Back to the drawing board: Why sex education just isn’t good enough

TW: This post touches on topics around sex and sexuality (e.g. consent and abuse) which might be sensitive for some readers. 

Usually when people are calling for some kind of compulsory teaching of health information, they make reference to sex education. For example, some students at my university started a petition for compulsory lessons on mental health as part of the curriculum. Because if we do it with sex ed., they argue, why not do it with mental health too?

Personally, I have higher hopes for mental health education than that. Not everyone will agree, but I think sex ed. is actually pretty shocking. Not in the sense that they teach sex ed. – right on! – more in what they teach and how they teach it.

The rules

Sex education is the source of continuous debate, which is understandable in a world where people still think sex can be evil. They have arguments about where it should happen, when it should happen, who should teach it, what they should teach, how they should teach it, you name it. So what do they actually have to teach in schools in the UK?

Well, from the key stage one it is compulsory to teach about anatomy, puberty, fertility, and sexual reproduction in state schools. In secondary school, you have to have specific sex education, which has to contain as a minimum information about STIs and HIV/AIDS. Some people would still object to some of these topics being taught in schools. But never fear nay-sayers! You are legally able to teach these within your school ethos. So an ultra religious school that maybe thinks condoms cause HIV could totally say so, provided they state that it’s their belief.

I disagree with that. Kids need to be told facts as well as a variety of beliefs, so they can be fully equipped to make decisions about their own sexual health. Plus it leads to some frankly patchy provision – every school ends up doing something differently.

Coming soon to a school near you: Racial diversity by Donald Sterling
That’s basically like letting Donald Sterling do racial diversity

Everything else? It’s non-statutory. Some schools won’t teach anything extra, and some pupils can be removed from those lessons by parents. Some schools, like those academies that now make up over half our education system, don’t have to teach anything. And literally anyone can teach this stuff. No offence to virgins – you are totally welcome to do as you please with your own body – but I’m not sure they are the best people to tell me about what’s happens to me when getting jiggy, so I’d really like it if they had some training or something!

This is not to say the only thing kids learn is boobs and diseases. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 requires that our little folk also learn about the importance of marriage in relationships and bringing up children. Now, obviously, I have a huge objection right there too. Because getting married has fuck all to do with bringing up kids. You can be an unmarried couple, or two seperated people, bringing up your kids excellently. A lot of the kids that will go through sex ed. will be coming from those families. Are we really going to tell them that their parents totally suck as parents because they broke up?

Meet the winners of Parents of the Year 2014, folks!
Meet the winners of Parents of the Year 2014, folks!

Not to mention that marriage wasn’t legal between same sex couples until March. Which means that for the past 14 years, we have been telling kids that gay people suck at parenting. I think that runs counter to that whole ‘not favouring any sexual orientation’ thing governments keep banging on about!

Sexuality

One of the things they’re supposed to do is give you a basic understanding of sexuality. Now, when I was in school, this was covered almost exclusively by an educational video from decades ago. There were two options presented – you were gay, or you were straight. There was no asexuality, pansexuality, bisexuality, bicuriousity, questioning, and so on. It was a binary view of sexuality, with all the colour sucked straight out.

Which led to me basically relying on my friends, family, and the internet to learn about my sexuality. I was basically led to believe that I was a greedy bitch for years. That sounds so… healthy. I’m not the only one either; I know plenty of asexual people who were completely traumatized growing up, after being led to believe that we are all deeply sexual beings, so they must just be broken or something.

Allow me to say fuck that shit. We need to make sure that every damn school is teaching the broadness and fluidity of sexuality. If anything for the self-esteem of a barrel full of kids!

Contraception

We were fortunate enough to have a nurse come into school to give us all a demonstration on contraception, the first such lesson we had on the subject… which just so happened to take place when I was 15 and half the class had already started boning. Anyway, can you guess what this hour long demonstration was?

Yep. It was an ode to male condoms. She had a huge collection of novelty ones which she systematically showed us, before doing a demonstration of putting a condom on (which we weren’t allowed to do ourselves), and then passing around a book of STIs.

OKjcq

It’s not a big deal; my mum had taken the time to tell me about the pill, and I had heard from a doctor about implants. So I was pretty covered on the heterosexual contraception side. But not everyone is. Not everyone is aware of their ridiculously broad range of options. Certainly the lesbian in me learned nothing about protecting myself from disease – at least not until I looked up types of contraception some time later. And I’m pretty sure no one left that class knowing how to put a johnny on, or where to even get them from. (You can get them from the supermarket, pharmacies and doctors, kids!)

