How to spot unhealthy behaviour in the bedroom

When it comes to sex, your partner can do things that wouldn’t be classed as rape or sexual assault, but could still be uncomfortable or even damaging. These behaviours could lead to more unpleasant experiences, so if you’re unsure whether your bedroom antics are 100% healthy, read on.

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Sometimes something doesn't feel right...

What do you mean ‘unhealthy behaviour’?

Unhealthy behaviour isn’t necessarily violent, but it’s still problematic. It’s likely to be very subtle, manipulative and could even be something you think is ingrained within society. You may not think anything is wrong. But this behaviour can damage you without you even noticing.

Oh, ok. What do I need to look out for?

There are a number of unhealthy behaviours, and many will be individual to the situation. But here are some common ones to set alarm bells ringing:

  • Doing sexual things for your partner but getting nothing in return

If your partner is always asking you for sexual favours, but giving none back, that’s pretty unfair. It might seem like a small deal but this could build into something more controlling. Relationships are about equality – you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, but more… sexy.

  • Whining and pressuring you when you’ve already said ‘no’

You might laugh-off your partner’s childish strop when they don’t get their way. But when it comes to sex this is coercive behaviour. If you’ve already said ‘no’, and your partner is still trying to bargain with you, that’s non-consensual.

  • Starting to have sex when you’re asleep

This is assault. No matter what you might have seen in films or porn, starting any kind of sexual behaviour with someone when they’re sleeping is non-consensual and classed as sexual assault or rape. If you really want to have 2am sex then wake them up first, if you dare.

  • Criticising and putting you down

This is damaging in any kind of relationship, but it’s even nastier and more personal in the bedroom. For example, slating your blowjob technique, commenting on your weight, or dictating what you do with your pubes, are unnecessary.

  • Hurting you and won’t stop – that’s not bondage!

Some people like a bit of aggressive sexual behaviour (check out our article on bondage). But if you haven’t agreed to being tied up or handled roughly before sex, and your partner starts to hurt you, that’s NOT ok. It’s especially dangerous if you ask them to stop and they don’t.

  • Refusing to wear a condom

It’s not just one party’s responsibility to take care of STIs and babies. If there’s a penis involved, and the owner of that penis refuses to wrap it up, that’s a serious no-no. They might not like condoms but they’re probably less likely to enjoy suddenly becoming a parent, or gonorrhoea.

  • Using your body as a stress reliever

Sex is a great stress reliever, but that doesn’t mean you can use another person’s body to make yourself feel better. If you’ve agreed to sex, or you both use sex to relieve stress, that’s ok. But if your partner simply sees you as a fast track to their orgasm, that’s not fair. You’re not to be objectified. They should be squeezing stress balls, not real balls or boobs.

  • Copying porn

A lot of people get their sex education from porn. But the porn most easily available isn’t the most healthy. It might help you pick up some moves and tips, but it’s best to agree these verbally with your partner before trying them out. Porn can often portray harmful sex, so if someone starts pressurising you into being like a pornstar, that’s not healthy at all.

  • Taking photos/video without consent

If you’re into capturing the moment (and both above the age of 18), filming your own sex tape or sending nude photos can be exciting – but only if it’s consensual. Someone forcing you to be filmed or pressurising you into nude photos isn’t cool at all. It goes without saying that refusing to delete such videos or photos, or distributing them with friends or online, is DEFINITELY uncool. In fact, it’s illegal.

What should I do if I think my sexual relationship is unhealthy?

If any of the behaviours above seem familiar, don’t panic. We’re here to support you.

Some unhealthy behaviours are less immediately harmful, so if you spot these, we suggest nipping them in the bud quickly. Healthy relationships are formed on solid communication, so find a good time away from the bedroom to talk things through.

Your partner may not have noticed their behaviour is affecting you. In this case, they’ll probably be mortified when you say you’re unhappy. But if they defend themselves and refuse to have a reasonable conversation, it might be worth rethinking this relationship. Is it worth it? Do you deserve more?

If the unhealthy behaviour is more serious, you can still try and talk. But if you don’t feel comfortable, try confiding in someone else, such a friend, GP, or a support service like The Mix.

There is no right way to go about seeking support, especially for something so personal. Do what feels most comfortable and empowering for you.

This is happening to my friend, what can I do?

It’s hard to know what to do when you notice something wrong in a friend’s relationship. You might worry you’ll make things worse.

Your friend might not believe there’s anything to worry about, which is often the risk with manipulative behaviour. If having a conversation with them doesn’t work, continue to let them know you’re there if they want to talk. You can’t force them to open up, but hopefully they will when they’re ready.

If you think your friend is in immediate danger, dial 999.

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Next Steps

  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
  • Relate is an affordable relationship and sex counselling service. 0300 100 1234
  • The Revenge Porn Helpline can help you stop the reach of explicit photos. Ring them confidentially on 0845 6000 459
  • Do you want to understand your relationship better? Love Smart helps you work it all out.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 14-Mar-2017