Human Sexuality > Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Sexuality and Power

Many of us, despite our best intentions, hopes and dreams, end up in relationships that are not quite what we expect. They are a multitude of abusive relationships that involve everything from physical and sexual abuse to emotional and verbal abuse. The lines dividing such abuse are often vague. Any individual who has never experienced a violent or abusive relationship may fail to understand how something that begins with love and happiness may very well disintegrate into a never-ending cycle of despair.

Most types of abusive relationships have one thing in common: a desire to control a partner. In many cases, such control is the result of jealousy, envy, and selfishness. In many situations, more often than we think, it is often impossible to know everything about a potential partner or spouse before you spend day after day, week after week, or even year after year getting to know them.


Many issues of control within a relationship start off innocuously enough. For example, a spouse may question where partner has been, whether or not money was spent, or whom he or she was with. Many partners in a relationship or even a marriage may consider it typical or expected for a husband or wife to ask to see receipts, to note the dominant mileage, or to call word "check-in" every so often while not at home.

However, such issues of control are not normal and suggest suspicion, mistrust, and jealousy. It can basically be said that anyone who keeps such a close eye on someone whom they profess to love are prime examples of controlling behavior that may lead to dangerous and potentially abusive relationships.

Studies have shown that relationships that involve one partner who strives to maintain control over the other is a weak relationship that may spiral downward as it disintegrates. Such desire of control may stem from low self-esteem, jealousy, poor communication as well as ideas regarding gender and a man or woman's place within the family unit.

It should be stressed that relationships generally maintain a healthy and happy path when both partners are treated equally and are given the space to express themselves with friends, family members, or other social activities within and outside of the immediate relationship.

Control becomes a major issue when a partner's freedom or sense of freedom is decreased by the controlling behavior of another. For example, a husband may specify when, where, or who their partner may go out with. This type of personality may also demand that the partner relate every detail of what occurred, what was said, and what was done while that partner is a way from the home.

Such examples of control may also be expressed by one partner not allowing the other to stray from expected schedules, or one who is expected to be home at a specific time every day. In many such cases, such individuals also threaten reprisal for "disobedience".

Constantly checking up on a partner or spouse during class, on a college campus, or at work are prime examples of controlling behavior that is spiraling out of control. Maintaining complete control over bank accounts and paychecks is another aspect of such controlling behavior as is threatening intimidation or physical abuse if the partner threatens to leave the relationship.

Another type of controlling behavior is verbal or emotional abuse. Such abuse can take form of constant criticism, putting the other partner down, and name-calling. In most relationships, while the controlling partner seems to be in charge, in most cases, they are individuals with low self-esteem, confidence and may be considered the weaker of the two.

No one wants anyone to have such control over his or her life. Controlling partners generally instill a sense of unhappiness that continues to grow until the relationship may eventually fall apart. It's a vicious cycle of insecurity and control that continuously repeats itself until a person may literally feel as if he or she is living in a prison.

In many cases, the line between control and physical abuse is a fine one. Controlling partners in a relationship almost always invariably cross the line into physical violence that includes but is not limited to throwing objects at the person, threatening violence, pushing, slapping, and more. While not all such types of relationships that involve control issues become violent, the vast majority of them do.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is defined as any type of violence within the relationship that involves two people or family, whether or not those people live in a dorm room, an apartment, or a home. Domestic violence is not limited to married couples, but occurs within all types of relationships. In many cases, domestic violence is accompanied by sexual aggression.

[QN.No.#34.Any type of violence within the relationship that involves two people as family, whether or not those people live in a dorm room, an apartment or a home is considered:]
[QN.No.#35.Domestic violence is not limited to married couples, but occurs:]

A person's ability to recognize and understand the signs of potentially violent or abusive relationships will help individuals stay away from destructive and dangerous situations. The ability to recognize such situations as soon as possible may help to prevent harm and abuse. While many women, and some men, continually hope for improvements within such a relationship, finding the strength and determination to walk away is often one of the only ways to escape physical harm, continued abuse, and in some cases, even death.

No one plans on entering a violent relationship. In many cases, an individual may not realize that he or she has been dating someone with violent propensities. In such situations, the courting process has gone smoothly and partners have expressed nothing but love, gentleness, and affection with one another. Often however, after the marriage vows have been declared, many women often find the men of their dreams have suddenly morphed from knights in shining armor to monsters and ogres.