Pornography and masturbation

Porn is a complicated thing, but something that kids increasingly have access to. It’s everywhere. It’s also something the government won’t touch with a barge pole. No sir, that’s not for us thank you!

So then you get kids that are uncertain of sex, learning about it by watching Alotta Vagina having an orgy. That sounds so accurate. It totally doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that if left unchecked would screw up a person’s expectations about sex, or make them feel self-conscious about their body, or cause them to make others self-conscious due to their unrealistic expectations about that person’s body.

Dear girls and boys - shave or don't shave at your own pleasure, not for someone else's!
Dear girls and boys – shave or don’t shave at your own pleasure, not for someone else’s!

Mind fuck.

Then there’s masturbation in general. In school we were always taught that it was okay to masturbate (I went to a secular school, after all)… if you are a boy at least. There was nothing on the subject for girls. People out there genuinely think girls don’t do it. Maybe they don’t have an Ann Summers near by or something…

Relationships

Literally nothing is covered about relationships accept the “look how awesome marriage is!” bit. Kids don’t have to be told what a healthy relationship looks like, how to fix their relationships, alternative options to marriage, different kinds of relationships and so on.

Top tip: This is an UNHEALTHY approach to a relationship.
Top tip: This is an UNHEALTHY approach to a relationship.

 

They don’t get told about domestic abuse either, even though it happens to them. It’s not like the government is blissfully unaware of that fact, since they just changed the definition of domestic abuse so it includes 16 – 17 year olds (I’d like to point out that I was 15 when I was in an abusive relationship, Clegg).

“There are adverts, though!” you might scream. Sure, there are adverts, but those are generally of women being physically abused by men. What about the young men getting abused by young women? What about emotional abuse? How are kids supposed to spot it and be aware something is horrendously wrong if they don’t know about it?

Consent

Yeah this one doesn’t even need explaining. We just don’t teach kids what consent looks like, about peer pressure and sex, or situations in which consent can’t happen. I know it seems like you might instinctively know, but people genuinely don’t. Heaven forbid the first time they learn about consent is from The LAD Bible or Robin Thicke.

Top tip: This is a HEALTHY approach to sex, kids!
Top tip: This is a HEALTHY approach to sex, kids!

Disability

Sex is different for disabled people, but that actually isn’t covered in sex education much at all. In fact, not at all. Even though being able-bodied as a young person doesn’t mean at all you will be able-bodied forever, and despite the fact that you might totally want to bang a person with a disability. Come on, sex ed., be cool already.

If you do want to know about sex with disabilities there’s a really awesome video on it here. Seriously, if you aren’t regularly watching Laci Green and co. you should just kick yourself. You’re missing out.

Fertility Issues

So, in schools they have to cover sexual reproduction. We’ve mentioned that. But yet again they miss out some vital information. Like, for example, what do you do if you struggle to conceive? What if you can’t have children? What if you are in a same sex relationship? Adoption is just one of many options for those situations, but it’s the only one that has been mentioned to me in school. That doesn’t feel right.

Plus, there’s this massive emphasis on sex for children rather than pleasure. A total bummer if you are a person who just doesn’t want kids. Instead of approaching this like everyone is going to have kids because that’s totally what every normal person wants, why don’t we approach having kids more realistically – it’s an option, not a requirement for being a human being.

Can’t the parents do it?

I know some people will be reading this thinking that parents should be the ones teaching kids about all of these things. They should, totally – parents have a responsibility when it comes to sex education too. Yet schools should be teaching a broader version of sex education as well.

I mean, consider this: what if parents don’t know about something that they are expected to teach? If you’re a heterosexual, conservative couple with a pansexual child, for example, what advice do you actually have to give them about same-sex relationships and intercourse? If you’ve had no fertility problems, what can you teach your kid about them? The same goes for porn, and disabilities, and the broad range of relationship types.

Sometimes you have to concede that parents don’t have all the answers. That’s where sex education is supposed to intervene.

"Why is my son spending so much time looking at pens on pen island?"
“Why is my son spending so much time looking at pens on pen island?”

So no, sex ed. is full of gaping holes. It’s letting loads of people down. Let’s fix it soon, please, so that whole swathes of young people don’t have to get their important health information from a dodgy internet source written before broadband by someone’s grandparent. Reliable? I don’t think so…

Back to the drawing board: Why sex education just isn’t good enough

Teen Killers: Life Without Parole – A continuation

I recently read a fantastic article by Anniseed, and I just wanted to quickly say something about it.

