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Healthy Relationships

sex ed
Healthy Relationships

Introduction: Healthy Relationships

Relationships can be complicated. It’s not always easy to figure out what type of relationship you’re in, the changes that happen in most relationships, and how to maintain healthy relationships. This section will provide some basic information and examples of types of relationships, as well as suggestions that will help you stay safe.

In this section, we will discuss the basics of:

  • The different types of relationships
  • How relationships can change or stay the same over time
  • The differences between appropriate or inappropriate relationships
  • How to recognize healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships
  • Harassment, assault, and abuse and what to do if you experience them

You are probably already familiar with some of the different types of relationships that exist. Not everyone you meet will fit the following descriptions exactly, but the section should give you the tools you need to understand the general nature of relationships and learn the basic social rules about relationships.

Different Types of Relationships

What Are Some Different Types of Relationships?

A relationship can be described as a connection between two people. You have different types of relationships in your life. It can be helpful to think about the different types of people you know and how you interact with them as different relationship “categories.” Here are some definitions and examples of common types of relationships.


People you are related to. This can include parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives. If you are a part of a blended family by marriage (with step-parents or step-siblings), those people are also part of your family.


People you have gotten to know over time, who you enjoy being with, and who also enjoy spending time with you. Friends usually share some similar interests. You have fun together, they appreciate you, and you appreciate them. Most often, friends are close to one another in age. But you may also have friends who are part of your community or family friends who are older or younger than you.

Close Friends

These are friends with whom you may have a lot of shared stories, inside jokes, and secrets. They are the type of people you talk to when you need a trusted opinion or someone to talk to about more personal topics. Out of all of your friends, they are likely to be the ones you trust the most. These are likely people you have been friends with for a longer period of time, but just because you have known someone for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean they are a close friend.


People you have met before and see regularly (maybe at school, your local grocery store, or coffee shop), but whom you do not know well. You might say “hi” to each other, but you are not friends.


People whose job it is to support you or help you, either with specific tasks or goals, or if there is an emergency.

Some helpers work closely with you and you might see them often, like job coaches, school aides, your doctor, or therapists. These helpers sometimes become acquaintances or family friends.

Other helpers may seem like strangers, since you may only see them one or two times. They might include people in your community, such as firefighters, police officers, paramedics, emergency room doctors, or nurses.

Romantic Relationship

A romantic relationship is when you have a reciprocal and consensual emotional, mental, and possibly sexual connection with somebody. You feel attracted to them, and may care about them or love them in a different way than how you love family members or friends. Romantic relationships sometimes begin as a friendship, but there are many other ways to meet potential romantic partners. You might be interested in exploring different types of relationships with different people at various points in your life – some people are interested in dating casually, while others are interested in being in a more committed relationship. Romantic relationships are unique to you and the person you are interested in. The type of relationship you have will depend on what you both want and need, which is why we call them “reciprocal” and “consensual.”

People have different preferences for what to call someone they are romantically or sexually involved with. You could call this person a special friend, crush, boyfriend/girlfriend, partner, or spouse. Words like “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” or “partner” are often used for more serious relationships, and usually should not be used unless you have agreed with the person you are dating that you are both comfortable calling each other those things.

Tip: Sometimes you might hear very good friends tease each other and call one another “boyfriend” or some other romantic term, even if they are not dating or in a relationship. Don’t use these words in a joking or teasing manner unless you really understand how to do so. If you use such terms inappropriately, you could end up offending or hurting somebody’s feelings by misleading or misinterpreting them.

Circle of Relationships

You can imagine the relationships that you have with other people as a set of circles. You are in the center. The closer someone is to the center, the closer they are to you. It is likely that the people in closer circles know more about you, and you likely know more about them, than the people that are in the outer circles.

What if You Are Not in a Romantic Relationship?

You may be interested in romantic relationships at some points in your life, and at other times you might not be. No one is ever required to have romantic relationships, and there is nothing wrong with you if you don’t have them.

Sometimes if you do not have a partner but want to have one, you may feel lonely. It’s okay to feel that way, but there are also many things you can do to feel better.

