What Is Marital Rape?
Medically reviewed by Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW, CST — By Sandra Silva Casabianca and Robyn Russell — Updated on Jun 23, 2021
Some people might think rape is something that happens only between strangers. Nonconsensual sex in a marriage occurs as well, and it’s not uncommon.
Sexual violence, including rape, has many faces. It’s rarely an isolated incident, and it may also come with other abusive behaviors.
In romantic partnerships and marriage, forced sex is still sexual violence, and it’s never the victim’s fault.
If you’ve experienced sexual violence, including rape, from someone you’re dating to married to, there’s help available and ways to cope.
Is spousal rape still rape?
Yes. Spousal or marital rape is rape.
Rape refers to forcing or manipulating another person into unwanted sexual intercourse. It is sexual assault, even if it’s done by someone you’re dating or married to.
Rape in a romantic relationship and marriage is considered intimate partner violence. This includes forced sex and sexual assault between spouses.
Sexual assault is not always overtly violent. This means that the use of force isn’t the only thing that makes this assault a violation of someone’s integrity.
For example, using drugs to make you lose consciousness to perform sexual acts on you is also a sexually violent exploit and rape.
Threatening you with harming you or someone you love, so you have sexual intercourse with them, is also considered sexual violence.
Sexual violence also includes situations where you’re deceived or made to perform sexual acts without you wanting with your spouse or someone else.
Intimate partner sexual violence does not only happens between spouses. It also applies to dating partners, whether you live with them or not.
Sexual violence includes acts of sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.
Statistics on marital rape
Spousal rape and intimate partner sexual violence affect people across gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. A person of any gender can experience and perpetrate sexual violence.
According to a 2014 reportTrusted Source, in the United States, about 19.3% of women and 1.7% of men have reported rape during their lifetime. The intimate partners of about 45.4% of females and 20% of males were perpetrators, participants, or facilitators in the rapes.
In general, 8.8% of women and 0.5% of men have been victims of rape by an intimate partner.
Among women who experienced rape by an intimate partner, 11.4% of them were multiracial, 9.6% were non-Hispanic white, 8.8% were non-Hispanic Black, and 6.2% were Hispanic.
About 71.1% of women and 58.2% of men experienced intimate partner violence before the age of 25.
Sexual assault and marital rape: Why did it happen?
It’s natural to have a difficult time facing the thought that your spouse is capable of rape. This adds to the intense emotions you might already be experiencing associated with the sexual assault itself.
It’s also natural and not uncommon to wonder why it happened.
The answers to this question may vary, but one aspect always remains: Rape isn’t your fault.
There’s nothing you did or didn’t do that justifies or explains spousal rape or sexual assault. It’s all on the perpetrator.
“Rape is about dominance and power over someone,” Charna Cassell, a sex and trauma therapist in California, says. “While seemingly sexual in nature, it’s not about sex, even inside a relationship or a marriage. Rather, it’s about a partner believing they have the right to sex.”
Mental health impact of marital rape
Surviving experiences of sexual assault may have a big impact on how you see yourself, others, and the world.
Marital rape and sexual violence, in general, may also affect how you view sex, love, and relationships.
“It’s a form of trauma,” Cassell says. “And as with all trauma that isn’t treated, it may lead to physical and mental health conditions.”
There’s no one way to react to sexual assault by an intimate partner. You’re doing the best you can with the resources at hand.
Because of the nature of this attack, you might experience:
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
It’s also not uncommon to feel lonely in your experience or contemplate harming yourself after experiencing marital rape.
Being violated by someone you care about may feel confusing, and you may experience an array of emotions. Whatever you feel, it is natural. You’re not broken, and you deserve a safe space to process your experience and get support.
Symptoms you may experience after experiencing marital rape and sexual violence include:
intrusive thoughts and rumination
You may or may not experience any of these symptoms. You could also go through other symptoms not mentioned here.
Everything you’re feeling is valid. And things can get better.
It’s highly advisable to seek the support of a mental health professional who can help you process these emotions and make a plan to start feeling better.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, can help you reframe your thoughts. It can also provide you with practical coping strategies when you feel upset, uneasy, or experiencing stages of grief.
“Somatic therapy can be especially beneficial for those who have gone through intimate partner violence,” Cassell says. This form of therapy is also called Somatic Experiencing. It works by helping your body “release” the trauma. It also aids in restoring balance to your nervous system.
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