Five Action Steps to Good Sexual Health

4 Build Positive Relationships

For most people, good relationships are essential to a happy and healthy life. And, for many of us, romantic relationships are at the top of the list. Building relationships that are healthy and positive is key to our sexual health and well-being. But, when it comes to this important life skill, many of us don’t feel prepared. The good news? It’s never too late to learn.

What Does a Healthy, Sexual Relationship Look Like?

First, to build a healthy relationship, you need to know what a good one looks like. A positive relationship often has the seven ingredients below, but it can take time to develop some of these qualities, such as “feeling an intimate bond” with a partner.

  1. You both respect each other. This means you respect each other’s values, desires, and needs. You feel that your ideas — about what is ok and what is not ok in a relationship — are always taken into account.
  2. You feel safe. You trust that your partner will not do anything to physically or emotionally harm you, even when they’re upset or angry with you.
  3. You feel a close, intimate bond. You feel like your partner knows “the real you,” and you really know your partner. You can be your true selves.
  4. You can be open and honest. You don’t keep your feelings bottled up inside. You talk openly with your partner, even if it’s something they might not want to hear.
  5. It feels balanced. Both of you feel like you have equal power in the relationship. One person should not be calling all the shots most — or all — of the time.
  6. You MAY get into arguments, but you argue fairly. Yes, you read that right. Being in a healthy relationship means it's ok if you disagree with each other.
  7. It brings you joy. All relationships need work and attention for sure. But, the best sign of a healthy relationship is that it makes you happy most of the time.

Making it Happen: Tips and Advice

Building a healthy partnership is a two-way street, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Keep in mind that since people aren’t perfect, relationships aren’t 100% perfect either. But, these tips can help you (and your partner) create and maintain a good, satisfying one.

Respect and look out for each other.

This means thinking about your partner’s needs, values, and boundaries. Since you’re both equally important, you should listen to each other and have an equal say in decisions.

Good partners will encourage you, celebrate your success, and provide extra support if you are feeling low or sad. They will build you up, rather than tear you down by criticizing you or pointing out your flaws.

Being a good partner also means that you’re reliable and can be trusted. When you say you’re going to do something, you do it — and you expect the same from your partner. If you can’t trust your partner, you might feel worried, insecure, or angry. You deserve to feel better.

1. Be proud of each other. Give compliments and praise success. Your partner gets a promotion at work, or a good grade at school. You say "Great job and congratulations!" even if you feel a little jealous.
2. Make decisions together. When deciding how to spend your weekend together, you agree that you each get to pick one activity.
3. Be reliable — do what you say you will do. Your friends pressure you to ditch your partner to go to a baseball game, but you stick with your original plan and go out to a movie.
4. Support each other's choices. Your partner recently quit their job to go back to school. You think it's crazy to spend that kind of money, but your partner thought it out. Rather than second-guessing them, you offer support.
5. Be there when your partner feels down. You plan an extra-fun date to show you care.
6. For every criticism, consider giving one or more compliments to your partner. You want to tell your partner that they do something you don't like. Kindly and calmly tell them what you'd like them to stop doing or change. And, if possible, offer an alternative. On the same day, be sure to give your partner at least one compliment, and maybe even more.

+ Expand
- Collapse

Appreciate and make time for one another.

Chances are you want to spend a lot of time with each other — especially at the start of something new. Strong relationships need time and attention. So, even if you've been together for a while and life gets busy, it's still important to make time for each other.

Valuing each other's differences and similarities is also key. Part of what makes a relationship exciting is that there are two different people in it with unique qualities. If we wanted someone just like us, we could just hang out with ourselves, alone.

1. Be interested in and listen to your partner. When you meet up for dinner, first you ask about your partner's day, and share the talking time. In other words, don't dominate the conversation by talking about yourself throughout the entire meal.  
2. Value each other's unique qualities. Even if you are much more social, don't pressure your partner to attend every social event on your list.
3. Each week set aside some "date" time. Recently, you have both been really busy. So, you sit down with a calendar and block off time for just the two of you. It could be a few hours, a night out, or a full day.
4. Plan fun, different dates. Get creative. There are many fun things you can do together, such as hiking, taking walks, biking, going to a park, seeing a movie or a concert, eating out, or working on hobbies or projects.

+ Expand
- Collapse

Keep up good relationships with friends and family.

