How you know your relationship is solid (and other answers to tough questions)

This article discusses a mature topic. Our 17-year-old and younger readers are encouraged to read this with an adult.

I live in Los Angeles, so I spend A LOT of time in my car. Thankfully, one of the things that helps me get through the gruesome traffic is listening to the news on NPR. (Yes, I’ve officially turned into my parents and love news radio.) I was especially excited a few weeks ago when I heard a news story about sex ed. Of course, as a sex educator, I’m always excited when sex ed and sexual health topics are in the news, but this recent report was especially intriguing.

The radio show and another recent news article highlighted a new study showing sex ed works better when it addresses gender equality and power dynamics in relationships. As HelloGiggles readers, this may seem like a total no-brainer to us. But having research to back up this idea can help get this message out to others who may not share this perspective. When we have a chance to think critically about ALL of the factors that can influence us and our relationships, it can help us make healthier decisions in the long run.

So, in this Ask Elizabeth column, I will be reviewing some common questions we get from young adults about equality, healthy relationships, and speaking your mind.

Do you have questions about sexual health? Send them to me at [email protected].

Q: How do I know if I’m in a good relationship?
At Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, we define a relationship—whether it’s casual or serious– as a two-way street. In a healthy relationship, one side of the street is how you expect to be treated by your partner. The other side is how you treat your partner and show them respect. When you’re evaluating your relationship, think about whether or not you’re able to exercise your rights. We believe everyone has the right to:

1. Say what I need to say.
2. Always be treated with respect and as an equal.
3. Be myself and have my own space.
4. Say no to something I don’t want to do.
5. Abstain from sex or practice safer sex.

And, on the other side of the street, everyone has a responsibility to:

1. Always treat my partner with respect.
2. Own up to my actions.

If someone doesn’t feel like they’re treated well, or they’re not treating their partner well, it could be a sign that it’s not the best relationship for them. Good relationships should be two-sided, with give and take, so everyone in the relationship needs to take an active part in keeping it healthy and strong.

Q: My partner gets jealous when I spend time with my friends, especially if they are friends of the opposite sex. Is this normal?
A lot of people think that jealousy is a sign of love or that someone really cares. And some jealousy can be a normal part of a relationship. However, it’s important for partners to trust each other and to communicate honestly about their feelings. If a partner is jealous a lot, it could be a sign of mistrust.

Remember, you have the right to have your own space in a relationship– that includes spending time alone and spending time with your friends and family, apart from your partner. A healthy relationship is one where we feel our rights are respected and we are treated as an equal.

If you feel like your rights aren’t being respected, talk to your partner. Sometimes we might feel like we can’t voice our concerns. Women might feel like they’re supposed to please their partner and shouldn’t ask for what they want, while men might feel like they’re not supposed to talk about their emotions or that they should demand what they want. This is very limiting and can make it hard to have an open, honest relationship. It’s important to be ourselves, to communicate, and to treat each other with respect so we can build healthy relationships.

Q: I’m in a relationship, and I’m not quite ready to have sex, but my partner is. What do I do?
Communication is key in any relationship. Though it may seem hard to bring up these issues, talking openly and honestly about sex is an important part of a healthy relationship. Before you’re in a steamy situation, talk to your partner about what’s important to you, what you don’t want to do, what you do want to do, and what you enjoy. Talk about birth control and/or safer sex, if or when you are ready in the future. Remember, everyone has the right to say what they need to say, say no to something they don’t want to do, and to abstain from sex. If your partner pressures you or isn’t willing to talk about these issues, they aren’t respecting your rights, and you may want to consider walking away.

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