(Un)Healthy Relationships:

Does love make sex safe…?

The majority of adults seem keen to tell young people that sex is something that should only happen between two people who love each other. This seems to be the positive message endorsed by the moral majority… but why…? Does equating sex with love actually make sex safer…?

I would tend to disagree. In fact I would go so far as to say promoting this message can actually inadvertently put some young people at risk…

These days, the topics I seem to spend the majority of my time exploring with young people are CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation), relationship abuse, consent and sexting rather than the traditional contraception and STIS.

My point is CSE and relationship abuse both involve the victim being in love with the perpetrator. That is how grooming works – you convince the victim that you are a safe person to be around and that you care or love them… taking on the role of a parent, carer or partner…

The fact is, just because you love someone – doesn’t guarantee that they will treat you well or even return your affections. Just because you love someone doesn’t make it a healthy relationship. Often, love is used in relationships as a mode of control and manipulation.

Furthermore, if we promote the notion that you should only have sex with people you love – where does that leave the people who have sex for fun or for pleasure – that is a very judgemental line to take (especially considering we have just agreed that love doesn’t guarantee that you will be respected or treated well) – you can still have a healthy and respectful relationship that doesn’t involve love.

To unpick this point more click here to explore what your sexual values are

But more worryingly, if we follow the argument through – if you only have sex with people you love… what happens if you don’t want to have sex with someone or refuse – does that then mean you don’t love them…?

Obviously that is not what we mean or even what is implied – but it is often the message that is communicated when sex is refused by a partner. “What, don’t you love me… you would if you really cared…”

For a really good example of this click here for the debrief about the “would you see abuse” video clip

For this reason it is much better to talk about and focus on the notion of what constitutes a healthy or unhealthy relationship.

Activity: Design a Perfect Partner:

NB: this activity can equally be done regarding friendships too.

An activity I use with young people of all ages – in various forms is design the perfect partner. This can be done in a number of ways – you can ask the group to draw a caricature of a friend with exaggerated features – big hands to care for you – big ears to listen… etc.  You can ask groups to label a ginger bread person outline, do a top ten list or simply make a list of all the best qualities.

More often than not I ask groups to list all the qualities they are looking for in a partner and then ask them to nail them down to their top 5 to feed back.

Qualities – finding the perfect partner…

First of all let’s get one thing straight – there is no such thing as the perfect partner – so knock down that pedestal. No one is ever without faults and everyone makes mistakes. Even the nicest of people will hurt you from time-to-time and not intentionally either. The fact is life isn’t a fairy-tale and love doesn’t always go the way it does in films.

Remember there is nothing wrong with making mistakes, but it is how we learn from them and grow that is important.

We’ve already said that you can not always choose who we fall for, but that doesn’t mean that we are merely out of control puppets – there are always choices. Most importantly we can choose how we behave and how we are treated. It is not easy, it takes self control and assertive conviction but it is an important lesson to learn.

The first step to take is to think about how we deserve to be treated and what we want from a relationship – and then try as hard as we can to treat others in this way. What you give out – you tend to receive in return.

So here’s my list:

Most important to me is respect – it is as I have said the cornerstone of how we should behave. Respect is all about giving each other credit for who we are and what we think and believe. We don’t always have to agree, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t listen. Respect is about treating each other how we think we should be treated.

Trust can be given freely but once lost it is very hard to earn back. You are asking someone to risk their feelings on you, the question you need to ask yourself is – are you worth it?

Can you be honest and open about how you feel? This follows on from trust. It takes a lot of courage to let someone in and see you for who you are.  

Really important and often forgotten is Fun. You’ve got to be able to have a laugh and a giggle together. If you’re not enjoying your time together then what is the point? 

You should be able to be yourself – quite often we feel like we have to put on an act to try to impress the people around us. You should be able to relax and be liked just for being yourself they should let you be you, no need to put on an act, no need for masks – And they should make you feel good about yourself. You are ace!

However, having someone who will just suck up to you is no good either – they should challenge you. They should make you think and work hard and not get away with being lame.

Are you both Supportive? Are you there when needed to pick each other up and encourage each other to be all that you can be? Are you that supportive push or the hand up when the other falters?

Can you Admit it when you are wrong? No one is right all the time, we all get things wrong now and again, but are you big enough to stand up and admit that you’ve made a mistake?

So conversely if you want to be able to make mistakes can you be forgiving enough to allow your partner to do the same? Do you have the patience to stick with things and give your partner the chance to get their head together or take the time they may need when they are down or confused?

It is lovely to be together, but you also need the freedom to be your own person and have space and time for yourself. To be allowed to make your own choices and decisions as an individual. It is important to have a life outside of each other where you’ve time for the other people who are important to you.

And finally, and most importantly: listen. Really listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak. It is amazing what you learn when you bother to listen – plus there is no better way to make someone feel special than listening to what they have to say.

Here ends my list – what’s yours like?

I use this activity a lot with young people of all ages and they can always come up with a cracking list of positive traits and qualities – so this begs the question – why then do some people end up in abusive or unhealthy relationships? If we all know what we are looking for and how we should be treated – then why do people put up with anything less…

Again this is a great question to ask young people:

If we all know how we should be treated, why then do people end up in unhealthy or abusive (friendships)relationships…?

As another activity try these – what would make you leave scenarios: What would make you leave

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