It’s no secret that romantic relationships can be tricky, despite what Hollywood might want us to think. What should a “healthy” relationship look like? How do you recognize and deal with dating abuse? You should have the answers to these questions and more, whether your relationship status is single, taken or somewhere in-between.
How do I know if my partner and I are ready to have sex? How do we talk about it?
Being “ready” is different for everyone and things can get complicated when partners aren’t on the same page. However, BOTH partners need to feel completely ready before having sex and both partners need to actively agree to have sex each and every time.
How do you know when the two of you are ready? Being in a healthy relationship that makes you happy, safe and comfortable is a good place to start!
Here are some ways to help you and your partner begin the sex conversation:
- Talk about what scares you, what excites you and what you expect. Listen to your partner’s thoughts and feelings about sex as well.
- Discuss how you’re going to protect yourself from STIs and pregnancy.
- Go to a clinic and get tested for STIs, especially if one or both of you have had sex with other partners before.
- If one of you isn’t ready, that’s ok! It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. There are other ways to be close without having sex.
How do I discuss birth control and using condoms with my partner?
If you’re having sex or thinking about having sex with someone of the opposite sex, knowing what birth control and STI prevention options are available and how to properly use them is incredibly important. Teens get a lot of misinformation regarding different kinds of contraceptive methods, so it’s important to be clear about both of your expectations.
For instance, many guys assume that condoms are uncomfortable, without realizing that condoms come in many different sizes and materials. And girls might be afraid that the pill will make them gain weight, which isn’t always the case. Get information on available options or speak with a health care professional at a clinic near you.
After gathering all necessary information, discuss what methods you’re interested in trying and whether or not you and your partner should “double up” on two separate kinds of birth control, like using an IUD and a condom.
Regardless of which birth control methods you ultimately pick, always use a condom to protect yourself from STIs, especially if neither of you have been tested in a while. You can get free condoms here and learn more about your birth control options here. Check out this video to see why couples that care for each other will put safety first.
In the end, sex is a huge step and using some form of birth control is extremely important. If your partner isn’t willing to talk about safety and birth control, take that as a sign that they aren't ready to have sex and wait until you’re both ready.
How can I be intimate with my partner without having sex?
So maybe you aren’t ready for sex just yet – that’s okay and totally normal! Over half of all high school students are not having sex. There are different types of sex, including fingering or hand jobs (hand-to-genital contact), oral sex (mouth-to-genital contact), anal sex (penis-in-anus intercourse) and vaginal sex (penis-in-vagina intercourse). It’s up to you and your partner to decide what you are comfortable doing. If you’re not ready for sex, there are lots of other activities you can do together to get close.
Here are some ways to get intimate without going “all the way,” whatever that means to you:
- Plan fun dates where you try new food or activities.
- Spend time alone exploring your ideas about love, the world, your favorite sports teams – whatever! When you’re bonding emotionally, the physical stuff won’t seem to matter so much.
- Hugging, holding hands, cuddling and kissing are all fun – and PDA-friendly – ways to show your affection.
If both you and your partner are comfortable and ready, you can consider sex but make sure you are on the same page about the type of sex you are ready to have. While you can’t get pregnant from having oral or anal sex, there is the risk of getting an STI, including HIV (the risk of getting an STI is higher with anal sex than with oral sex). Always practice safer sex and lower your risk of getting STIs by using condoms and dental dams, and be sure to also use another form of birth control if you are having vaginal sex to prevent unintended pregnancy. You can get free condoms here.
What does a healthy relationship look like?
A healthy relationship is one where both you AND your partner feel happy, comfortable and safe. This doesn’t mean smooth sailing 24/7, but it does mean that you feel emotionally and physically safe in your relationship and that it makes you feel happy and good about yourself. One important thing that many teens and adults often forget is that it’s healthy to continue pursuing individual interests, including going out with your own friends alone. This is part of having a fulfilling life beyond a romantic relationship.
Defining characteristics of a healthy relationship include:
- Seeing your partner as trustworthy
- Being supported by your partner
- Feeling physically and emotionally secure when you’re with them
- Having the ability to be completely honest with each other
- Frequently expressing appreciation for one another
If you’re unsure whether or not you’re in a healthy relationship, take this short quiz to help you figure out where you and your partner stand.
What is dating abuse? How do I recognize an abuser?
Dating abuse happens when one partner exerts power and control over the other person in the relationship. Abuse is repeated and harmful acts over a period of time, so while one isolated incident might not add up to relationship abuse, multiple and consistent actions do. Abuse can start with a single action, so check out this Power and Control Wheel to help you better understand and recognize different types of abuse.
In general, abusers use force and manipulation to achieve power and control over their partner. They might make their significant other feel as though their only source of safety and happiness is with the abuser. Don’t forget that anyone of any gender or sexuality can be an abuser or a victim in a relationship (or both).
What does dating abuse look like?
Dating abuse comes in many forms. Common forms of abuse in romantic relationships include:
- Physical abuse: Any unwanted or forced physical contact, like pushing, hitting, spitting, punching and slapping.
- Emotional abuse: Manipulative behavior that results in you feeling bad about how you look, your intelligence or anything else. Controlling behavior is a hallmark of emotional abuse, like when your partner doesn’t like your friends and instead of just voicing their displeasure, they lead you to stop seeing your friends altogether.
- Sexual coercion: Using their power as your partner, they may pressure or use force to make you participate in sexual activity that you don’t feel comfortable with.
- Reproductive coercion: This type of coercion occurs when a male partner tries to get his female partner pregnant, either by hiding her birth control pills or preventing her from effectively using any other contraceptive method. If possible, protect yourself by choosing long-lasting birth control methods that you have complete control over, like an IUD or implant.