  • Stay busy – when you are doing things you enjoy, you are less likely to feel lonely. Consider what types of activities you like to do or are good at doing. If there is an organization or club that does those types of activities, consider joining. This is a great way to meet both new friends and possible romantic interests.
  • Spend time with family or friends – you can do this in person, on the phone, or online. Being around people who love you is a good reminder of the people you already have in your life.
  • Help others – one of the best ways to stop thinking about your loneliness is to do something kind for someone else. You could do things like help an elderly neighbor, volunteer for a charity organization, or walk your friend’s dog. Helping others is a great way to focus your energy somewhere besides your loneliness.

It is usually not a good idea to get into a relationship with someone simply because you are lonely. Dating or being romantically involved with someone just because it is convenient probably won’t help you feel better – at least not long-term.

What Should I Do If I Feel Lonely?

How Do Relationships Change and Progress?

Different Types of Relationships and How They May Change and Overlap

Relationships are complex, and what makes them even more complex is the fact that they can change, and even overlap, over time.

Parents and Family

Some relationships in your life will stay the same, like your relationship with your parents – they will always be your parents. Sometimes you might be getting along with them; other times you may be having difficulty getting along with them, but they will still always be your parents. The same goes for other family members but not to the same degree. While your aunt or your uncle will always be your aunt or uncle, you may or may not be equally close to them over the years. Or, your cousin may become your friend.


Acquaintances do not have life-long obligations to one another the way family members do, and do not spend time together the way friends do. For example, you may know the barista at your favorite coffee shop for several months or even years. But she could change jobs or move to another city, and you would not necessarily see her again. That is considered alright because you two were just acquaintances.

Friends/Close Friends

You may become less close with certain people over time, and that’s okay. You might be dating someone, but eventually decide to just be friends. On the other hand, some people have close friends who later become romantic interests. You might also be very close to certain friends for a while, and then later spend less time with each other and act more like acquaintances. On the other hand, some people have acquaintances that become their friends. For example, a helper such as an occupational therapist may become a family friend who occasionally comes to your house for dinner after years of working with you.

But types of relationships are not guaranteed to change in the same ways each time. So, for example, if one acquaintance later becomes your friend, this does not guarantee that another acquaintance will also become your friend. If all this sounds confusing, it is because it is! There aren’t many clear “rules” that let us predict when relationships can and will progress. There are lots of exceptions, which can make it tricky to understand what is socially acceptable.

Certain Types of Relationships Should Not Overlap

People who are your family members or helpers should never have romantic or sexual relationships with you.

  • If family members have romantic or sexual relationships with you, this is called incest and it is illegal.
  • If helpers have romantic or sexual relationships with you, this is called sexual abuse and it is illegal.
  • The page titled “What if you’ve been harassed, assaulted, or abused?” has information on what to do if this has happened to you.

Sometimes, whether or not it is appropriate for a relationship to progress from one type to another is related to concerns about safety. For this reason, some acquaintances should remain acquaintances, even if you see them often and occasionally speak with them.

Staying Acquaintances

Every night when Antonio gets off the train, the same man is waiting outside the station. He has set up a tent there where he lives. The man usually greets Antonio by saying, “hello, friend,” and asks how Antonio is doing. Sometimes, the man asks Antonio to give him some money to buy food.

Though Antonio recognizes this man and sometimes says hello to him, they are not friends, even though he calls Antonio his friend.

Not All Relationships Change

Darryl and some other students go to his teacher’s classroom most days after school for help with his math homework. These after-school sessions are more relaxed and less formal than regular class time. They listen to music together while working on homework, and Mr. Blake sometimes tells funny stories. Darryl has a lot of fun hanging out after school with Mr. Blake, and he is excited to learn that he and Mr. Blake like lots of the same music.

Even though they are spending time together, laughing, and getting to know each other, Mr. Blake is a teacher, so he is in a “helper” role to Darryl. They can enjoy being friendly with one another, but they are not friends. It would be okay for Darryl to talk with Mr. Blake about music at school, but Darryl should not text Mr. Blake about it or treat him as a friend Darryl’s own age.

