Healthy relationships

This week Unique Voice will be performing Status, our mature healthy relationships show. With this in mind, Sarah blogs this week about the importance of allowing young people to talk openly about these issues.

There’s no denying that secondary school has the potential to present some difficulties for most students- be this in terms of academic expectations, timetables and organisation, the beginnings of puberty, or in terms of your social ranking.

With the surge of hormones will come thoughts about sexuality, and quite naturally, sexual curiosity. It seems to me foolish to brush this aside as inappropriate or premature, but equally, I’m not saying that we should encourage young people to rush into sexual exploration- simply that it is a natural human behaviour.

The problem comes perhaps when this curiosity is met with the social expectations and pressures that are so prevalent in our current society- particularly among young people. The fact of the matter is that sex sells- be it in terms of the suggestive clothes for young people sold in high street stores, or advertising for a can of diet coke (you know the one- shaken up can + attractive male in t-shirt=topless man), and that’s before we even get started on the likes of Miley Cyrus and her music videos or indeed the worrying amounts of porn that young people are accessing on the internet be it intentionally or otherwise.

As a relatively in tune and aware 25 year old who has a long standing frustration with the likes of advertising and other suggestive methods with which society presents to us what is cool or not- I like to think I’m able to spot the ridiculousness and blatancy of such devices without them influencing my behaviour.

But my position as a 12- 19 year old was not so admirable. Like many of my peers I felt the pressures of reaching sexual activeness (and attractiveness), be it from boys, from my peers or from myself. Films had painted it romantically for me, and girls who had boyfriends (particularly older ones) were often spoken about with awe at school, the result of which meant I definitely embarked upon sexual encounters before I was emotionally ready for them.

I guess in many ways, not much has changed in the decade or so since my teen years began, young people are still facing the same social and biological changes and pressures, but perhaps the biggest difference is in the way that these ‘relationships’, are played out, and how public they become.

I can’t begin to explain how grateful I am that facebook wasn’t around during my school years. Looking back I dread to think what information could have been shared or spread around- and essentially that is exactly what is happening around schools right now.

Young relationships are no longer the business of those involved and perhaps their friends, instead whole schools are kept up to date on exactly who did what with who, or view circulated images which were meant to remain private. (Indeed, I wonder how many recipients of sexting images realise it is illegal to possess or distribute an explicit image of anyone under the age of 18?)

Yet it isn’t facebook’s fault that this happens. Yes I think the site could be monitored more effectively, but equally if young people showed a little more respect towards each other rather than passing judgement and encouraging gossiping, rumours and the social rejection of their peers or indeed if we encouraged them to speak more appropriately and openly about sex and relationships I think we would see a marked decrease in this sort of behaviour. We are still acting like sex is embarrassing, particularly when speaking about it with young people, but sex is a natural part of life, and I believe that we need to speak about it more openly and honestly- particularly in terms of the emotional impact it might have on people if we are ever to see an improvement in the way young people deal with it and respond to it.

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