It was about the BBC Three documentary that featured a series of young men in American prisons, each of whom had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole prior to turning 18. Each of the men talked about their crimes – all of them had committed murder – and their experiences of prison and rehabilitation (which not all of them had achieved). Viewers were left to form their own opinions of the men, and whether it was just that they remained in prison forever for a crime committed before they are legally old enough to make independent decisions.

Scary, scary shit – I couldn’t even begin to imagine being judged on my actions as a teenager, or spending the rest of my long, long life in prison. It’s a fantastically chilling documentary and I’d recommend watching it, if you can.

Anniseed in mentioned a particular man in the documentary that struck them:

Sean Taylor was sentenced to life imprisonment for shooting dead an innocent bystander caught up in gang violence. In prison, he continued to live the life of a gang member, viewing the world through that narrow prism and getting into constant trouble with the authorities. But Sean was fortunate. An older inmate decided to look out for him, and every day would approach him and ask him a particular question. Here Sean leans forward and shares the question that was to save him:

“What have you read today?”

So Sean started reading. And it opened up his eyes to whole new worlds, made him delve into his own inner self, and make the tremendously brave decision to change his life. Through reading, he discovered Islam, and this showed him another path. He gathered his fellow inmates together and told them he was no longer going to be a gang member – he was going to live a better life, even though he was incarcerated, and he would help anyone else who wished to do the same. His transformation was to change not only his life, but the lives of many others. And the State Governor was moved to commute his sentence to parole.

Now Sean lives back in his home community, working with young people to try and stop them from getting involved with gangs, and to steer them away from lives of violence. It’s impossible to know how many lives his actions have actually saved, but his brave effort to pay back society for his own crimes were admirable. He spoke as an intelligent, committed and articulate man, and his story moved me greatly. I am inspired.

Proof, if any be needed, that reading can change lives.

That last sentence, that really grabbed me. It’s hard not to take away a message about the importance of books, and education in general, in the process of rehabilitation when faced with inspiring stories such as those of Sean Taylor.

Yet in the UK, a blanket ban has been introduced on the sending of books to prisoners. Sure, they still have access to books in the prison library, but the supply is somewhat limited. And sure, there are some prisoners that have used books to smuggle drugs and other items into prison in the past. Does that really mean that we should deny the entire prison population the opportunity of self-improvement, or the important moral lessons books often contain? I doubt it. When you see these case studies of  people who have turned their whole lives around on the basis of important influences in prison, like particular texts, can you really deny prisoners that opportunity?

Most of these people have not had access to the things we take for granted – a quality education, books, a stable home environment – and prison represents an ideal opportunity to introduce them to these things, in an effort toward their rehabilitation and their reintegration into society. We shouldn’t punish people for the sake of punishing them.

Teen Killers: Life Without Parole – A continuation

The (Un)Friend Zone

I apologise for my absence – it was my birthday a few days ago. Let me make it up to you!

I’m going to tell you a story. It goes like so:

Once upon a time, there was a 15 year old girl called Laura, who had a really close male friend. She thought the world of him – even though everyone else found him quite irritating and selfish. She just never saw that side of him. She was really glad to have him as a friend.

One day, Laura and her friend – let’s call him “Ben” – went for a walk in the local area. Ben decided, for some reason, he wanted to go to the grave yard (yeah, creepy, right?) because there was something in there he wanted Laura to see. So she obliged, and off they went. He took her to a patch of grass and sat down… then turned to her and asked her to freakin’ marry him

Laura was shocked – she had no idea he felt that way, and she never wanted to get married, and, well, Ben just wasn’t her type. He was her close friend, and she liked it that way; she didn’t want anything more. So Laura decided to do the right thing, and tell him the truth. He nodded, she gave him a sympathetic hug, and they both went home. As soon as she got through the front door of her house, she received a message from Ben. He called her a total bitch, and said it would be her fault if he went to kill himself that night. Laura was devastated and broke into tears. She told her family, who called him a git. She told her friends.. who sided with Ben, because she’d totally “friend-zoned” him and she was ‘cruel’.

As I’m sure you can tell, this actually happened to me when I was 15. It was seriously scary and upsetting. But you’ll be glad to know he didn’t kill himself at all. Still, the subject of the “friend zone” is one that touches a nerve with me, naturally. So you can only imagine how I felt when on my news feed this morning, I found this:

Yeah, seriously. This exists.
Yeah, seriously. This exists.

I’ve had enough of this shit too. I have a personal policy when it comes to people who insist upon the friend-zone being a real thing, something which is increasingly well known. I UNFRIEND YOUR ASS.

