Female elite-athlete Karin* was 17 years old when the considerably older, team coach Selma* became her girlfriend. Five years later Karin contacted me, offering to share her story. To date there are no studies on coach-athlete lesbian or gay relationships and literature on legal coach-athlete sexual relationships is sparse. Although sexual consent is often the defining characteristic of sexual abuse, the meanings of consent are rarely explicitly defined, problematized or comprehensively investigated (Beres, 2007). The current study investigates how Karin makes sense of her coach-athlete lesbian relationship and what can be learnt about sexual consent from this story.
Drawing on qualitative methodology, the study uses a narrative case study design. First, a loosely-structured interview was performed, inductively analysed within-case, and presented in form of a literary short story. Second, the story was analysed and discussed in reference to literature on sexual consent, abuse, gender, and sexuality.
Findings and discussion
Karin’s story gives a rare insight to a lesbian coach-athlete sexual relationship that unfolded in a consent and abuse grey-area. Social and sexual conventions, normative notions, and corresponding regulations to protect athletes can (unintentionally) result in stigmatisation and isolation that facilitate abusive, harmful coach-athlete relationships. For example, heteronormativity and predominant male perpetrator – female victim stereotypes (Johansson & Larsson, 2016). Karin’s story moreover illustrates that socially and relationally, consent is not necessarily amenable to a mutually exclusive yes or no answer to sexual relations (Beres, 2007). Sometimes consent is alternately absent and present during events and phases; before, during and after a coach-athlete sexual relationship. This negotiation and renegotiation depends on contextual factors both within and outside of the relationship. Karin’s negotiation of consent circled primarily around her need for friendship. Sharing stories like Karin’s breaks the prevailing silence and marginalisation. Further research into the contextual, complex, and sometimes contradictive negotiations of sexual consent, that intersect both structure and agency, and needs to regard gender, sexuality, athlete empowerment, and preventing sexual abuse among sexual majorities and minorities is proposed.
Beres M (2007). Spontaneous sexual consent: An analysis of sexual consent literature. Feminism and Psychology, 17(1), 93-108.
Johansson S & Larsson H (2016). ‘This might be him; the guy I'm gonna marry’: Love and sexual relationships between female elite-athletes and male coaches. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, DOI: 10.1177/1012690215626593.
"Crossing borders through sport science". 21th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science. 6th-9th July 2016, Vienna, Austria