Before we get any further in this lesson, be assured that help is out there for victims of domestic violence. One such organization, called the National Domestic Violence Hotline, is available 24 hours a day and offers information and crisis assistance to help any individual find a local, safe shelter, health care resources, counseling and even legal assistance. This resource can be accessed at 800-799-SAFE (799-7233), or by visiting the Internet website at

Abusive Relationships

Abusive relationships come in many different shapes and forms. In some cases, abusive relationships can take years or decades to develop. Because the degree and type of abuse in such a relationship often depends on the individual, situations, and location, it's difficult to come up with a definitive description of relationship abuse.

Each person's experience of abuse would differ from another's. Relationship abuse is often categories into three types:

  • Verbal
  • Emotional
  • Physical

Coonected to those is also psychological abuse.

[QN.No.#36.Relationship abuse is often categories into different types, such as:]

Verbal abuse is defined as attacks with words. In many cases, verbal abuse has been shown to initiate extreme psychological and emotional damage to those on the receiving end. Most expressions of verbal abuse come in the form of humiliating comments, accusations, and belittling comments. Even though verbal abuse is not considered physical in nature, the effects are long lasting. Many children who have been verbally abused carry the effects of such abuse with them well into adulthood. Verbally abused spouses often exhibit low self-esteem, low self-image, and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness or fear.

Verbal abuse is defined as any type of verbal interaction that includes mocking, trivializing, name-calling, intimidating, ridiculing, yelling, threatening, insulting, and so forth.

Emotional abuse takes a massive psychological toll on an individual and differs from verbal abuse because it focuses on the victim's feelings and emotions. Emotional abuse is often times considered more difficult to recover from then verbal or physical abuse. It has been said by experts that broken bones and cuts and bruises mend faster than deeply inflicted wounds caused by emotional abuse that initiates feelings in a victim of unworthiness, blame, unattractiveness, and undesirability.

In many cases of emotional abuse, the abuser takes advantage of his or her ability to manipulate and control a partner's emotions and feelings. Intimidation may include and is not limited to threatening with physical harm, destroying personal property, or threatening or actually injuring friends, family members, or even pets of the individual.

Some of the most common forms of emotional abuse are expressed in the following types of communication:

  • Why would I want to touch you?
  • Why should I tell you what I'm thinking?
  • You better do what I say.
  • You're not worth my time.
  • Stop complaining, you're not hurt.

Such communications also often imply threats if directions, commands, or demands are not met or followed.

Any type of abuse that takes on physical form characterizes physical abuse. However, it should be understood that not all types of physical abuse in a relationship necessarily imply slapping, hating, broken bones, bruises, bleeding, or trips to the emergency room. In many violent relationships and domestic violence scenarios, man, and sometimes women, cause invisible damage to others.

Many instances of violence and domestic abuse involve spouses or partners that do hit and cause bruises, cuts, scrapes, and bleeding, but on body parts that are not necessarily exposed to others. In some cases, a violent partner may twist or grab a limb, which causes pain without leaving noticeable injuries or bruising. In many cases of domestic abuse, victims don't show outward signs of physical damage.

Physical abuse is considered to be anything that involves contact, such as choking, punching, biting, changing, holding someone down against their will, sexual abuse, rape, physical intimidation, raising fists, or blocking a victim's ability to escape from any situation.

Common Signs of Relationship Abuse

A publication released by Project Sanctuary offers a brochure and asks questions that may lead any individual to recognize whether or not he or she may be involved in an abusive relationship.

Signs you may have an abusive partner - if you think you may be the victim of a violent relationship, ask yourself the following questions:

Are you…

  • Frightened at times by your partner's behavior?
  • Afraid to disagree with your partner?
  • Often apologizing to others for your partner's behavior toward you?
  • Verbally degraded by your partner?
  • Unable to see family or friends do to your partner's jealousy or control over you?
  • Afraid to leave your partner because of threats to harm you or to commit suicide if you do?

Do you...

  • Feel as if you sometimes have to make up excuses to justify your behavior to avoid your partner's anger?
  • Avoid family and social functions because you're afraid of how your partner will behave?

Have you been...

  • Shoved, hit, pushed, choked, grabbed, physically restrained, intimidated, humiliated, put down, threatened, ridiculed, or attacked by your partner or thrown objects?
  • Forced by your partner to engage in sexual acts against your will?

While the above are the most common signs of potential abuse or ongoing abuse within a relationship, some relationships may be headed down such a path before a partner can recognize the signs of a developing cycle of abuse or violence.

Violence and Abuse Cycles

A cycle of violence is defined as a repetitive pattern of stages that define most abusive and violent relationships, cycling through the honeymoon stage, the tension-building phase, and the explosion of violence, followed by a return to the honeymoon stage, and the beginning of a new cycle.