Just because you're in a happy, romantic relationship doesn't mean that other relationships should stop mattering as much. In a healthy partnership, both of you will continue to be close with your friends and family. And, you will have a life outside of the life you have together.

Remember, one person or one relationship can't ever meet all of your needs. Most partners don't want to be pressured to spend every waking hour together. And, most of us benefit from time and space on our own.

1. Keep up a hobby that you like, even if your partner is not interested. You've always been into bike riding but your partner would rather go shopping. You decide to check out new trails, even though it means you won't spend the afternoon together.
2. Make time each week for close friends and family (in person and/or over the phone). You are tempted to devote the entire weekend to your partner, but instead you decide to catch up with a friend.
3. Don't pressure your partner to give up friends or family, or to change plans. When you find out your partner is going out with friends on a Friday night, you say, "have a great time," and you make your own plans.
4. Don't look to your partner to be your EVERYTHING. You usually complain about your boss to your partner, but they're tired of listening. So, how about talking with one of your friends instead? You'll also get a fresh point of view.

+ Expand
- Collapse

Make the most of your sex life together.

For starters, you should never pressure each other to do something sexually that you don't want to do. But there's much more to a good sex life than just talking about your boundaries. Talk about your desires and fantasies, too.

Throughout your relationship keep checking in with your partner about what they like and don't like. Together, you can decide to try new things. (See Action Step 3 for more tips on talking about sexual desires.)

How we express intimacy and our sexual feelings can change, especially if we've been together for a long time, or as we get older. And, your sexual appetite might increase or decrease at different points in your life.

Other forms of physical touch might be (or become) just as important as the act of sex. Touching each other in different ways, cuddling, and being companions can also keep things sensual.

Sometimes couples have mismatched sex drives. If your partner wants less sex than they used to, that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't as into you. It's best to openly discuss your concerns with your partner. And, try to find a solution that works, and makes both of you feel good.

1. Don't pressure your partner to do something they are not comfortable with. You suggest trying a new sex position but it doesn't appeal to your partner. So, you agree that you won't bring it up again. Now, it's up to your partner to let you know if they change their mind.
2. Don't worry so much about how much sex you're having. You are both happy and feel close, but you're not having as much sex as you used to. Instead of worrying about "what this means," remind each other that many couples have less sex over time. Or, the amount of sex they're having might go up and down.
3. Ask your partner if they want to try something new. You and your partner tend to have sex the same way every time. You ask whether they want to try something that isn't part of your current "sexual routine."
4. Discuss and address different sex drives. You want sex more often than your partner. You could ask what you can do differently to turn them on. You could also discuss what to do when you're in the mood, but they aren't or vice versa.
5. Expand your definition of intimacy. Beyond sexual intercourse, discuss other ways you can be sensual, such as how you both like to be touched and kissed. There's a big menu out there.
6. Address any sexual problems or concerns (such as sexual functioning, pain during sex, or relationship concerns). Discuss any sexual problems or concerns with your health care provider and/or a sex therapist. They can suggest different medications and/or therapies to address these concerns. (See the Resource List at the end of this step for organizations that can assist.)

+ Expand
- Collapse

Talk openly and be willing to compromise.

If you're not sure what you want in a relationship, spend some time thinking about it. Ask yourself, "What do I need to feel secure and happy?" Then, clearly share those needs with your partner. It can be scary being so honest. But, these talks often bring you closer together.

Sometimes your needs won't line up with your partner's needs. When this happens, try to find a solution that works for both of you. It's true that you should not compromise on some basic needs (like feeling loved, feeling physically safe, and practicing safer sex). But, being in a relationship does mean balancing the desires of two people.

NOTE: This type of open, direct communication could be dangerous if you are in an abusive relationship — or you are afraid that your partner might react badly or violently. It's best to seek help before you bring up issues that might upset your partner, and could lead to any form of violence. See the Resource List at the end of this step for hotline numbers.

1. Think about your needs. You've been feeling a little unhappy in your relationship and don't know why. Ask yourself, "What does my partner do that makes me feel good? What makes me feel bad? What have I liked about my other relationships? What have I disliked? and What makes me feel secure and loved?"
2. Be specific about what you want. You wish your partner was more interested in your life. Instead of telling your partner to "act more interested," you could say, "Sometimes I feel like we only talk about what's going on in your life. I would really like you to ask more questions about my day."
3. Advocate for what you want changed in a positive way. You want your partner to spend less time on their phone (texting, posting). Explain how you really like spending time together, but you sometimes feel ignored. Suggest having some designated "phone-free" hours.
4. Try to compromise when you can't agree. You are a social butterfly who loves having weekends packed full of activities with friends. Your partner prefers spending time alone with you. So you compromise — aim for one night with just the two of you, and one night out with friends.

