Sex and healthy relationships

Whether you’re sexually active or not, maintaining healthy relationships contribute to a healthy body and mind. This section has information about managing your relationships with others and knowing what to do when witnessing bullying, harassment or sexual harm.

Healthy relationships

Everyone deserves to be in a safe and healthy relationship. Relationships may be defined in different ways depending on the community and cultural context you’re living in, but healthy relationships are all based on a few key elements: trust, open communication, mutual respect, and support for one another.

Healthy relationships don’t have to be perfect. You can still have disagreements and make mistakes, as long as you communicate with each other and are willing to listen your partner’s point of view.

All relationships exist on a spectrum from healthy to unhealthy, to abusive.

healthy relationships

A healthy relationship is based on equality and respect

You make decisions together, compromise, and feel free to express your opinions and feelings. You receive physical affection while comfortably setting your boundaries, knowing that they will be respected. You feel listened to, supported and safe. You are happy to spend some time apart or have your own group of friends.

not so healthy

An unhealthy relationship is based on dishonesty and pressure

One person puts pressure on the other to make things go their way and impose their point of view. They might criticise the other’s choice of friends, manner of dress, or attitude and make them feel responsible for their own insecurities. There is growing distrust and suspicion. One person constantly pushes against the other’s boundaries. You may do things that you don’t like just to make your partner happy.

abuse is not ok

An abusive relationship is based on power and control

One person makes all the decisions and controls what the other does, wears, buys, says, where they go or who they spend time with. They use threatening behaviour or language to force the other into submission. You spend all your time together and feel like you can’t maintain friendships or family relationships. The abuser will make the victim doubt their self-worth and deny hurting them. Sexual violence is used to exert control and power over the other person in the relationship.

Is your relationship healthy? Take the quiz

Relationships and cultural context

Romantic relationships may look different depending on who is involved. While abuse can affect anyone and take many forms, the ways in which it impacts you are determined by your personal circumstances.

Prejudice, physical disabilities, social isolation, cultural beliefs, lack of information or financial resources can be fertile ground for abuse or create additional barriers when seeking help.

What abuse looks like

It is often assumed that relationship abuse means physical abuse but that’s not always the case. It is a pattern of behaviours used to gain or maintain power and control over someone, it can be physical, verbal, emotional or sexual.

No one deserves to experience abuse. If you recognise any of these warning signs in your relationship, reach out for help.

Safe sex: consent and contraception

Sex can be an important part of your relationship as long as it is consensual. You should always feel comfortable setting your own boundaries and expect them to be respected.

Sexual consent is when you and your sexual partner both agree to have sex, and you should be clear on this before starting anything. You should remember:

  • You are not obligated to have sex, even if you are in a relationship.
  • Sexual consent must be explicit - this means the only way to know for sure that you both consent is for you to say so. Don't assume.
  • You can always change your mind, slow things down or stop at any time.
  • Consent is specific – it must be sought every time and for each sexual act.
  • Alcohol and drugs affect consent. If you or your sexual partner are intoxicated, neither of you can give consent.

Make sure you understand what consent is and isn't

STIs and contraception

Discussing STIs (sexually transmissible infections) and contraception is an integral part of consent.

Check the physical wellbeing page for information about sexual health and contraception

Being an active bystander: witnessing sexual harm or harassment

Everyone has a role to play in preventing sexual harm on and off campus. If you see someone being harmed, it can be hard to speak up if you're the only one doing it. However we all have a responsibility to prevent harm and harassment and to keep our communities safe.

How to be an active bystander

  • Here are some ways you can help:
  • Tune into what’s happening around you
  • Notice if something seems off and requires someone to step in
  • Decide to take action. For example:
    • Ask the victim if they are okay or if they want to leave, and help them get home safely
    • Address the problem by telling the person that they are acting inappropriately and need to stop
    • Distract the person who is being inappropriate
    • Let someone know what is going on and ask for help. Ask a friend, a residential advisor, or security. Call the police on 111 if the situation seems unsafe
    • If it’s too dangerous to intervene in the moment, wait for the situation to pass and check in with the victim after. You can also report an incident to the police
  • Look after yourself. If you witness sexual violence or someone discloses an incident to you, it can be distressing,
    especially if it involves people that you know.
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Family planning

Experts advice in sexual and reproductive health. Free consultation for under 22s
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Don't guess the yes

Changing attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol consumption and sexual consent
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Report it

Report an incident of sexual harm or harassment. Get advice and support
Communicate Consent
Communicate Consent
AUT Student Services Online EducationCommunicating consentExplore online learning modules designed to assist you being part of the AUT community. Your organisation password is AUT2023, sign up using your student email.Sign upExplore online learning modules designed to assist you being part of the AUT community. Your organisation password is AUT2023, sign up using your student email.Sign up

Bright Side
Better Relationships, Healthy Sex programme

Bright side programmes

Who you choose to share your life with has a large impact on your sense of self and overall wellbeing. Learn how to choose well, and gain practical tools to build nurturing relationships.

Learn more

HELP Auckland

24/7 helpline for preventing sexual abuse and supporting survivors

Visit website
0800 623 1700