Cycles of violence generally develop over long periods of time. In many cases, the victims of domestic violence are typically unsure of when the pattern of behavior began, because it begins so gradually. In many cases, victims of emotional and verbal or psychological abuse don't recognize that he or she is in the grip of such a cycle until things become more heated or violent.

Most abusive relationships follow a certain pattern that includes:

  • the honeymoon phase
  • the tension building phase
  • period of violence
  • return to honeymoon phase

[QN.No.#37.A cycle of violence is defined as a repetitive pattern of stages that includes:]

However, most abusive relationships follow basic cycles that are often predictable, and will continue unless someone intervenes. Most relationships start off exciting and full of hope and happiness. This is generally considered to be the honeymoon phase of intimate relationships.

[QN.No.#38.In the honeymoon phase of intimate relationships:]

In many relationships, situations and events arise that inevitably cause tension between partners, and this is to be expected, but the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship is that a healthy bond between two individuals who enjoy open communication is able to resolve such situations or offense through rational discussions. Unfortunately, this type of approach to solving problems and crises fails in abusive type relationships. In many cases, unresolved disagreements build tension (tension-building phase) that increases over time. Whether disagreements are over sexual relationships, finances, or work, one partner soon finds him or herself continually giving in to the other partner in order to maintain peace.

In many cases, this continued scenario of "surrender" on one half of the partnership might keep the peace, but only for a while. In some cases, one person in a relationship may need to endure this tension-building phase of the abuse of cycle for weeks, months, or even years. In many situations, if the "submissive" partner doesn't give in, insults, criticisms, and verbal abuse typically follow. This aspect of intimidation and bullying by an abusive partner often encourages the other to submit to his or her wishes for fear of ongoing anger, verbal or emotional abuse, and in some cases, physical abuse.

Studies have shown that relationships that often include threats and insults personified by the tension-building phase nearly always erupt into physical violence. After the first display of physical intimidation, threats or violence, abusers most often express their sorrow, promises that it will never occur again, and beg forgiveness. For a while, the abuser is generally sorry for his or her behavior, and often buys gifts for the abused partner as well as bends over backwards to make sure life at home "returns to normal". In such a manner, the relationship reenters the honeymoon phase and the cycle starts all over again.

Unfortunately, for most partners on the receiving end of such violence, the honeymoon phase is a mere façade. Many victims of such abuse live in fear every day and literally "walk on eggshells" waiting for the other shoe to drop. He or she may be continuously afraid of what may set the partner off in the future, and avoid situations or activities that may trigger and increase tension that leads to violent explosions.

Often, signs of a potential abuser are obvious, while others are less so. Some of the most obvious warning signs of a potentially abusive individual include the following characteristics. An abuser:
  • commonly uses threats of violence with others
  • displays controlling behavior
  • isolates partners from friends and family members
  • continually blames others for failures or problems
  • displays signs of excessive jealousy
  • breaks, hits, or throws objects when angry
  • displays anger or criticism when criticized him or herself
  • experiences extreme "Jekyll and Hyde" moods or reactions
  • often displays force or power in sex that is disguised as "play"

Assault and Its Aftermath

One of the most common forms of physical abuse in any relationship is a sexual assault. In many scenarios and situations, stronger partners often coerce or force weaker partners into sexual behavior or acts and use threats of violence, violence, or outright force to get his or her own way.

Sexual assault is defined as coercive sexual content that doesn't necessarily involve intercourse. Sexual assault is commonly known as rape, acquaintance rape, and statutory rape. Rape is defined as the occurrence of sexual intercourse by force or threat of force without the consent of the person against whom it is perpetrated.

[QN.No.#39.Sexual assault is commonly known as:]

Yes, a partner or spouse who takes advantage by force or threat has committed sexual assault or rape upon the partner. While many cultures and societies around the world frown upon the concept of a husband raping a wife, the truth is that any unwanted or undesired sexual activity between two individuals is considered sexual assault.

The concepts of acquaintance or date rape are difficult for many people to grasp, and is one of the most well-known forms of rape that defines non-consensual sex between two individuals. Unfortunately, date rape and acquaintance rape is also a type of rape that is least likely to be reported to authorities, most often because the victim herself is hesitant to define the act as rape.

Marital rape is also considered to be a form of acquaintance rape and involves any husband who forces of sexual intercourse on his wife. In most societies, and even in America up until the 20th century, women were considered to be the property of husbands and fathers, who had the right to do what they wanted with such property. Indeed, women had very few rights, and until recently (the late 1980s), couldn't prosecute a husband for rape.

