Sexual Health, Safety, and Resources Abroad

Even in the context of your native culture, dating and sexual health are complex issues that are connected with gender roles and identity, intimacy and relationships, sexual orientation and behaviors and much more. Since perspectives regarding these terms and identities are often culturally influenced, dating and sexual health becomes even more complex when in a different country.

Dating Abroad

Be sure to research the laws and cultural norms in your destination country surrounding relationships, dating, and public displays of affection, among both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. In some cultures, public displays of affection are widely accepted, while in others it can lead to legal problems.

In other cultures, dating rituals may be different than what you are used to. For example, dating in groups is much more common in some cultures than individual dating, which is reserved for serious, long-term relationships. Sex may or may not be a common component of dating in the country you visit.

Like in the United States, acceptance of interracial couples varies; some places are very accepting, while in others interracial dating is not accepted. A little research in advance will give you a general sense of dating practices where you are traveling, and may help offset possible misunderstandings and uncomfortable situations.

Bystander Intervention

The goal of bystander intervention is to teach individuals how to recognize sexual and relationship violence, and how to safely and effectively learn to interrupt and defuse those situations. While overseas, make a special effort to use the buddy system and look out for your fellow program participants and colleagues.

Tips and Strategies

  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Avoid isolated areas
  • Trust your instincts
  • Buddy system
  • Intervention

Ways to Intervene

  • Interrupt the behavior - Remove the person from the situation by asking them if they want to go to the bathroom with you or if they are ready to leave
  • Deflect attention - Spill a drink on them, drop something nearby
  • Ask for help - Get a bouncer’s attention or recruit other friends to help you dissipate the situation

Penn State Education Abroad highly encourages all students to participate in a Stand for State workshop program prior to studying abroad.

What is Sexual Harassment?

It is easy to misunderstand social and personal interactions and behavior while in a different country, which could cause you to interpret sexual harassment as "normal" behavior and, conversely, normal behavior as harassment. It will be helpful to learn about the cultural norms of the countries you will visit before you travel. If you experience behavior that you consider sexual harassment, or any behavior that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, talk to an on-site adviser or local colleague/friend.  A trusted local adviser can help you make sense of the situation and advise you on how to proceed and how to respond if future problems arise.

Sexual Assault

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted while traveling internationally, please know that Penn State is here to support you and several resources are available to you: