Understanding Dating Safely
Whether you're brand-new to dating or a regular on multiple apps, brushing up on some basic safety rules is always a smart idea. It's great to date with optimism, but going in completely blind can lead to a compromising situation that could have been easily avoided. Educating yourself about what can go wrong will help you make better choices—and get better results, which is why you're doing this, anyway, right? Make sure to keep these safety precautions in mind when you're dating.
Safety rules for dating apps
Dating apps are a great way to get to know a lot of people in a short amount of time. The most successful profiles include, for example, a variety of current photos, provide a good sense of the user's personality and detail nonnegotiables regarding kids, religion or smoking habits. But while painting a picture of what you're like and what you're looking for is important, divulging identifying details, such as your last name, address and job, to the entire internet is not. That's because talking to and meeting up with strangers always comes with a small risk of encountering a bad apple (or two). The most typical worst-case scenarios to watch out for are:
- Catfishing: People pretending to be someone else by using fake photos and/or fake details.
- Lying: As many as 53 percent of people lie on dating profiles, most commonly about their age, height, weight and employment, according to a survey by eHarmony.
- Stalking and harassment: The majority of women in a 2020 Pew Research study said they've been harassed by someone they went on a date with.
Because of the vast number of people you may encounter on a dating app, it's best to go into the experience cautiously but with an open mind. To protect your privacy, keep identifying details to a minimum on your profile. (Remember: Anyone on the app can see it—not just the people you swipe right on.) Use only your first name and list your general work info, such as "lawyer" or "graphic artist," rather than your full name and company. When discussing where you live, provide the general neighborhood—never a specific street or building. Many people exchange numbers with a promising match if and when they're ready to move the conversation offline, but you can also continue to use the in-app chat function until you've met in real life and feel comfortable giving out your number.
Safety rules for dating
Meeting up with a complete stranger after dark requires some planning and preparation for the best results. Follow these safety rules whenever you're planning to meet someone new:
- Always let a friend know who you're meeting and where you're going.
- Charge your phone fully before leaving for your date.
- Choose a place you know and feel comfortable going to.
- Take your own transportation to and from the date. Avoid letting your date walk you home until you know one another and feel comfortable with them.
- Don't drink too much, and don't leave your drink unattended.
- If you have an iPhone, share your location with a friend who can keep tabs on you, and set up the Emergency SOS feature.
- Learn the drink order "code words" to use at a bar if you need help from the bartender.
Above all else, trust your gut: If something feels off, it probably is. There's never a reason to stay in a situation that's making you uncomfortable.
Safety rules for sex
In any nonmonogamous relationship, condoms are a must for safety—they're 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly, and help prevent many sexually transmitted infections by blocking your contact with bodily fluids. Unfortunately, many people don't know how to use a condom correctly, which means the actual efficacy they experience is much lower than 98 percent. Don't make these common condom mistakes:
- Choosing a condom that doesn't fit properly
- Using a condom that's expired
- Rolling the condom on inside out, or without leaving room in the tip
- Allowing the condom to get too dry
- Not putting a condom on until halfway through sex
In addition to risking breakage, slippage and leakage, you're exposing yourself to fluids that can contain semen when you have unprotected sex—yes, even before ejaculation happens. Sperm can be present in or on a man's penis at any given time, and can survive in a woman's reproductive system for up to five days in certain circumstances. (And, yes, it's possible to get pregnant on your period.) For adequate protection against pregnancy and STIs, you must put on a condom before any genital-to-genital contact.
Another reason to use condoms correctly: Sexually transmitted infections remain common. At least one out of six adults under age 50 has genital herpes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they don't always know it or show symptoms. Some STIs are transmitted via bodily fluids, while skin-to-skin contact is all it takes to transmit others (such as herpes). Since no condom prevents all skin contact, safe sex should involve using condoms to limit exposure to fluids and getting tested to rule out or identify infections.
Unfortunately, not every person takes safety seriously, so you should never assume that your partner has been tested. Ask your partner, or better yet, go with them for testing—especially if you plan to be exclusive and are due for one yourself. Until then, use caution (and condoms). But here's another issue to be aware of: One survey found that as many as 14 percent of female undergraduates experienced a sexual partner removing a condom without telling them—a shady practice known as "stealthing."
In order to protect yourself, discuss your expectations for safe sex long before your clothes come off. Stay sober and alert while having sex with a new partner, and always keep your own condoms on hand. During sex, reach down to feel for the rim of the condom to ensure it's still in place. If you have any doubts or concerns, remember: It's your body and you can change your mind and stop sex at any time.
Safety rules for COVID-19
Many people decided to put dating on hold until either the pandemic ended or they were vaccinated. Others continued to date with some commonsense adjustments, such as chatting online for an extended amount of time before meeting (to limit the number of people you're exposed to) or opting for masked, socially distant dates (such as a scenic walk instead of a crowded bar).
If you or your date are not fully vaccinated, it's important to follow the latest CDC guidelines. Avoid indoor locations with poor ventilation and choose an open-air setting, like an outdoor restaurant, instead. And on early dates, especially if you're dating multiple people, some of the flirtatious behavior you'd normally engage in (sharing food, hugging hello/goodbye and getting touchy-feely during conversation) is simply too risky during a pandemic.
Once you decide it's time to get physical, a few extra precautions can help you do so safely. Because COVID can take up to 14 days to show symptoms, many people opt to isolate (avoiding unmasked contact with other people and risky activities, like traveling or spending time in crowded, indoor spaces) before hooking up with a new partner. Once you and your date both test negative for COVID, you'd ideally enter a "bubble" where you see one another exclusively instead of continuing to see other people. It may feel old-fashioned, but it's the safest way to limit your chance of catching or spreading COVID.
Now that vaccines are available to all adults, anyone planning on hitting the dating scene should get their shots ASAP, as it takes two full weeks from your final dose for antibodies to form and immunity to begin.
The bottom line is, dating can be enough of a nightmare without putting your safety—health and otherwise—at risk. Stay optimistic and keep putting yourself out there. But also stay practical so you can keep enjoying meeting new people in the long term.