Today, 48 states have laws covering marital rape, although a majority of them carry exemptions such as that a wife and husband must be legally separated, or have filed for divorce, or living separately at the time the rape occurred in order for the husband to be charged and tried for the act. Unfortunately, marital rape is not considered to be a very serious problem, and many make the mistake of believing that the emotional, psychological and physical results of such activities that take place in the marital bed are somehow less severe than the experience or reactions of an individuals who experiences ‘stranger’ rape.

Sexual Abuse Patterns

Sexual abuse often follows specific patterns. In some cases, victims of sexual abuse become abusers themselves. In the 1970s, social services departments including child welfare workers and mental health workers and providers became aware of a growing need to aid and support victims of childhood sexual abuse and incest. Childhood sexual abuse is defined, very broadly, as any sexual interaction between a child or adolescent and adult or a more knowledgeable child that can but does not always involve physical contact.

Incest is defined as a sexual activity between a child or adolescent and a relative, most commonly parents, foster parents, stepparents, a parent's live-in partner or lover, as well as extended family members.

Sexual abusers, whether they are children or adults, come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, ages, and races. However, studies have also shown that roughly 80% of sex abusers of children are known by the child or are family members of the abused child. In fact, most child molesters are friends, teachers, neighbors, or other community members known to a child. While nearly 90% of child abusers are male, women also initiate sexual abuse upon children, though such instances are rare.

Girls are traditionally considered to be a greater risk for sexual abuse than boys, and studies released in the late 1990s reveal that nearly three times as many girls as boys are sexually abused, most probably because girls betray a greater risk for victimization than males. For example, such risks can include but are not limited to a mother or father's inability to constantly monitor a child because of disability, employment, or illness, or those living in homes where marital conflict exists between parents, as well as relationships between children and parents that are not ideal. Individuals exposed to excessively strict or abusive parents, as well as those having stepparents in the home are also risk factors.

Sexual Abuse and Its Psychological Impact

Victims of sexual abuse, regardless of age, often experience anxiety and anxiety disorders such as depression, and posttraumatic stress disorders. Such individuals often also experience decreased self-esteem, aggressive behaviors, overall behavior problems and anger. Children especially develop such behaviors, including sexually inappropriate behavior among peers.

The long-term and psychological impact of sexual abuse cannot be over emphasized. Any individual with a history of abuse may experience psychological problems, poor self-esteem, inability to maintain healthy relationships and are often more likely to become victims of sexual abuse in their future, as well as sexual maladjustments, self-destructive behavior, eating disorders and substance abuse.

[QN.No.#40.Any individual with a history of sexual abuse may experience:]

Sexual harassment is also considered an abuse of power of spouses, employers, and peers. Sexual harassment is defined as any deliberate or repeated pattern of sexual advances that are unwelcome and/or other sexually related behaviors that are hostile, offensive, or degrading to the recipient.

Sexual harassment can take the form of touching, cornering, suggestive comments or gestures, letters, telephone calls, teasing, remarks and jokes. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has defined clear guidelines that describe unwelcome physical conduct of sexual natures or unwelcome verbal comments as sexual harassment when:

  • an individual's rejection of such conduct, or submission to such conduct, is used as a basis for employment decisions
  • the unwelcome conduct interferes with an employee's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

Because men and women view sexual harassment differently, guidelines in place by various employers in the workplace must be clearly defined. However, most men and women do agree that pressuring others for sexual favors or deliberate touching or "invading another person’s space" can be considered sexual harassment when such behaviors are obvious and overt, but lines are still blurry regarding more subtle forms of sexual harassment that can be construed by many as mere friendliness or camaraderie.

Atypical Sexual Behavior

No study into the basics of human sexuality would be complete without at least briefly touching upon the subject of atypical sexual behavior. Atypical sexual behavior is generally defined as "not normal" or "deviant". However, like other aspects of sexual development and behavior, public standards and cultural beliefs cannot often specifically determine whether or not such behavior is considered normal or abnormal.

Because most individuals define normal sexual behavior according to their own beliefs, it’s often difficult to state whether or not such behavior is atypical. As a matter of fact, some states actually define what types of sexual activity is atypical or deviant, which are most often described as what is publicly or culturally acceptable in modern society and what is not.