Power Dynamics and Imbalances

Power Dynamics and Imbalances

Power dynamics are part of our society. For example, parents often have power over their children. A parent often decides things like what time the child should go to bed. If the child doesn’t go to bed at that time, the parent might choose to punish that child somehow. To give another example, bosses have some power over their employees. If a boss asks their employee to do a task, but the employee does not do it, the boss might be able to fire that employee.

Power dynamics can often help us determine what kinds of actions are appropriate in different types of relationships. Often, when a certain type of relationship between two people is considered inappropriate, it is because of a difference in power dynamics. In healthy relationships, especially friendships and romantic relationships, an equal power dynamic is best, meaning that no one person has more control (or power) over the other.

In some cases, it is illegal for romantic or sexual relationships to happen if certain power dynamics are present. Here are some examples to help explain how power dynamics and imbalances of power can affect relationships:

Power dynamics can often help us determine what kinds of actions are appropriate in different types of relationships. In some cases, it is illegal for romantic or sexual relationships to happen if certain power dynamics are present.

Work Relationships

Mohamed works in an office with his boss, some coworkers, and a few interns. At lunchtime, Mohamed usually asks one of his coworkers to go to a café with him, and they enjoy talking and eating together. Mohamed doesn’t ask the interns to go get lunch with him because he is their supervisor. While he is friendly and polite to the interns, he knows they are not friends. If he asked one of them to go lunch, the intern might feel uncomfortable.

Not everyone makes friends at work, but if they do, most people only make friends with their coworkers or peers. It’s usually not appropriate to be friends with people whom you supervise (because at work, you have power over them) or people who supervise you (because at work, they have power over you). The same is true for romantic and sexual relationships in the workplace.

Many businesses have policies stating that these types of relationships are not allowed between anyone in the workplace. In other businesses, coworkers might date one another. But it is inappropriate for supervisors to be romantically or sexually involved with the people they supervise. Workplaces with policies against bosses dating employees are worried that the supervisor might be pressuring the person they supervise, which would be sexual harassment, and sexual harassment is always illegal. Workplace romantic and sexual relationships are legal, but not always allowed by workplace policy.

Sometimes, power imbalances between you and someone else happen just because of who you both are, for example, due to differences in age or gender.

In romantic and sexual relationships, people may be even more sensitive to power imbalances than they are in friendships. This is because there can be more consequences, including legal consequences, in these types of relationships if one person hurts the other, whether physically or emotionally. Power imbalances in some relationships are a sign that a situation might be unsafe.

Age Differences
Dante is 18 years old and a senior in high school. He has a crush on his friend Maya, who is 14 years old and a freshman. When Dante asked Maya out, her mother found out and became very upset with Dante.

Maya’s mother was upset about the age difference between Maya and Dante. She was concerned that Dante might have power over Maya and possibly use that power to pressure her daughter into having sex or to hurt her. The age difference between them is only four years, but being a senior in high school is a very different part of life than being a freshman in high school. In the United States, 18-year-olds are considered adults, and it is illegal for adults to be sexually involved with minors. If Dante was 28 and Maya was 24, asking Maya out might be more appropriate.


When there is an imbalance of power between two people, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one person is “bad” or that the other person is “good.” People do sometimes form “unlikely” relationships even if there seems to be a power imbalance between them. If that happens, it is usually after taking time to get to know one another and make sure both people are comfortable with how the relationship is progressing. If someone gets uncomfortable or feels unsafe, they should slow down or stop.

Slowing Down Relationship Building

Valentina is 40 years old and works with Sofia, who is 25. They are coworkers, but there is a large age difference between them. Even though there is a large age difference, they enjoy eating lunch together and start to become friends. They also start to text one another when they are not at work, often talking about musicians they both like. One day, Valentina suggested that she and Sofia attend a concert together. Sofia liked being friends with Valentina at work, but she did not feel comfortable spending time with her outside of work. She told Valentina that she was busy that night.

In this example, Sofia found a subtle way to avoid doing something she was uncomfortable with (spending time with Valentina outside of work). She was able to slow down the progression of their friendship. She still enjoyed a “light” friendship with Valentina at work, even though there is a large age difference between them.

