Updated 14 November 2014

Is your partner using sex to manipulate you?

Sex can be a dangerous tool of manipulation. Psychotherapist Dr Tanya Robinson offers advice.


Do you find yourself in a situation where someone else is making you feel uncomfortable in terms of their sexual ideas or intent?

Are you starting to feel scared or worthless in the company of this person?

Read: Female orgasm: battleground of science?

If this sounds familiar, you may be falling victim to sexual emotional manipulation.

Always an unhealthy situation

Sex and emotional manipulation is always an unhealthy and possibly dangerous situation.

The fact is that emotional manipulation can hold a person psychologically captive. What makes this kind of manipulation even more dangerous is that the person being manipulated might not even be aware that they’re being manipulated.  

When another person or partner starts playing manipulative sexual games with you, it should be a red flag and a warning sign that the relationship or the sexual intent of the person may be warped and dysfunctional.  

A skilled emotional manipulator will try to gain your trust, and will then slowly make sure they break down your self-worth and self-esteem until you start feeling worthless. You may start doubting yourself and your decisions.

In a sexual relationship, this creates a severe power imbalance. If you’re in a situation like this, you’re most likely slowly entering into an abusive sexual relationship.

Are you being manipulated?

Initially, it might be difficult to determine whether you’re in a relationship where you’re being emotionally manipulated with sex.

Look for the following red flags:

  • The person often lies about their sexual expectations or changes their expectations to something that might seem unfair or unrealistic to you.  
  • The person often spins the facts regarding your sex life to change your perspective. In this way, he or she can covertly or overtly intimidate you. For example, the person may use the following phrase: “If you don’t have sex with me tonight, I’ll leave you or I’ll have sex with someone sexier.” This kind of person is a master in “guilt tripping”, and will make sure you feel bad about yourself if you don’t meet their sexual needs.  
  • The person projects blame and plays the victim. He or she rarely takes responsibility for their inappropriate behaviour and choices.

Beware of the sexual psychopath

In his book, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among us (1993), Prof Robert Hare describes an extreme form of sex and emotional manipulation when he refers to the concept of the sexual psychopath.
Hare points out that rape is a good example of the callous, selfish use of violence by psychopaths and proposes that half of serial rapists may be psychopaths.

Their behaviour, he writes, often results from a potent combination of:

  • Uninhibited expression of their sexual desires and fantasies
  • A desire for power and control
  • Perception of the victims as objects of pleasure and satisfaction

This idea of control is very important: when a person is involved in a sexual relationship, you could say they’re revealing themselves; they’re giving the most intimate aspect of themselves. Many psychopaths realise this and make use of it in a manipulative way.

Sexual psychopaths want complete control over another individual and are masters in manipulation. Sexual submission through their manipulation tactics and emotional abuse is often the final step in the objectification of the victim.

These dangerous individuals use the tools and techniques of mind control to influence others. A sexual relationship in this situation means that there’s neither informed consent on the part of the victim, nor a relationship of equals, because the power is with the deceiver. This makes it a situation of sexual abuse.  

Read: Back pain killing your sex life?

A psychopath will often create an intimate relationship which, in turn, leads to a sexual relationship. The psychological abuse makes the sexual abuse possible, and the sexual abuse amplifies the effects of the psychological abuse.

Sexual psychopaths who have learned how to use sex to control and manipulate are particularly destructive.

Typically, the psychopath’s victim first doesn't want to talk about it. Without understanding what happened, the victim may blame him or herself; they may think that they deserved the abuse; or be so full of shame at what happened to them in the hands of the sexual psychopath that it seems easier to try and forget the whole thing.

A dangerous game

Sex and emotional manipulation can become a rather destructive and dangerous game.

If, in any relationship, you become aware of these dynamics, it’s important to seek help immediately and to talk to someone who can help you to either get out of the relationship or to assess why this dynamic is taking place. Getting professional assistance and advice is incredibly important.

Read: Is your partner a manipulator?

Need help? Call the Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence National Helpline on 1800 Respect (1800 737 732).

Read More:

How exercise can give you an orgasm
Break-up survival kit
14 signs of a healthy relationship

Image: Young couple lying in bed from Shutterstock.

Sources used: Hare, R.D. (1993). Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among us. New York: The Guilford Press.


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