lot of times you can feel pressured into engaging in behaviors that you're not comfortable with in order to go along with everyone else. Not all sexual and peer pressures are negative, but it is important to keep in touch with yourself and your needs, as well as keep communication lines open.

What is sexual pressure?
There are different types of pressures that college women experience. You might remember when teachers in middle and high school discussed peer pressure and explained its negative influences. Sometimes peer pressure gave many of us the idea that everyone was having sex and if we weren't, then there was something wrong with us. More specific to relationships, there are partner and acquaintance pressures. One partner in a relationship may put pressure on the other to have sex. Part of your evolving sexuality and growing up is learning to say, "No" to any type of sexual activity you don't want to engage in (1).

Peer Pressure. We have heard the phrase hundreds of times and after a while we just tend to ignore it. However, think about it. You have to admit that pressure from your peers is an important issue. Whether you like to admit it or not, friends, roommates, hall-mates, and acquaintances usually have a lot of influence on you, who you are, what you do and eventually who you become. As you grow older and become your own person, you become less dependent on your parents and much more dependent on your friends. The friendly opinions and advice you receive can be reassuring and is usually more similar with what you believe, considering they're probably in the same situations you are. There are times, however, when your opinions are different from your friends, but you just go along with them for one reason or another. You should remember that sometimes going against what you believe may not be the best choice (2).

In order to be yourself, you need to know who you are, what your values are and what you believe. Your friends are influential in all this, but you shouldn't have to change yourself for them, especially to fit in. If you are true to yourself, your friends will appreciate that. Peer pressure doesn't always have to be a bad thing. Sometimes, your friends can actually pressure you in a good way, like to aim higher and reach your goals or even to help you stay out of trouble. If your friends truly care for you, they will look out for you and help you out of trouble (3).

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When is peer pressure not okay?
Having a sexual relationship with another person is a big decision that we take lightly too often. In deciding how far you want to go, whether in a relationship or a one-night-stand, it is important to assess your own needs, desires and values before entering the situation. Here are some questions to ask yourself to evaluate the situation:
  • Is your decision to have sex completely your own? (meaning that you feel no pressure to have sex from others, including your partner)

  • Do you feel your partner would respect any decision you made about whether to have sex or not?

  • Do you trust and respect your partner?

  • Are you able to talk comfortably to your partner about sex and your partner's sexual history?

  • Have you and your partner talked about what both of you would do if you became pregnant or got a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?

  • Are you and your partner willing to use contraception to prevent pregnancy and barrier methods (like condoms) to prevent AIDS and other STDs?

  • Do you really feel ready and completely comfortable with yourself and your partner?
If you answered NO to any of these questions, you may want to rethink whether you are ready for sex. If you think you should have sexual intercourse because others want you to or if you feel like you should for your partner's sake, you should reconsider that decision since these are not the right reasons. You should only decide to have sex when you trust and respect your partner, know the possible risks, know how to protect yourself against the risks, and most importantly, because feel that you are ready (4).

If at any point you feel pressured to have sex by your partner and he/she forces you to do something you do not want to do, speak up and make your voice heard. Make sure your partner knows what you want and that when you say "no" you mean "no."

If you have experienced a situation in which your partner pushed you too far, read our sections on DATE RAPE, SEXUAL HARRASMENT, and SEXUAL ASSUALT and do not be afraid to get help. Nobody should ever force you to do something that you do not want to do.

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Can I say no after I have said yes?
The advice "just say no" is not easy to follow in the reality of everyday life. Feeling pressure from friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, etc. is real. The desire to just experiment is also very real. So what happens when you say "yes" once to just try it (whatever "it" is) and then afterwards, you are not interested anymore. Now you have a new problem. You said "yes" once. How do you say "no" the next time (5)?

This is a common dilemma faced by many people, especially in college and teenage years, and especially with sex. Many times college women feel the desire to have sex with a partner or an acquaintance for the first time, and after the experience they decide that they do not want to go that far again with that person. If feelings and emotions are not fully communicated, often times you can walk away feeling hurt, pressured, violated and angry.

It is always acceptable to say "no" even after you have said "yes." No matter what anyone tells you, it is your body, your mind, and your choice. It is important that you communicate your feelings to your partner or acquaintance to prevent an uncomfortable position in which you feel pressured to do something you do not want to do. On the other side of the equation, it is important that if someone is saying "no" that you go through with their wishes. Any time sex occurs between two people, communication should also follow in order to decide what it means, figure out where you both stand, discuss safe sex, as well as address any other issues you feel are relevant.

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How do I deal with the pressure to have sex?
The most important tool for any relationship is communication. If you communicate your needs clearly, it is more difficult for you to be misunderstood. Think about your personal values and your level of comfort. Remember that not everyone is doing it. Make your decision based on what you want and not on what your friends, peers and partner want. Sexual relations are a two way street, you do not have to do anything that you do not want to do. Also, remember that there is no rush to jump into any sexual relationship. There is always another time that might feel more comfortable.

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