Exploring sexual coercion within marriage in rural Cambodia
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Sexual coercion within marriage includes any acts from forcing or attempting to force a spouse to engage in sexual behavior against his or her will. This can be through violence, threats, verbal insistence, deception, cultural expectation, or economic circumstance. Married women in Cambodia, particularly in rural areas, are bound strongly with the traditional gender norms and women’s code of conduct (Chbab Srey). Chbab Srey requires the women to do household chores, stay at home, strongly respect their husbands, highly value their husband, and keep any spousal argument secret. This norm also requires women to be submissive in sexual matters. The present study aimed to explore sexual coercion within heterosexual marriage in Aoral and Thpong districts in Kampong Speu, Cambodia. This exploratory qualitative study conducted in-depth interviews with 11 married women, aged 19 to 47, about their view and experience of marriage, their sexual lives within marriage, and experience of coercive sex within marriage. The research was thematically analyzed and eight themes were identified. The results showed that there was strong connection between traditional gender norms and women’s coercive victimization within marriage in Cambodia. As a result of their coercive sexual experiences, the women experienced a lack of bodily autonomy and sexual desire. Participants who have experienced mild sexual coercion such as verbal coercion, psychological coercion or arousal coercion, are not able to acknowledge it as a problem because coercive sex was too tightly bound with traditional gender norms. However, the women still discussed experiencing some negative impacts on their psychological and physical health. For a few women who had experienced severe sexual coercion, they were capable to recognize it as an issue and therefore were more likely to use a variety of protective strategies in order to cope with it. The current research concludes with some suggestions for further research to investigate the obvious connection between the traditional sexual scripts and men’s sexual coercion with their intimate partners.