Language and Friendships

Language and Friendships

Friendships and the word “friend” can be especially confusing because people in our society use the word “friend” very often and with very different meanings.

You might hear people say things like:

  • “Hello, friends” when they mean “hello, everyone”
  • “Ask your friend to help you,” when they mean “ask your classmate to help you”
  • “That’s my best friend,” when they mean “I like that person a lot”

There is a difference between being “friendly” with someone and being “friends” with someone. Being friendly with someone can sometimes lead to being friends, but not always.

For example, over time you can become friendly with people in helper roles, like teachers, job coaches, doctors, or therapists. No matter how much time you spend with someone in a helper role, and no matter how much you like one another, you will still not be friends. This is because of the power dynamics between you two, and it’s also because helpers are doing their professional job when they are working with you.

Developing friendships takes time for everyone. Not everyone you meet may become your friend, even if you want to be friends, and that’s okay. There are also different types of friends – some friends you might only spend time with at school or work, but other friends you might spend time with at each another’s homes. A friend is someone you have fun with, can talk to, care about, and take time to get to know. Friends should never pressure you to do anything you do not want to do or make you feel uncomfortable. A good friend would never say something like “If you were really my friend, you would give me $20.”

Friendly Versus Friends

Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships

Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships

In any relationship you have, there will be agreements and disagreements. That is normal. As you get to know an acquaintance, for example, you may disagree on the best pizza place in town. Or a friend may accidentally forget what time you were going to meet to play video games. Disagreements and mistakes happen in relationships – they don’t necessarily mean a relationship is unhealthy. What matters is how people handle those disagreements and mistakes. If people show respect and try to communicate clearly with one another during a disagreement, a relationship is more likely to be healthy.

There are different types of disagreements and way to handle them. Some disagreements are differences in opinion – you can express your preference for one pizza place while listening to someone else’s different choice. Other disagreements or mistakes might be misunderstandings – you can talk to your friend about how you feel when she shows up late.

Other disagreements and mistakes are more serious. If you are in a relationship with someone who lies, makes you feel uncomfortable, or is not respectful to you, these can be indicators that your relationship is not going well. Once you notice these indicators, you might decide to end the relationship or to see the person less frequently. You have the right to feel safe, have fun, and feel respected in all your relationships. The next few pages explain some characteristics and examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships.

What are Some Characteristics of Healthy Relationships?

It is important that your relationships – whether with your family, friends, helpers, or love interests – are healthy. Certain characteristics are present in healthy relationships that will keep you safe and create enjoyable connections with others.

Unhealthy relationships, on the other hand, include the “opposite” characteristics. For example, a healthy relationship usually includes good communication, where two people talk honestly with each other. In an unhealthy relationship, you may feel that what you say does not matter or that the other person does not respect what you say. You may not have fun in an unhealthy relationship, or not feel like you can be yourself.

It is important to recognize unhealthy relationship qualities early in relationships because unhealthy relationships can sometimes become abusive relationships later on. If you are in an unhealthy relationship, you should either address the problem behaviors or leave the relationship. You should seek help if you notice unhealthy or abusive behaviors in your relationship. You should not try to solve these problems alone. You deserve support, and these issues can be hard to address on your own.

The chart below lists some examples of important qualities in a healthy relationship and compares those qualities to unhealthy or abusive situations.


  • In a healthy relationship, a person is asked to do something.
  • In an unhealthy relationship, a person is pressured to do something.
  • In an abusive relationship, a person is forced to do something.


You should not feel uncomfortable, pressured, or unsafe in relationships of any kind. In any relationship, your boundaries should be respected. “Boundaries” can be a tricky word to understand, and everyone can choose their own personal boundaries for themselves. Here are some examples of different types of boundaries:

  • Physical boundaries – choices about what you do and don’t want to happen when it comes to your body and personal space
  • Emotional boundaries – choices about your feelings, personal values, and responsibilities to yourself and others
  • Communication boundaries – choices about how, what, when, and with whom you want to discuss issues related to yourself or your relationships
  • Sexual boundaries – choices about how you want to express yourself sexually, both by yourself and with partners

If you let someone know what your boundaries are, but that person still violates them, the relationship is probably not healthy. In extreme cases, crossing someone’s boundaries may be considered harassment, abuse, or assault and be illegal.

