We’ve all heard horror stories about sex and sexuality on the road, ranging from the overly-flirtatious stranger to the rapist to the trafficker. Controversies have sprung up when airlines opted to encourage mixing and mingling amongst their patrons by serving alcohol, which just so happens to be the #1 date rape drug. Female travelers the world over will tell you that, when they travel, they aren’t necessarily interested in a fling or a date of any kind. Many would even say they’d prefer to be left alone. Period.
However, we’re human. We dream of a fling in Paris or a whirlwind romance in Rome. We aren’t looking for anything but happen to run into the sexy stranger who overwhelms our desires to go it alone. We’re abroad for the first time and would like to be swept off our feet. We’re traveling with someone with whom we’d like to get a little…intimate. Whatever our intentions or plans, it’s okay to find ourselves wanting to do something a little sexy on the road. With that in mind, I give you ten tips to keep yourself safe, both physically and emotionally, while indulging.
1. Sexual assault and/or rape are never your fault.
We, as human beings, have the right to travel this wide and wonderful world without being harmed. Reality may not always hold up; predators may exploit your solitude or your gender or sex identity for all they’re worth. But at the end of the day, they are the ones that choose to hurt someone. You are not responsible for their choice to commit a crime, and if anyone hurts you – whether you followed this advice or not – it is not your fault.
2. Carry your own protection.
Dental dams and condoms are fairly cheap and portable, and give you your best chance to stay safe from most STIs if you and your date decide to get jiggy.
3. Let someone know where you’re going.
If Sexy Stranger has swept you off your feet, and you’re going out to dinner, make sure someone knows. There is always someone around – a hotelier, a hostel front desk staff member, another traveler – who can be available to confirm that you’ve gotten back safely when your date is finished. Enlist someone as your bystander!
4. Plan your limits in advance.
Sure, these limits may change later, but make yourself a mental Green-Yellow-Red list before you leave. Green refers to the things that you’re perfectly okay with doing, yellow is for things that are situational, and red are things that are definite no-nos. Knowing your own limits can help you feel more comfortable with #5, which is…
5. Come up with ways of saying “no.”
Maybe your date suggests taking a “shortcut” to dinner that involves a creepy alley or wants you to meet friends at a random apartment, but you don’t feel like saying “No, idiot, that’s creepy!” Come up with different ways to communicate your needs. Feel free to get creative (i.e. “I’m claustrophobic!” or “I hate apartments!”). Do, however, come up with a variety of refusals that increase in severity. And make sure that you know, in the local language, the most direct way to say non, nein, nil, nyet, yok, ne, ie, nulla, or no.
6. Mind your alcohol.
Most people who imbibe will, at some point, want to imbibe on a date. They may also want to imbibe and have sex. That’s up to you. But remember that every drink you have lowers your inhibitions, lowers your coordination, and brings you one step closer to blacking out. Know your alcohol limits. Don’t leave your date alone with your drink.
7. Remember that a purchase is not a promise.
Gifts, by definition, are goods or services that are transferred to the recipient without expectation of reciprocity. In English? If someone gives you something, you don’t owe them anything. If you think your date is going to pay for dinner and expect something in return, reconsider going. Or grab the cheque. Or pay half. Or, when your date grabs the cheque first, feel free to whip out one of your lines from #5 to establish a ground rule. At the same time…
8. Know your local laws.
As an American feminist, I feel comfortable saying “no” under most circumstances. I also happen to know that the law doesn’t think that being taken on a date means I’m contractually obligated to have sex with anyone. But if I’m abroad, it behooves me to know if cultural and legal expectations won’t match my own. I don’t mean you should go on a date and expect to be coerced or forced; I mean that, if your date turns out to be a scumbag, it might be helpful to know what kind of support (or lack thereof) you can expect from bystanders.
9. Have a backup plan.
Your date turns out to be a bust, and you have no idea where you are. Fortunately, you have some extra money in your shoe, or a map in your breast pocket, or you happen to know the basic layout of the local metro. Take a little time before your date to be sure you know the way back from your date – and be sure your date has told you, in advance, where you’re going.
10. Finally, choose your own adventure.
Whether on your own or in a group, you get to decide what consensual hanky-panky you do (or don’t) have. No one gets to call you names for sleeping with every señor/a you meet, nor do they get to call you names for having a sex-free vacation. Epithets like “whore,” “slut,” and “prude,” besides being politically despicable, degrade someone for exercising their right to choose. That’s not okay. As long as you’re acting with integrity – making the choices that are right for you and not hurting anyone in the process – then have fun! And keep your nasty words to yourself, too, if you meet a fellow Go Girl whose proclivities differ from your own.