Dating, Relationships, and Sexual Boundaries
Dating and Relationships
Positive things can be gained from a relationship abroad; a further connection to your host country and we’ve all heard stories of lasting love that blossomed while abroad. It can be tempting to be charmed by a once-in-a-lifetime-romance, but you should consider a relationship carefully, particularly when you are overseas. Proceed cautiously, realizing that you are only in the country for a short time and although your language skills might improve, the end of your experience will face complications. Like culture shock, knowing this before getting involved will save you the pain of dealing with it later. Evaluate your reasons for entering the relationship and those of the other person. There may be different cultural values and rules regarding dating and relationships that you need to consider.
The following are things that you should think about with regard to relationships as it could easily affect your happiness in one.
- What are the rules/norms for romantic relationships in the country?
- Do young people date? If so, do they date in groups, in couples?
- Is it okay to hold hands, touch and/or kiss in public?
- In what types of social activities do couples participate in together?
With regards to sexual exploration and identity, recognize that it is normal for young adults to seek sexual expression and one of the primary developmental tasks for the college student age group is the establishment of sexual identity. The “romantic” settings of study abroad and the heightened emotions of that experience may make this natural desire for exploration even stronger. But it is always best to create healthy boundaries for yourself before you engage in any sexual activity. A sexual boundary is the point between what is right or wrong for an individual. Acceptable sexual behavior varies in each culture.
Think about some of the following questions before you depart and then with locals in your host country again:
- What are your own boundaries regarding sexual behavior?
- How do you know when someone is being friendly? Being “too friendly”?
- How do you know when someone challenges your boundaries?
- How do you communicate your boundaries to others?
- How do locals of your gender communicate their boundaries?
- What are your thoughts and feelings when someone comes on to you?
- How might being under the influence of alcohol/drugs impact your ability to recognize your own boundaries?
In addition to the concerns about sexual exploration for all students, female students in particular should be aware of the common stereotypes of American women, who are often viewed throughout the rest of the world as being sexually available. American women should recognize that these stereotypes are applied to them, simply because they are American, no matter how much they may think their own demeanor, dress or attitudes provide other signals. As a matter of general safety, it is important to be aware of the local cultural norms and understand how you are or are not fitting into these norms in how you act, dress, or communicate with others. This information is also helpful for men as safety is not a gender-blind issue and there are similar stereotypes that are applied to men as well.
Sexual harassment and sexual assault are examples of one’s sexual boundaries being violated. While these situations may sound extreme, they are far too common among college age students. Individuals victimized by sexual harassment or sexual assault may experience a wide range of emotional responses. Some typical responses include guilt, shame, confusion, anger, mood swings, sleeplessness, fear, and several other emotions that could have a significant impact on one’s daily life.