- Digital abuse: When a partner uses social media to push you around and keep tabs on you by hacking into your accounts. Digital abuse also happens when a partner publicizes private information or pictures of you without your consent or permission. If you are experiencing digital abuse, take steps to protect yourself now.
- Financial abuse: When your partner uses money or your job to exert control over you, such as threatening to get you fired if you don’t behave a certain way or preventing you from working the hours you want. Financial abuse also happens when someone withholds your own money from you or spends your money without your permission.
If you think you're experiencing any of the above, get advice on what to do next.
I think I’m in an abusive relationship – what can I do?
Discovering and acknowledging that you’re in an abusive relationship is very difficult and even harder to do something about. If you think you are in an abusive relationship, you may often be made to feel like everything is your fault so it can be hard to see that you’re actually the victim.
If you believe that you’re in an abusive relationship, you may fear for your safety, especially if you’d like to leave. The good news is there are many resources out there for you. Here are some steps to get you started:
- What you’ll need to do first is to prepare. Let a friend know and tell them what you’re planning to do so they can offer you assistance if you need it.
- Find ways to stay mentally and emotionally strong before, during and after the breakup. You’re likely to miss your partner after you part ways, but remember why it didn’t work out. Try writing down all the reasons so you can look back at them if you feel like getting back together.
- Don’t do the breaking up in person. It might seem mean, but personal safety is your first priority. Breaking up with an abusive person is not like a normal breakup. They might get angry or violent, or use threats and insults. Also, they’re unlikely to accept that you’re breaking up with them and will not respect your boundaries.
In the end, the most important thing is to have a plan to protect yourself!
For more information, visit:
I think I might be an abuser – what do I do?
The first thing to do is separate yourself from the person you think you’re abusing. Whether this means breaking up or staying away, you need to physically remove yourself until you can control your behavior. If you can, let your partner know why you’re pulling away but don’t use this as an opportunity to continue the abuse. Recognize that your partner has every right to turn to family, friends and even the police for help.
Changing your behavior is a long and difficult process and you probably won’t be able to do it alone. It can take a while before you learn to accept full responsibility for your actions. However, seek support from family and friends as you seek professional help from a program.
Recognizing that you might have a problem is an incredibly important step towards recovery. LoveIsRespect.org has more resources on how to move through this positive and life-changing transformation.
You may have heard that consent is a very important part of every healthy relationship, but what exactly is consent? Consent is a voluntary agreement between two people. When it comes to sex, consent is a voluntary agreement between two SOBER people who have actively and enthusiastically agreed to something – including sex.
It’s important to understand that if you and your partner consent to have sex together today, that doesn’t mean you have agreed to have sex together again in the future. Any individual has the right to say “no” at any point during sex or leading up to sex, regardless of whether they are single, in a relationship, or married.
Yes Means Yes!
You may have heard of the “ Yes Means Yes” law in California, This law makes clear that on college campuses (and soon high school campuses!), “affirmative consent” must be given by both parties before having sex. Affirmative consent is defined as, “an affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity every step of the way.” In other words, silence, or a lack of saying “no” to sexual activity, cannot be considered consent.
Regardless of whether you are a college student, a high school student, or not in school at all, Yes Means Yes still applies! Both parties must give an enthusiastic “YES” before engaging in sex with each other. Remember, either partner can change their mind at any time.
If you have been forced to have sex against your wishes, find help near you.
Consent + Alcohol/Drugs
A person who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs cannot legally give consent. This is for good reason because your thinking and communication skills are not what they would normally be when you are drunk or high. Sometimes you might be completely out of control of your actions. You may forget to wear a condom, use a condom incorrectly, or put your and your partner’s health at risk in some other way. Unfortunately, some perpetrators of sexual assault use alcohol and/or drugs as an “excuse” for their own violent actions.
Consent at Any Age?
In California, the “age of consent” is 18 years old. This means that in the eyes of the law, anyone 17 years old or younger cannot legally consent to having sex.
Not in California? Find out what the age of consent is in your state here.
What’s the big deal about sexting?
Sending a sexy picture of yourself may seem harmless, but it can lead to serious consequences that’ll haunt you for the rest of your life. First, there’s the risk that your photo will end up on more phones and computers than you originally intended. You may trust your partner now, but you can’t take back a photo you sent or someone else took once it’s out of your hands. You also can’t always control who has your phone, or someone else’s phone.
Second, if you’re under 18, you AND the person you sent the picture to can be prosecuted for child pornography! If you’re convicted, your name will be permanently placed on the sex offender registry, which is public information that colleges and future employers can access.
If you don’t believe us, read one teen’s story of sexting-gone-wrong and learn how to avoid the negative consequences that could come from sexting.
How do I protect myself from cyber stalking?
Social media sites and apps have made it incredibly easy to constantly connect with your friends. But what happens when things go a little too far?
Cyber stalking is when you receive countless and unwanted texts, messages or emails containing threats of violence or sexual harassment from either a stranger or someone you know.
It’s difficult for law enforcement to get a handle on cyber stalkers, which means you should take steps to protect yourself now.
- Never post personal information that can identify you online like your full name, birth date, the school you attend, etc.
- Adjust your privacy settings to block strangers from sending you unwanted messages or harassing you. Set your account settings so that only people on your friends or followers list can see you.
- Remove total strangers from your friends list. If you have no clue who this person is, then they shouldn’t have a right to know about your life.
If you’re being harassed, change your cell phone number, your email address, delete your social media pages and most importantly, file a report with your local police department as soon as you can. Also, let your school, friends, co-workers and family know what’s up so they can watch out for you too. Check out this website for more tips on internet safety.