You read that right. You talk about how you, or someone you know, has been “friend-zoned” and, context permitting, I will cease to be your friend. Some people think this is rather dramatic, but I totally disagree. Allow me to explain this policy.

You see, bleating about the friend zone actually says a lot about a person and how they view their friendship and relationships, stuff that probably influences the way they act. People that believe in the friend zone are looking at friendships and intimate relationships from a particular angle – the ‘slot machine’ angle. It works like this:

Exhibit A.
Exhibit A. 

Friendship is a slot machine – you put “niceness” chips in, and you expect eventually the “machine” will put out in a particular way. You’ve been nice to it, you’ve given it your time and all your niceness chips. You deserve a reward. So when the machine doesn’t put out, you’re upset. You maybe shake the machine, demand to know why it isn’t working, and walk away from it to find a machine that does work like that.

One error these people make is that friendships just don’t work that way. In fact, they might look a little more like this:

Yeah, those 'niceness chips' really get around, buddy.
Exhibit B. Yeah, those ‘niceness chips’ really get around…

Let’s say each of those people are the female’s friend, and the arrows are the famous ‘niceness’ chips. Some of them might be interested in relationships with one of those ladies… but judging by the diagram, niceness chips alone doesn’t quite cut it. They both have plenty of niceness chips, and they’re giving plenty of them back. Friendships, much like relationships, are reciprocal – you give something, they give something too.

Plus, the other point about friendships is the reason why you are being nice to someone. Most people are nice to their friends because they enjoy their company, and they want to keep these people happy because dang, these people are awesome to hang out with. If you are being nice to someone simply because you expect something particular in return – like some sweet, sweet lovin’ – you might be a manipulative selfish butthole. Your niceness does not entitle you to any special favours – it is the cornerstone of a good friendship, and a good friend is all that it entitles you to. That’s it. Nothing else.

I was nice to her, so that totally means I can steal her stuff, right?
I was nice to her, so that totally means I can steal her stuff, right?

When relationships do form out of friendships, it’s because that person offers something else on top of niceness coins – like they find them physically attractive, or they share the same sense of humour or something. So if they don’t accept your offer for a relationship, it simply means you were missing that magical ingredient at that time. It sucks for you, but deal with it. Life isn’t a fucking fairy tale. Do not reject their choice entirely and tell them you’re a ‘nice person’ who totally just got shoved into a ‘friend-zone’ by someone who totally only wants to date ‘losers’ or ‘assholes’. (Acting like an asshole isn’t going to make them jump into your arms.) Try respecting their choice as an adult of reasonable intelligence who is fully capable of making their own damn life decisions.

So when I say I will not be your buddy if you talk to me about the damn friend-zone, what I mean is just this – I am convinced that you will only see me in terms of what I can do for you, and not as a real person with real feelings, who makes legitimate choices about my own life, or as a person you might like to have around just because we have fun. I don’t want a friendship based on manipulation and bullshit, thanks. Welcome to the unfriend-zone.

The (Un)Friend Zone

Why I effing love to swear!

You might have noticed reading some of my posts, that I swear an awful lot. If you’re thinking “it’s not that bad”, just remember that I’ve probably edited quite a lot of it out of my posts where I’ve noticed it. While I don’t swear as much as some people, I still swear multiple times daily. I don’t recall a day since primary school (yep, really) in which I haven’t sworn at least once.

I’m not swearing from a rebellious place – the man isn’t very fuckable – and I don’t consider myself to have an addiction. I’m not swearing because I’m always angry or miserable either. I swear an awful lot when I’m excited or happy or relieved.

TSM made the LCS finals!
TSM made the LCS finals!

The truth is, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. In fact, I enjoy swearing. Swearing is fun. Swearing is the ultimate expression of feelings and shit, you know? “I love you” pails into insignificance compared to “I fucking love you”, and there’s nothing as amusing as a middle finger between friends. It’s brutally honest, deeply shitting emotional. I just can’t help that think someone who swears when they talk about something is greatly invested in the thing they’re talking about. They aren’t just there because of a paycheck or some shit.

Non-swearers must be baaarmy.
Non-swearers must be baaarmy.

Swearing is also pretty liberating. People are always telling us not to do it. As a woman, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been told it’s so ‘unattractive’ when a ‘lady’ swears. If anything, it’s more encouraging than discouraging! It’s honesty and expression are liberating, as things we also don’t get to do a great deal either. Swearing is a rejection of the “done thing”. I like that about it.

Plus, swearing might actually be good for you. New research seems to suggest that swearing consistently reduces self-reported pain and your heart-rate, and helps you endure it for longer when going through something considered painful. Although, I must confess, the effect is somewhat greater for infrequent swearers than for Brian Blessed soundalikes like myself. But the fact it exists is good enough for me.