Sexual deviations are also known as paraphilia. For people suffering from such deviations, discomfort, anxiety and guilt are common psychological side effects. Actually, paraphilia incorporates a multitude of sexual deviant behaviors, which may be categorized as:
  • Fetishism - sexual arousal often associated with inanimate objects
  • Pedophilia - more commonly known as child molestation, or having sex with children
  • Voyeurism - often known as a "peeping Tom"
  • Exhibitionism - most commonly defined as flashing or inappropriately displaying genitals to unsuspecting and unwilling individuals

[QN.No.#41.Sexual arousal often associated with inanimate objects is known as:]

Of course, there are more, including sexual masochism and sadism, which is the desire to experience or inflict pain upon a sexual partner, and transvestite fetishism, which is defined as achieving sexual arousal by wearing the clothing of the opposite sex.

Child molestation is a severe and serious crime committed in any culture. Studies have shown that child molesters are typically male and are often married. Many child molesters are actually fathers, and many express religious, rigid, or passive character traits. Studies have also shown that nearly two thirds of all cases of pedophilia occur through an acquaintance, relative, or friend of the child. In many cases, child molesters are considered to be rapists, although the general term of molestation rarely exceeds fondling activities.

Recognizing the signs of child molestation is important for social workers, service providers, teachers, parents, and neighbors. The most basic signs of child molestation include:

  • A child is especially hesitant to be seen nude when such hesitancy or fear was previously absent.
  • The child expresses physical complaints like stomachaches, headaches and other symptoms typically associated with stress.
  • The child begins to express signs of anxiety, fear, shame, discomfort or other signs of discomfort or embarrassment when hearing references to sex or sexual behavior.
  • The child begins to express comments of self-deprecation or self-blame, suicide or self-destructive actions or attitudes.
  • The child becomes irritable or emotionally unstable, when such behaviors were non-existent in the past.
  • The child begins to engage in risk-taking behaviors or activities.
  • The child begins to express or exhibit obvious signs of loss of self-esteem and self-worth or self-confidence.

How do Most Child Molestations Occur?

In most cases, a child molester looks for specific children or scenarios that will enhance his ability to nab a child or to engage in atypical behaviors. Such situations include but are not limited to the fact that:

  • The majority of child molesters act alone
  • Many child molesters are actually child care providers
  • Most molestations take place in the abuser’s home
  • Child molesters try to encourage children to engage in such behaviors through persuasion, touching and even talking about sex with older children through Internet contact
  • Child molesters often use threats of abuse or force or punishment to compel children to comply with their wishes
  • Many child molesters bribe children with promises of gifts or money

The long-term results of child molestation often follow children into adulthood and leave emotional scars that inhibit such an individual’s engaging in "normal" sexual relationships with others. Such emotional scars also involve hesitance or inability to trust, to get close to someone, or to enjoy sexual relationships.

Some types of atypical sexual behavior don't hurt anyone. Others do. What goes on behind the closed doors of many adults is their own business as long as each partner willingly engages in such behavior, while others promote harm, both physically and emotionally. However, pedophilia, voyeurism, exhibitionism and child molestation do cause permanent and lasting harm in many and victimizes unwilling participants.


Distributions of power within home environments, schools, college campuses, and workplace environments are not always clearly defined. In many scenarios throughout the United States and the globe, sexuality and power are closely linked. Regardless of location, demographic, race, or age, individuals who understand the dynamics of healthy sexual relationships may help to avoid entering into potentially abusive relationships by understanding behaviors and attitudes of potential partners.

Sexual assault, regardless of form, as well as abuse, regardless of whether it's physical, emotional, psychological, or verbal, leaves a lasting impression and impact on its victims. Breaking the cycle of violence in many relationships requires individuals to educate themselves and to rely on family, friends, and social services offered in communities to break away before such abuse results in irreparable damage and in some cases, death.

In many cases, the cycle of violence can be broken when a person takes a stand against such power plays and abuse, but regardless of the situation anyone finds himself in, it's important to remember that help is out there.

In many cultures and traditions around the world, concepts of sexuality are tied closely with religious faith and beliefs. Our next lesson will explore the sometimes-uneasy relationship between religion and sexuality in American culture as well as those found around the world. Diversity in faith, religion, and beliefs regarding sexuality and sexual development plays a large role in how couples in different societies date and marry.

In addition, concepts involving conception, pregnancy, and birth play an important role in the growth and development of healthy sexual relationships. Religious beliefs regarding conception, pregnancy, abortion, and birth control will also be explored in the next lesson.

Human Sexuality > Chapter 7
Page Last Modified On: February 16, 2015, 07:44 PM