Expectation Sex and Control
in Intimate Relationships
The Blind Elephant Under the Bed
by Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.
Often people in controlling relationships think that their interaction is abusive when it is physical and fail to see the other more pervasive, subtle forms of abuse. The dominant person in an abusive relationship (usually the male) says, “I haven’t hit her in three years,” yet she knows she is being abused in bed.
The Elephant Under the Bed
Controlling relationships are fertile ground for abuse in many areas of life, including emotional, psychological, social, financial and sexual, as well as the more blatant forms of physical abuse. In working with couples over the years, I have noticed the most subtle and often most confusing violation occurs in bed. I’m not referring to blatant sexual abuse, but rather the psychosocial sexual abuse that is more common in controlling relationships.
I call it “expectation sex,” and it looks something like this: “Because I expect it, you are required to deliver it and if you don’t, there will be consequences.” This is essentially the flip side of what I have termed “complacency sex” in other writings.
Complacency sex is having sex so as to avoid the consequences of not having sex. Couples in controlling relationships frequently fall into a pattern of sexual intimacy driven by the subtle communication patterns of expectation and complacency.
The Blind Elephant of Controlled Intimacy
This pattern of sexual “intimacy” is usually long-standing and often difficult to identify as abusive. In some respects, you can think of it as blind unto itself, because of the social norms often in play when it comes to this form of sexual abuse.
For example, male privilege and female submission camouflage the clear abusive pattern. However, as you look more closely, you see the controlling behavior and personal violation inherent in expectation sex.
If you are in a controlling relationship, be mindful of this barometer of intimate partner abuse. While it may lurk in the darkness, its impact can be illuminating once you identify the pattern.
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