+ Expand
- Collapse

Disagree fairly, without causing lasting harm.

While it's normal to disagree from time-to-time, you can avoid real damage by arguing in a fair way. This means calmly explaining why you are upset, and focusing on specific behaviors or examples.

It's best to avoid name-calling and making global attacks on your partner's character. Also, avoid saying things just to make your partner angry, or to hurt their feelings. Even when you're angry, there should be a line that you do not cross. And, it's best not to make empty threats to leave the relationship just to upset your partner.

No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes. So, it's important to apologize when you do mess up, and to ask your partner to forgive you. And, you should expect your partner to do the same. (However, if you think the behavior is abusive, a different course of action is required — learn more about the warning signs of abuse).

In most arguments, you can usually find some common ground. Work together to find a solution you can both agree upon. Building a healthy relationship is a process, and healthy arguments are part of it. They can help you better understand and satisfy each other's needs.

Sometimes, after an argument you might still feel a little angry. If you have both said what you wanted to say, it's best to try to let go of your anger and move on. Some solutions that may work? Give each other a little space, and spend an hour doing your own thing. Or, do something fun together, like talking a walk. You might give each other a hug. Though it might not seem appealing at the time, you'll probably feel a little better and a little closer.

1. Really listen and repeat back what you hear.


You're arguing with your partner. Instead of trying to make all of your points, first really listen to what they're saying. Then, repeat back what you've heard to make sure that you got it right.
2. Start with "I" statements that explain how your partner's actions make you feel. You're upset about how little time your partner spends with your family. Instead of saying, "You don't care at all about my family," you say, "I would love for you to spend more time with me and my family. It's much more fun when you're there."
3. Focus on specifics rather than labels, or name-calling. Your partner likes to post revealing pictures on Instagram. Instead of saying, "It seems like you're such an attention hog," you say, "I don't like it when you post revealing photos of yourself. It makes me feel uncomfortable."
4. Find a solution to the argument. You are angry that your partner often gets home late at night, without telling you in advance. So, you agree to tell each other when you plan to be home, and to call if you will be more than 15 minutes late.

+ Expand
- Collapse

Set digital boundaries.

Just like you set other boundaries, you may want to discuss digital boundaries with your partners. With Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr and cellphones, communicating digitally can get complicated and easily cause problems.

When it comes to the digital world, think about what makes you feel comfortable, and the limits you'd like to set. Then, discuss them with your partner, and make a "digital" agreement.

This agreement could include hard and fast rules, such as no posting of revealing photos. It could also include general guidelines, such as not texting multiple times when you're out with friends. If other concerns come up during your relationship, agree to discuss them, and update your agreement, if needed.

You might discuss topics such as:

  • When and how often is it ok to text me? (For example, when you know I'm out having dinner with a friend? Before you go to school in the morning?)
  • How quickly do you expect me to respond to a text? (For example, what's a reasonable time frame to respond? Will you get angry if I don't respond right away?)
  • Is it ok to use each other's devices?
  • Is it ok to post, tweet, or comment about our relationship?
  • How do you feel about sexting or sending revealing photos, or posting anything about our sexual relationship?
  • What happens to these images if our relationship ends?

A word about privacy: think carefully before sharing your passwords with anyone. You are entitled to digital privacy. Once you give your passwords to a partner, that person has total access to all of your content. They can post anything without your permission.

+ Expand
- Collapse

Recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship.

No relationship is perfect. And, truth be told, many of us can do a better job. We can be nicer, more willing to compromise, and argue fairly even when fired up. However, an abusive relationship is NOT something that you "work on to make better."

It's usually best to get out of an abusive situation as soon as it's safe to do so, and you have a clear exit plan in place. (See the Resource List at the end of this step to get help).

Abuse can take many forms. It's usually defined as  "doing hurtful things to get power and control" over another human being. It violates a person's sense of trust and feeling of safety. Abuse is not only physical or sexual. It can be emotional, verbal, digital, or financial. Abusive partners are often very controlling, threatening, possessive, or violent.  

