The Lowdown
30 June 2022 • 8 min read

Dating and Sex

The topic of dating & sex is a big one, and it’s totally normal to have questions about it all. Who you are in a relationship is a whole new aspect of your identity to explore and define.

A brick wall with graffiti bubble writing that has the words "dating" and "sex" repetitively. In the centre, overlayed on the top, are two hands being held.

Dating can look very different depending on who you are, what you want from it and who you’re seeing. Maybe you just want to go out with some interesting people and have fun, or maybe you want a relationship. You could be looking to find ‘the one’, or you might be interested in seeing more than one person. Maybe you’re having sex, or perhaps you’re not interested or not ready yet. Maybe you haven’t yet dated anyone and don’t know where to start. Perhaps the idea of dating is not interesting to you, or your only interest is in romantic feelings you have with people you get to know well. All of these things are normal and okay.

Regardless of what your dating life looks like, all relationships and sexual encounters you take part in should be based around respect, consent and enjoyment for yourself and the person or people you’re seeing.

Healthy Relationships

All relationships exist on a spectrum that runs from healthy, happy and respectful at one end, through to toxic and/or abusive at the other end. It’s important to know what to look for in a partner who will appreciate and respect who you are and have things in common with you, to make sure you’re forming healthy relationships.

When you’re in a healthy relationship, you and your partner(s) should:

  • Feel respected
  • Feel safe and supported
  • Are able to openly and honestly communicate without being afraid of your partner’s reaction
  • Have set boundaries that are mutually respected, like understanding that you need to spend time with whānau or friends, or respecting that some things are off limits for you.
  • Have things in common that help you to connect and enjoy quality time together.
  • Do not attempt to manipulate or control your partner

Unhealthy relationships

Sometimes when you’re in an unhealthy relationship, you can be so used to it that it can be difficult to identify and acknowledge the red flags that are there. If you think your relationship might be bad for you, the best thing you can do is to talk to someone you trust about the struggles you’re facing and ask their advice. If you’re not sure what an unhealthy relationship might look like, here are some red flags to watch out for:

  • You don’t feel respected
  • You can’t trust your partner
  • You’re not able to communicate how you feel when a problem arises without an argument or being told you’re wrong.
  • You feel controlled or like your partner has isolated you from your friends and family
  • Your partner doesn’t care about your feelings
  • Your partner doesn’t respect your preferences in contraception/safe sex

When is it abuse?

It's never okay for your partner to hit you, but it's important to understand that physical violence isn't the only sign of an abusive or unhealthy relationship.

In an abusive relationship, you might experience one or more of the following things:

Physical abuse – If your partner has hit, choked or thrown objects at you, pushed you around or maybe done smaller things like twisting your arm or pinching you. Even if they’ve only done it once, this is still abuse.

Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse – There are many forms of abuse that impact you emotionally or psychologically, or use words to hurt you. This might include: Calling you names. Acting jealous or possessive or isolating you from family or friends. Telling you that everything is your fault. Making you believe that everything you do is not good enough. Saying things that they know will hurt you. Making you believe that you’re exaggerating and it’s not that bad, or that other people will think you’re a bad person if they know the ‘truth’ about you. Making you believe that the bad things they do are because you’re a bad partner.

Sexual abuse – Having sex with you or touching your body without your consent. Making you feel like it’s your duty as their partner to have sex with them, or telling you that consent doesn’t apply because you’re in a relationship. Forcing or pressuring you to do things sexually that you don’t want to do.

It’s important to know that all of these things are never ok and it’s not your fault. You are worthy of respect and you do not deserve to be treated in any of these ways.

If you think you might be in an abusive relationship, you might be confused or scared of what will happen if you leave or tell other people what’s happening to you. You might think that it’s easier to stay than to face any struggles you might end up in if you leave. You also might still really love the person who’s abusing you. This is all normal. It’s important to know that life will get better if you leave, even if you have to face some tough times and heartbreak first.

If you are being abused, contact Women's Refuge or one of the support services listed at Are You OK – they have support systems that can help you leave an unsafe situation. Alternatively, talk to someone you trust who has no connections to your abuser and ask them for help.

If someone is hurting you and you’re able to call the police, you need to call 111. If you’re scared to go to the police, call one of the support services listed above as soon as you can and ask them for help – most of the numbers are free to call and they will do everything they can to make sure you’re safe.

It’s important to note that sometimes the person you talk to may not offer you the help and support you need, but don’t give up there. Try again with someone else – you are important and just because someone doesn’t listen or give you the help you need doesn’t mean what you’re facing isn’t real.

Consent

Sex is supposed to be fun and pleasurable for both you and your partner, but sometimes, especially when you’re young, you may struggle to know how to communicate what you enjoy and what doesn’t make you feel good. You shouldn’t feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to, and it’s important that you and those you have sex with communicate about what you want and have a good understanding of consent and safety.

You can find super easy explanations of consent here and here but let us break it down for you quickly.

Before you have sex or get intimate (kissing, touching etc.) with anyone, you need to have a conversation about consent, when you take a moment to check in with each other and make sure everyone involved is keen to do this. If it isn’t an enthusiastic “Yes!”, it’s a no.

If you don’t get a clear yes, you need to back off, give the person some space and ask them if they want to talk about how they’re feeling. If you don’t feel sure about whether you want to have sex or not, ask them to slow things down, pause and take some time out or talk a while before you make your decision.

If everyone involved says yes but then one of you doesn’t feel good during the encounter or doesn’t want to do something, you need to pause things so you can check if everyone involved wants to continue or someone wants to stop.

Remember, you have the right to change your mind and stop things at any point if you’re not feeling good.

Safer Sex

It’s also important to make sure that you’re having safer sex. Using a condom protects against STIs and ensures that you do your part to protect your sexual partners against pregnancy and/or infection. Regardless of whether you’re capable of pregnancy, using the contraception available for your own body means that protection against STIs is in your own control and nobody you have sex with can mess that up.

For information on safe sex, contraception and heaps of sexual health advice, check out the Family Planning website. You can also book an appointment to talk about what you need and access free or subsidised contraception.

To join the conversation about sexual health in Pacific communities, head to Tapu Va.

If you have recognised any abusive behaviours in yourself and you want to change, you are absolutely capable of doing this, but it’s a lot easier if you get help. There are different services available to help you depending on where you live, so have a look online (search for Stopping Violence Services + your area), ask a trusted adult to help you find support or call Stopping Violence Services on 0800 4SVS SVS (0800 478 778).

Where to get help:

If you’re thinking about harming yourself or are having suicidal thoughts, call Lifeline on 0508 82 88 65 now to talk to someone who cares and can support you.

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