Relationships: The good, the bad and the ugly
It'd be interesting find out where all those romantic songs, books and television shows get their information about first love from. First love is awkward, embarrassing, confusing, frustrating, controlling and, more often than not, ends badly.
Love: the good, the bad and the ugly website (new window) is a new website that helps with information about how to keep relationships healthy and safe, and what you can do when they're not.
A common story
Amelia, 21, met her first boyfriend when she was 15 and says wishes she could forget it ever happened.
"I was so vindictive. I cut all ties with my best friend because I thought she was trying to steal him. I was paranoid. Then I bought him matching lipgloss and he dumped me."
Louise, 18, was pressured into sleeping with her first boyfriend weeks after she turned 14.
"While we were together, I was always worried I was pregnant. He refused to use protection and never said anything. I was infatuated with him and wanted a boyfriend more than anything."
Michelle, 23, is still dealing with the consequences of her first love, four years after they broke up.
"If he finds out I'm seeing someone, he'll ring me and call me terrible names. I remind him that we're not together anymore, but I can't get rid of him. I feel like I owe him something because we were each other's first," she says.
Amid the hormones, inexperience and peer pressure, young people don't always have an easy time forming healthy relationships, but the attitudes you develop at a young age can have a lasting effect on how you treat the opposite sex when you're older.
Sex, lies and dangerous behaviour
One of the most difficult challenges faced by young people in relationships is deciding whether to have sex. In 2004, the Victorian Centre Against Sexual Assault (new window) started a peer education program in Australian secondary schools.
The initiative for the project came from young people themselves and was aimed at teaching them how to have respectful relationships.
CASA recently released a report into the program. It found peer pressure had a lot to do with a young person's behaviour. For young men, this peer pressure usually affected their attitudes towards sex and consent.
"A young man in one of the sessions we delivered said, 'If girls don't want to be raped, they shouldn't have boyfriends'," says CASA House schools program coordinator Emma Hardley.
"Embedded in this statement is a false idea that boys and men cannot control themselves and that, for some young people, sex is an expected part of being in a relationship."
In her work with students, Ms Hardley says she found most young men were too embarrassed to ask their partner if she wanted to have sex, preferring to just do it without checking what she wanted first.
"We try to teach them that it's not so much the absence of a 'no' that boys and men need to look for before engaging in sex, but the presence of a 'yes'," she says.
Ms Hardley says young men need to ask their partners whether they are ready to have sex and respect their answer, even if it is no.
Just because you're in a relationship doesn't mean you need to have sex. Honesty is the best policy, and you should be able to discuss your feelings about sex openly and without worrying what the other person might say.
Young people also need to careful about developing harmful and incorrect attitudes towards women.
"One of the most commonly held misconceptions is that what girls or women wear translates into whether or not they want to have sex - saying 'she was asking for it' stems from this belief," Ms Hardley says.
In reality, the most recent Australian Criminology statistics show 78 per cent of sexual assault victims are known to their perpetrators and are attacked somewhere that they feel safe, like their own homes.
If sexual abuse occurs, it is never the victim's fault, not matter what he or she was wearing or doing.
Confused and abused
According to VicHealth research (new window), by year 10, almost one third of young Australians have had sex forced upon them by a partner.
Louise was one of these people. Looking back, she says she thought her boyfriend's behaviour was normal and a sign that he was taking their relationship seriously.
"I thought when you got into a relationship, you had sex. Girls who didn't were called prudes and teases. I didn't want to be called that," she says.
"When he acted jealous or controlling, I'd actually be happy because I thought it was proof that he loved me. I was completely under his spell until he dumped me, and I was so grateful he did because I never would have been able to. He owned me."
Louise's story isn't all that uncommon.
The Victorian Domestic Violence Resource Centre recently developed the Love: the good, the bad and the ugly website (new window) as a tool for teaching young people how to have healthy and safe relationships.
Kiri Bear, Vichealth's Senior Project Officer, says many young people don't know what a healthy relationship is and commonly confuse abusive or violent behaviour as signs of love and commitment.
"A good relationship starts with equality, both people feeling free and happy to be themselves and both making compromises."
The DVRCV collected more than 1000 stories from young people for the website. Ms Bear says the aim was to provide young people with relevant information that reflected real-life experiences.
"The website has information on how to start a good relationship and how to keep it healthy. There's advice on how to handle the difficult parts of relationships, and finally there's what to do if things turn violent or abusive."?
The first step towards having a healthy relationship is having a healthy mindset. Even though you're in a relationship, you should still be yourself. That means not changing what you wear, what you like to do or who you hang out with.
The Love: the good, the bad and the ugly website has tips (new window) on how keep the 'I' in relationships, including:
- Being supportive of each other
- Having your own interests and friends
- Accepting each other for who you are
- Being able to talk honestly and openly
You should also keep an eye out for the signs that your relationship might be turning ugly (new window)
The website also has a quiz (new window) where you can rate your relationship. While it's not an exact science, the quiz was created by youth professionals to help you figure out whether your relationship is healthy or not.
And if there are problems with your relationship, the best thing to do is speak to someone about how you're feeling (new window). You can talk to your parents, your friends or even a school counsellor.
The website has plenty of tips on safe ways to break up with someone (new window) and how to protect yourself from abuse (new window). No matter how terrible things seem, there is always a safe way out, and it's okay to ask for help.
So, remember, when it comes to relationships, it's how you feel that's important. If you feel like your relationship isn't right, do something about it. Check out the Love: the good, the bad and the ugly website (new window) for more.
If you or someone you know need someone to talk to, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, 24 hours a day.
Articles Written by Elisa
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