In many abusive relationships, a partner isn't abusive all of the time — the abuse often occurs in episodes that may be spaced far apart, between periods of joyful times in your relationship.

Wondering if your partner is mistreating or abusing you? Some of the common warning signs below might be helpful. Remember to trust your instincts. If you believe someone is abusing you or treating you badly, they probably are. And, remember, there's NEVER an excuse for this behavior. And, you should NEVER blame yourself.

Type of AbuseExamples and Warning Signs
  • Often criticizes you, puts you down
  • Yells at you, has an explosive temper
  • Threatens you
  • Often tells you what to do, tries to control your decisions
  • Extremely jealous
  • Extremely possessive
  • Demands an excessive amount of your time
  • Isolates you from family and friends
  • Accuses you of doing things you didn't do
  • Unreliable, cancels plans at last minute
  • Threatens to reveal your sexual orientation and/or gender identity without your permission
  • Frequently lies to you
  • Engages in "gaslighting" (makes it seem like the problem is all your fault or that you're over-reacting)
  • "Guilt-tripping" combined with threats, such as "I'll kill myself if you leave me"
  • Pressures you to engage in sexual activity
  • Threatens you if don't engage in sexual activity
  • Forces you to engage in sexual activity (without your consent), including rape 
  • Forces you to engage in sexual activity when you are asleep, intoxicated or under influence of drugs (without your consent)
  • Pressures or forces you to engage in unsafe/unprotected sex (without birth control and/or condoms)
  • Pressures you to become pregnant or end a pregnancy when you don't want to
  • Engages in "stealthing" (takes off the condom during sex without your consent)
  • Lies about sexual health status (For example, doesn't disclose that they have an STI that can be transmitted to a partner)
  • Uses any physical force against you, such as hitting, punching, beating, pushing, kicking, shooting or stabbing
  • Makes threats of physical violence
  • Stalks you
  • Constantly calls or texts you
  • Tries to monitor where you are and who you are with (digital stalking)
  • Demands constant contact and quick replies to messages/posts
  • Sends unwanted, controlling, and threatening messages
  • Demands your passwords
  • Posts your private photos, messages, and information without your permission
  • Harasses you via social media channels, including posting "revenge porn"

It can be tough to recognize and admit that you are in an abusive relationship. It can also be tough to decide to leave a relationship, even if it's abusive. But remember, it's not usually possible to fix someone who is mistreating you.

If you are wondering whether your relationship is abusive, you can contact a professional organization or hotline that specializes in these issues. Many organizations — located throughout the country — can provide valuable support. And, they can help you deal with the situation, and create a safe exit plan before you take action. However, if you are in immediate danger, call 911.

You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or have an online chat with a specialist at Specialists are available 24 hours a day/7 days a week, and it's confidential. Or, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to get support and advice. Young people can also go to, call 1-866-331-9474, or text LOVEIS TO 22522.

+ Expand
- Collapse

Handling break-ups.

For most of us, break-ups are a natural part of relationships. Learning how to deal with them can help soften the impact. So, why do relationships end?

Common causes of break-ups include:

  • your feelings for your partner change
  • your partner might not be treating you well
  • you don’t want to be in a relationship anymore.

Even if you or your partner want to break-up, dealing with it can still be tough for both of you.

To learn more about how to break-up in a kind, respectful way, click here. This site can also help you deal with a break-up.

+ Expand
- Collapse

Final Thoughts

Building and keeping up good relationships takes time, attention, and practice. If you like these tips, share them with your partner to help you get on the same page, and pass them on to your friends. To learn more, please check out the resources below. And remember, we all hits bump in the road, and none of us — or our relationships — are perfect. But even so, healthy, romantic relationships can make us happy.

Resources to Learn More

Boundaries, Including Digital Boundaries

Resources for Parents and Caregivers

Resources for Teens and Young Adults

Resources for Anyone

Breaking Up

Resources for Teens and Young Adults

Resources for Anyone

Building a Healthy Relationship: General Advice

Resources for Teen and Young Adults

Resources for Anyone

What Is a Healthy Relationship?

Resources for Teens and Young Adults

Resources for Anyone

Communication and Conflict Resolution

Resources for Teens and Young Adults

Resources for Anyone

Partner Abuse and Violence

Resources for Teens and Young Adults

Resources for Anyone

Sex and Intimacy

Resources for Teens and Young Adults

Resources for Anyone

Sexual Problems