Sexual Harassment and Assault

Sexual Harassment and Assault

Sexual harassment and assault are broad terms that can include many different behaviors, so it can help to think of those behaviors as a spectrum of sexual violence. Unhealthy behaviors in a romantic or sexual relationship sometimes escalate and can lead to sexual harassment or assault. It’s important to be able to recognize the early warning signs so that you can leave unhealthy relationships as soon as possible. It’s also important to understand what sexual harassment and assault are, so that you can seek help for yourself or others if needed.

Sexual Harassment

  • Any unwanted attention or advances regarding sexual gratification, favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature

Sexual Assault

  • A spectrum of sexual violence, including any sexual contact or activity without consent


  • Any penetration (vaginal, anal, oral) with anything (penis, fingers, objects) done without consent

In the graphic below, verbal or visual types of sexual harassment and sexual violence are located towards the left (less physical), while increasingly physical acts of harassment and assault are located towards the right (more physical).

  • Less physical acts may lead to more physical acts – the types of sexual violence are all related.
  • Sexual harassment and assault do not always start as “less physical” acts that progress to “more physical” ones – sometimes harassment or assault are just one isolated act.
  • Some people think that less physical types of sexual harassment are “no big deal,” but that’s not true. No matter where on the spectrum of sexual violence an action falls, it is still not okay and can be very hurtful.
  • It is never your fault if you experience any of these actions. Reach out to a trusted person for support if you experience any kind of sexual harassment or sexual violence
    • Support takes many forms. It may involve talking with someone for emotional support if you were catcalled or whistled at, or it may involve getting medical assistance, legal help, and mental health services in the case of assault or rape.
    • Taking care of yourself after harassment or assault by getting whatever type of support you need is helpful to your overall health and well-being.

Staring – Watching anyone for a period of time without talking to them

Standing too close to someone – Standing close to somebody, without their consent, can make people uncomfortable. This is especially true for strangers or acquaintances

Catcalling – Calling someone crude words or making comments about how they look or dress (For example, “lookin’ good,” or “you’d look pretty if you’d smile,” etc.). Includes making kissing noises or honking a car horn while driving past someone

Whistling – Whistling with the intention of getting a person’s attention to show that you find them attractive. This type of whistle is usually recognizable – it’s most often a short two-toned whistle (short high note, followed by slightly longer low note). This is different from whistling a song

Sexual/rape jokes – Any nonconsensual joke with sexual innuendo and any joke about rape or assault

Sexual gestures – Examples include someone licking their lips in a sexual way, rubbing their genitals over their clothing while someone is watching, or making motions like they are masturbating or having sex

Sharing sexual pictures and videos – Taking sexual pictures of someone without their consent or knowledge. Showing someone sexual pictures or videos that they don’t want to see. This may be pictures of oneself or others, including sexual pictures of other people shared without their consent. It may also include posting images or videos of you online without your consent

Stalking – Following or harassing a person. Some people do this with no real reason except to frighten, annoy, or intimidate. Other people might think they are just showing romantic interest, not realizing that their behavior is scaring others. This can include following a person who you are attracted to just to be near them, or making sure to sit next to them all the time, after they have tried to move away from you or shown that they are not interested

Inappropriate touching – Touching someone when they do not want to be touched (includes kissing someone, grabbing their butt, etc.)

Verbal abuse – Threatening to hurt someone or using demeaning words

Physical assault – Hitting, slapping, kicking, or otherwise physically harming another person

Coercion – Being asked to do sexual things in exchange for something someone wants (like a job, reward, friendship, etc.) or pressuring someone to do more sexually than they want to do.

Be aware …

  • Any type of relationship, whether with a stranger or someone you know well, may potentially lead to harassment or assault.
  • Sexual harassment or assault can happen to anyone.
  • No matter where it happens, who it happens to, or who does it, it is not okay, it is illegal, and it is never the survivor’s fault.
  • You always have the right to have safe, consensual relationships with any person you interact with. Visit the Consent section of this guide for more information on what consent means and what it looks like.


