5 Signs You Might Be in a Toxic Sexual Relationship

June 16th 2017

It'd be nice to assume most consenting adults are having healthy sexual interactions, but the truth is that some are stuck in toxic relationships, and don't even know it.

They're not to blame, either. It can be difficult to tell whether your relationship is toeing the line between healthy or toxic. To help provide a litmus test, ATTN: spoke to a few experts on the subject. With their insights, along with help from the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), we spotted five major signs that might prove you're in a toxic sexual relationship.

1. Your partner discounts legitimate sexual desires and interests.

Communication is a major part of any healthy relationship, romantic or otherwise. So the "quality of communication within a sexual relationship" can indicate a lot about the level of toxicity within that relationship, says Dr. J. Dennis Fortenberry, a member of the ASHA’s board of directors and Professor of Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine.

"The way people communicate with each other about what they’re interested in, in terms of sex, how those communications are responded to by the other person, and how often the person feels discounted by the other person about the issues they think are important to themselves” can be a good indicator for whether your sexual relationship is unhealthy.

“I think that the discounting of a person in terms of their sexual interests, desires, and needs is important," in determining when it becomes unhealthy, Dr. Fortenberry says.

2. Your partner "gaslights" you in sexual situations.

If your partner is making you feel crazy for wanting the things that you want, it's a good time to leave that relationship.

“This is where it relates to communication, where one partner might — after being told about their partner’s sexual interests or desires — deny that they had ever heard of that and might belittle their partner's interests, calling it unnatural or wrong," Dr. Fortenberry says.

To sum up, it's okay to be interested in different things and challenge each other. It's also okay to say 'no' if you feel uncomfortable with something your partner suggested. What's not okay is making your partner feel weird about even proposing something new. According to the Dr. Fortenberry, this is actually pretty widespread among couples. And usually, both partners are guilty of doing it.

It's "a fairly common tactic, used by one partner, sometimes both partners, in a relationship that’s toxic and dysfunctional," he says.

3. There is a major lack of trust.

This one should go without saying, but it doesn't hurt repeating it because it's essential to any healthy sexual relationship (whether that be a long-term domestic partnership or summer fling).

Based on findings from a major study on the importance of trust in a relationship, Dr. Fortenberry told ATTN: that a relationship can be highly toxic if one or two partners don't feel comfortable with investing their trust in someone. A lack of trust can also lead to unsafe sex and sexual violence if one or both partners aren't honest with the other.

"Many participants conceptualized trust based on past experiences with bad relationships or sexual violence," the study found.

4. "Compromise is good, but acquiescence is not."

There's a healthy balance to everything in life. The same goes for sexual relationships.

“Every relationship has compromises but for one person to repetitively subsume their own interests and needs to that of another person may not be good for a relationship," Dr. Fortenberry says.

So if you find yourself constantly prioritizing your partner's needs over your own, there's a good chance the relationship is becoming toxic. Particularly if the acquiescence persists after you've tried talking to your partner about it.

5. The line between sex and violence becomes blurred.

This one should set off alarm bells in your head.

According to experts, there's often a fine line between rough sex and violence, as explained by The National Post here. In the piece, "BDSM insiders are...careful to note the fine line between 'kink' and abuse," Tristan Hopper writes.

So it all goes back to communication. If you and your partner want to experiment with BDSM, that's perfectly fine, but the need for open discussion about it is crucial to keeping the sexual relationship from becoming toxic and abusive.

Lady Seraphina, a Calgary-based dominatrix with 10 years experience in BDSM "noted that telling a partner you want to ‘hate f—' them may be titillating to certain people, but as words are so powerful, they are always things that should be discussed in advance," she said.

How do you repair a toxic sexual relationship?

As it goes with a lot of intimate relationships, outsiders looking in can never truly understand what the immediate couple is experiencing. So it's no surprise that some couples might want to repair their toxic relationship.

ATTN: asked Dr. Fortenberry the best way to repair a relationship like this — other than simply leaving.

"Well, that’s where people have to do the kind of introspection to identify their needs and respect their needs and determine which needs are worth asserting. That’s the kind of introspection that comes from supportive friends or a counselor. And that’s why it’s important to find that support – particular professional support," he says.

ALSO: Signs You Grew Up With A Toxic Parent

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