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Cruising online for hookups and relationships can be fun. But, experience tells us that we need to take our own safety seriously when we engage with others online.
Social and dating apps have been used by criminals to target people for robbery and violence. Many people also report experiencing abusive or racist language, breach of
privacy, and other antisocial behaviour online.

To get more of what we want and less of what we don’t want online means being aware, setting boundaries and taking some sensible precautions.

Here are a few tactics to keep you safe.

1.    Protect your emotional wellbeing

Sometimes, people can use the anonymity of the internet to say and do some offensive things. It’s important to remember that cyberbullying, online harassment
and abuse is not okay, and is not something that you have to put up with. All apps will have block and report functions. These are important tools for you to be
in control of your own safety, don’t hesitate to use them if you’re feeling unsafe. If online abuse happens to you, block and report the perpetrator and take some
time for self-care to move through it. This might involve putting your device away and turning off notifications for a while, talking to someone to debrief, relaxing
with a shower or taking your mind away through music, a movie or a book.

2.    Get to know someone as well as you can

Dating apps and websites provide a tool to chat with future sex partners prior to meeting them. Chatting can help you get to know them as well as you can. It can let you know if they are who they say they are, and whether or not they’re sober. You can do this through:

  • Asking for a picture of their face (a face pic)
  • Asking to video call or a phone call
  • Sharing other social media accounts, like Instagram or Facebook

3.    When something seems suspicious

Look out for red flags when chatting to someone. First and most importantly, trust your gut. If you’re not feeling comfortable about how someone is talking to you,
trust that feeling and take action accordingly. If someone is not respecting your boundaries, that’s a red flag. Some other ways to identify red flags include:

  • Google image reverse search people’s pictures
  • Look out for things that don’t add up
  • Keep an eye out for signs – i.e. ‘my camera doesn’t work’ or not wanting to share pictures

4.    Protect your identity and personal information

Your privacy is really important when online. It’s also worth noting here that some people like to stay more private than others. So, it’s really up to you in
terms of how much information you want to share about things that aren’t just your sex life. Here are some privacy tactics to keep yourself safe:

  • Don’t use your full name in your handle
  • Choose a photo of you as your profile picture that is different to the ones on your other social media accounts
  • Be wary about anyone who wants to know a lot of personal information about you
  • Don’t share nudes with your face and beware of other identifiable features on your body (like tattoos)

5.    Chatting about sex

It’s sexy and useful to talk about what you’re into and what you’re not into before you meet. With practice, you should feel comfortable to talk about your limits and your turn-ons. If someone is not respecting your boundaries, that’s a red flag. If you start to talk about sex online, this is a great opportunity to let your partner know what safer sex methods you use, and talk to each other about your STI/HIV status. You can ask questions like:

  • When was your last STI check?
  • (If HIV-) Are you on PrEP?
  • (If HIV+) Are you U=U?
  • Which brand of condoms do you like to use?
  • Which lube do you like?

6.    First meeting

Meeting someone for the first time face-to-face is meant to be exciting. There can also be a level of risk when you take things offline. Some tips to make a
first meet-up safer include:

  • Meet in a public place (e.g. bar, cafe, shopping centre, etc.)
  • If you intend on hooking up on the first meeting, meet at a sauna or sex on premises venue
  • Screenshot the profile of the person you’re meeting and send it to a friend
  • Tell someone where you’re going and how long you might be.
    1. Schedule a time for them to call you (or vice versa) during the meetup to check-in
    2. Make a plan in case they don’t hear from you
  • When you’re planning to meet, agree that it’s okay that you or your partner(s) are able to change your mind if it doesn’t feel right in the moment. If someone does not respect you changing your mind, that’s a red flag.
  • Bring your own condoms and lube to be 100% sure about using protection
  • Avoid inviting someone new to your home on the first meeting until you know a little more about them. This is especially important if you live alone.
  • If you have invited someone to your house, a good safety strategy might be to pack away your valuables.
  • Avoid BDSM or other risky activities on the first meet with someone new. These activities rely strongly on trust and any practised kinkster would know this and should value your limits and safety. If someone is not respecting your boundaries, that’s a red flag.
  • If you’re new to BDSM, take gradual steps and get to know people some more before you start playing.
  • Your safety is important, leave if you don’t feel comfortable. Everyone has the right to say no for any reason and at any time. If there is an incident, reporting it may prevent it from happening to anyone else. You can report the incident to the app or website you met them on, to
    the police, or you can speak to someone here at Meridian.

Here are some more resources about online safety and healthy relationships:
Esafety.gov.au
Say it out Loud

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