Abuse can be physical, emotional, social, and/or sexual. An abusive relationship is an extreme form of an unhealthy relationship. We will be focusing on abuse in romantic or sexual relationships, but abuse may happen in any kind of relationship.

If you are dating or in a relationship with someone who hurts you or tries to control you, this is abuse. Other terms for abuse include domestic violence, relationship abuse, and intimate partner violence.

Abuse can take the form of (among other things):

  • Physical abuse – hitting, grabbing, pushing
  • Verbal abuse – yelling, calling offensive or hurtful names or terms
  • Social abuse – forcing you to be in social situations that you don’t want to be in, or forcing you to socialize in ways that are uncomfortable or painful for you
  • Emotional abuse – making you feel guilty, making you feel sad and bad for being who you are
  • Sexual abuse – forcing you to have sex or do sexual behaviors you do not want to do

For an autistic person, abuse may also include:

  • Purposefully ignoring your autism-related or sensory needs and sensitivities
  • Telling you that your autism-related needs are not real or that you should just “get over” them
  • Making you feel bad for not being “normal”
  • Saying you are “not really autistic”
  • Saying you are imagining being mistreated or that you are provoking the abusive behavior
  • Taking away or limiting your access to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device(s) if you use these tools to communicate
  • Claiming you can’t tell what abuse is because your autism prevents you from understanding social interactions

Note: Abuse is abuse, and whether you are autistic or not, you know when you feel safe and when you do not feel safe!

Your Rights

  1. You deserve to feel physically, emotionally, and mentally safe in any relationship (whether sexual or not).
  1. You have the right to have and to enjoy positive, respectful relationships.
  1. You have the right to have relationships free from violence.

Abuse might come from a partner, but it can also come from a family member, an aide, or someone else you know. No one, in any kind of relationship you have, should abuse you in any way.

Understanding Abuse

What if You've Been Harassed, Assaulted, or Abused?

What if You’ve Been Harassed, Assaulted, or Abused?

If you experience harassment, assault, or abuse, or wonder if you have experienced these forms of behaviors, you have several options for how to proceed. Continue to seek support until you get the support you need!


  • If possible, refuse to do things that feel inappropriate or uncomfortable. If you are able to verbalize, say “no” loudly or call for help another way.
  • Leave the situation right away.
  • If you tell someone to stop, unfortunately, they do not always stop. No matter how you are able to respond to harassment, assault, or abuse, it is still not your fault.


  • Tell a trusted adult, like a family member, friend, therapist, doctor, or teacher.
    • Whether you are uncomfortable, unsure, or know for certain harassment/abuse has occurred, always talk to a trusted person about it. If you do not have a trusted person in your life to talk to, you can call a hotline for support.
    • Some people, like teachers, are “mandatory reporters,” which means they are required by law to report it if someone tells them they were assaulted or abused. If you want what you tell someone to stay private between the two of you, you may want to talk with a trusted adult who is not a mandatory reporter. You can ask someone, “Are you a mandatory reporter?” if you are not sure.
  • Continue to seek support until you get the support you need. Unfortunately, sometimes people disclose assault or abuse, but are not believed. If you tell one person or one group of people, but do not get enough support, keep seeking other people or groups that may be able to help you. If you have been harassed, assaulted, or abused, you deserve to be heard and supported.
  • If you are in an abusive relationship, you should seek support to leave that relationship. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be a good place to start:
  • If you have been sexually assaulted, the National Sexual Assault Hotline can be a good place to start:
  • If you wish to open a police investigation or press charges against the person who assaulted or abused you, you can call 911. For a variety of reasons, some people choose not to do this.
  • You may want to consult with someone you trust before choosing this option since it can be complicated. Also, laws defining consent and sexual assault differ from state to state.
  • If possible, avoid being in contact with the person who assaulted or abused you. This includes in-person interactions as well as digital communications.

What if You Know Someone Who’s Been Harassed or Assaulted?

It’s possible that you may know of or notice signs of harassment or abuse happening to a friend or someone you know. It is important to keep this person’s information confidential and to let them make their own decisions.

