What makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy?
A healthy relationship should make you feel positive, safe, and free to be yourself. It is about mutual respect, open and safe communication, and is consensual.
An unhealthy relationship can make you feel unhappy and unsafe. Signs of an unhealthy relationship are feeling generally unhappy, lack of respect and consent, threats, physical violence and emotional abuse. If you are experiencing these then it is important to tell someone.
Healthy relationships are about respect. Where there are “incidents or patterns of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour”*, this is not respect. This behaviour may be domestic abuse. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone by anyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation or age, and can happen in different ways.
It is not okay when someone physically hurts you, for example by hitting, pinning you down or pinching.
Abuse is not only physical, it can be emotional too. Emotional abuse is when someone uses emotions to control another, and it can make them feel less confident or scared. Some of the warning signs include name-calling, shouting, blackmail, or being blamed when something goes wrong. Sometimes you and your partner may disagree which is normal, but you should not constantly feel upset in your relationship. Healthy relationships consist of trust and support.
Being forced to change your behaviour is abusive and can include being told what to wear, that you cannot speak to friends or family, or that you cannot study. Sometimes it is good to spend time with your friends apart from your partner. Control can also happen through technology. If your partner listens to your phone calls without permission, monitors your social media profiles or shows an intimate picture of you to other people without your consent, these can be abusive acts.
Remember that if you experience abuse it is not your fault. If you feel unsafe or notice any of the warning signs, you should contact Sheffield DACT. You can find their details in the where to go for support section of this pack.
Healthy relationships are consensual relationships. In sexual relationships, consent means that both people agree to take part.
It is always up to you whether or not you give consent, and it is your right not to give consent for any reason. If you have had sex with someone before, you do not have to have sex again. If you are in a relationship or married, you too have a right to not give consent. You can also withdraw consent during sex if you change your mind. If any person forces another to engage in sexual activity, the person that is forcing is committing sexual assault or rape, which is illegal. The consequences could be imprisonment. Consent is required regardless of your gender, your partner’s gender, and your sexual orientation.
A person cannot give consent if they are asleep or unconscious, are threatened or forced to have sex, or are drunk or high. Also, the age of consent in the UK is 16. This means that by law anyone under the age of 16 are automatically unable to consent to sex or sexual contact.
If someone forces you to have sex or do something of a sexual nature including kissing or touching, it is important to speak to someone you trust. Specialist advice is available at the Student Advice Centre at the Students’ Union and Sheffield Rape Crisis. You can find their details in the where to go for support section.
Contraception and safe sex
Physical affection and intimacy are key parts of a healthy relationship. When you have sex, it is vital that you are being safe. “Safe sex” is sex where you are using contraception which will protect you from catching a sexually transmitted infection, from becoming pregnant, and from making somebody else pregnant. Sex without contraception might be called “unsafe” or “unprotected”. It is your right to be able to use contraception whenever you have sex. If a partner forces you to have sex without using contraception that you want, then this is not consensual.
There are many different types of contraception available, such as condoms, “the pill” and “the coil”, so you can choose a method which works the best for you. The University Health Service and Sexual Health Sheffield are two free, confidential services where you can get contraception and contraception advice.
The Student Advice Centre on level three of the SU building also provides free condoms and lube which you can collect discreetly.
Some condoms contain latex, so it is important to make sure that if you are allergic to latex, you use latex-free condoms. These should be available at Sexual Health Sheffieldand the University Health Service. If you have other allergies or are concerned about the safety of your contraception, the friendly staff at these services will be able to help you.
Latex-free condoms are also available at the Student Advice Centre.
If you have had unprotected sex and do not wish to become pregnant, it is important that you get emergency contraception as soon as possible. There are two main methods of emergency contraception offered by Sexual Health Sheffield, which you can use up to five days (120 hours) after sex. They are:
- The emergency contraceptive pill
- The intrauterine device (IUD)
These methods are more effective the earlier you take them, so it is important that you use them as soon after sex as possible.
To find out more about Emergency Contraception, including where to get it, you can see Sexual Health Sheffield’s page.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
A Sexually Transmitted Infection (or STI) is a disease or infection which you catch from having sex with somebody else who is affected. Some STIs are symptomless, while others have a variety of different symptoms. Some STIs can have long term health consequences. This means that it is important that you get yourself regularly checked for STIs to make sure you, and anybody you have sex with, is safe.
For information about different Sexually Transmitted Infections, how to prevent them, and how to treat them, you can look at Sexual Health Sheffield’s website
Sexual Health Sheffield and the University Health Service can offer you free, confidential STI testing. They can also help you with treatment options if you are found to have an STI.
Some methods of contraception, such as “the pill”, will not protect you from STIs. You might need additional methods of contraception in order to also protect yourself from STIs. You can speak to staff at the University Health Service or Sexual Health Sheffield to help make sure you are using contraception that will also protect you from STIs.
Pregnancy and family planning
If you or your partner becomes pregnant, whether intentionally or unintentionally, there is plenty of support available. Sexual Health Sheffield can help talk you through your options, including whether you wish to continue with your pregnancy. These appointments are free and confidential and will provide you with a safe opportunity to discuss your options.
The Student Advice Centre can also offer you advice about your options if you become pregnant, including talking through the implications for your finances, your studies, and your visa (if applicable).
Where to get support