Sometimes leaving an abusive relationship is difficult, and people may stay in an abusive relationship for a long time. This may be because they are afraid of a violent reaction from their partner, depend on their partner financially, believe the abuse will stop, or for other reasons. Abuse is never the survivor’s fault.

The most important thing you can do if you know someone who may have been harassed or assaulted is to be there for them without judgment. Let them know you are willing to listen or help, if they would like. You could offer options, such as giving them a hotline phone number, but do not force them to do anything, such as getting help or leaving a relationship. Unless they are in immediate danger and you need to call 911, do not pressure them to take action.

Could You Be Harassing Someone?

Could you be Harassing Someone?

Some people who sexually harass others know that their behavior is unwanted and choose to continue anyway. Other people who sexually harass others are not aware that their behavior is hurting others. Sexual harassment that is not done on purpose is still sexual harassment, and it is just as harmful as intentional sexual harassment.

Being on the autism spectrum may mean you have trouble interpreting the often subtle signs showing that people are not interested in a friendship or romantic or sexual connection with you. It may help to remember that all relationships should be reciprocal, meaning both people want what is happening to happen.

Note: Signals that someone does not like your behavior and wants it to stop are not always verbal.

Here are some examples of what could be considered harassment:

  • Kiera makes a comment aloud to people in her office about how her coworker’s butt looks good in the pants they are wearing. Commenting on a co-worker’s body in front of your coworker or a room full of your coworkers is considered harassment.
  • Jonas likes to talk with Cece because she he finds her interesting. Whenever he talks to her, he stands close to her to show that he is interested in what she has to say. Cece steps back every time Jonas begins to talk, but Jonas just moves close to her again. Cece might consider what Jonas is doing harassment because he is consistently inside her personal space, and even when she moves away, he continues to be in her space.
  • Marty sent a text message to Yewei, a classmate he does not know very well, asking to go to the movies together. Yewei never responded, but Marty keeps texting several times to ask Yewei to go to the movies. By NOT responding, Yewei is showing a lack of interest and is not reciprocating. Continuing to contact someone after they show they are not interested can be considered harassment because you are not respecting their signal.


Interacting with people can be tricky, and you may feel unsure whether someone wants to spend time with you. If you are not sure, it may help to read the Consent section of this guide. If you need help understanding whether a specific person is interested in you, try talking to someone you trust about it.



Relationships can be complex. There are many types of relationships, and determining what type of relationship you are in is not always easy. Everyone deserves to have enjoyable and safe relationships, whether with friends, family, or romantic partners. It’s important to learn to recognize the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships. Doing so will help you understand and avoid harassment, assault, and abuse, and seek support if these things happen to you.

Key Takeaways

  • Different behaviors are appropriate or inappropriate depending on the relationship
  • Everyone deserves to have healthy relationships
    • In a healthy relationship, a person is asked to do something
    • In an unhealthy relationship, a person is pressured to do something
    • In an abusive relationship, a person is forced to do something
  • Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse come in many forms and can happen in many different types of relationships. No matter what, sexual harassment, assault, and abuse are unacceptable.
  • If you have been sexually harassed or assaulted, it is not your fault, and help is available.
Test What You've Learned

Healthy Relationships Quiz

Scenario: You met Anna in a coffee shop close to where you work. She is very nice and you have seen her at the coffee shop many times, but you don’t know very much about her. You would like to be friends with Anna. One day, she asks you for your address and says she wants to come over to your house. What should you do?
Scenario: A coworker promises to give you tickets to a movie you really want to see if you take off your shirt for him in a private workroom at work. What should you do?
Scenario: You broke up with your ex two weeks ago because of verbal abuse in your relationship. Your ex contacted you a few days ago, wanting to get back together and promising you that there will be no more abuse. Since the breakup, you have been feeling lonely and sad, because you really loved your ex, even though you were unhappy in the relationship. What should you do?

Disclaimer: Information found on OAR’s Sex Ed. for Self-Advocates website, related videos, resources, and links are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Users of the site should consult with a physician or other health care provider to discuss specific concerns if they require further information or clarity.