Needless to say, swearing is fucking awesome. Do that shit… just in moderation.

Why I effing love to swear!

Britain is NOT the best place to be a woman

So, the other day UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo said that the UK was the sexist country in the world, in her opinion, and everyone got their knickers in a right twist over it. Understandably, I suppose – it’s hardly a judgement that’s going to help British tourism or anything.

395037015_46a08536ea_m
Britain, anyone? Photo courtesy of hongkonguk13

Her reasoning is that the UK has a “boys’ club sexist culture”, and that government measures like austerity tend to have a disproportionate impact on women. She also criticized the media’s negative and sexualised portrayals of women – she argued they created negative and damaging perceptions of women and girls, and lead to the “marketisation” of their bodies – and was miffed that she wasn’t allowed into Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, where their have been some controversial complaints from women in the past.

Now, I’m not going to argue that Britain is actually the most sexist country in the world, because that statement is utterly ridiculous. I don’t have to worry about being prosecuted for ‘promiscuity’ if I’m sexually assaulted, I can have a job, I’ve been educated. If I had a husband and he hit me, that would be a crime here, not his ‘right’ as my ‘owner’. So being a woman in Britain could be worse – much, much worse.

You could also be Katie Hopkins... Case and point?
You could also be Katie Hopkins… Case and point?

But the counter argument I’ve heard, about Britain being the best place in the world to be a woman, is equally stupid. Where does this even come from?!

First off, just because the lady made a silly hyperbolic statement, doesn’t mean the stuff she’s talking about isn’t an accurate reflection of what it’s like to be a woman in Britain. The “boys’ club” is a real thing – it’s most apparent in Parliament where there are only 147 female MPs, compared to 503 male MPs. There are currently only 3 women in cabinet (though two more of those are allowed to attend. Equality, right?!). To put this into perspective, 45% of Sweden’s national parliament is female. It’s not a competition, but I think it’s obvious who’s winning.

I couldn’t find any figures on transgender or androgynous individuals in politics, unfortunately.

The figures rather accurately reflect leadership positions all over the country. Although more women go to university than men now, there are startlingly few female lecturers, professors, and researchers in general. Research presented by female lead researchers is more likely to be rejected. Likewise, even though women dominate education, but more headteachers are male.  Don’t even get me started on leadership in other industries…

So, men make all the decisions. Not surprising, then, that you have ridiculous outdated rules governing women. Like, you literally have to have two doctors ‘satisfy the criteria’ for the Abortion Act 1967. Which are, by the way:

  • continuing with the pregnancy would involve a greater risk to the woman’s life than ending the pregnancy
  • continuing with the pregnancy would involve a greater risk of injury to the woman’s physical or mental health than ending the pregnancy
  • continuing with the pregnancy would involve a greater risk to the physical or mental health of any of the woman’s existing children
  • there is a significant risk that if the child is born s/he would have a serious physical or mental disability.

Yeah, because you’d have to be mad not to want a child.

I’m not even going to talk about domestic violence, or portrayals of women in the media, catcalling, the division of domestic labour, women in science and engineering, austerity measures – I don’t need to. It’s all pretty obvious stuff to anyone who isn’t willfully blind, and it would be patronizing to you.

What I will say is this – just because one turd has a bow on it, and the other has gone white and stinky, doesn’t mean the first isn’t a turd. Stop excusing our existing cultural problems with pathetic stuff like “oh but it’s so much worse elsewhere”, because all you are doing is making Manjoo look right.

Still a turd. Photo courtesy of South Park Studios.
Still a turd. Photo courtesy of South Park Studios.
Britain is NOT the best place to be a woman

Lame anti-bullying “advice”, that we somehow still use

TW: This advice is inaccurate and horrible, and might bring back some nasty memories for anyone who has experienced the horrors of bullying. 

You might have heard the story of the school in Nebraska that sent it’s students home with the following advice on bullying:

"advice"

Wow, well done folks. Keep going and you might be shortlisted for the ‘Jerk of the Year’ awards along with US Airlines.

Obviously, this was a mistake. That’s certainly what they’ve told everyone, anyway, and they have since apologized and issued new advice. But let’s face it, anyone who’s been bullied will have heard this lame-ass advice anyway. Despite knowing full well that literally none of the “rules” on that list actually stops bullying, we just carry on with the general ‘sticks and stones’ mantra. WTF, universe?!

bullied-doge

 

This is something that seriously upsets me. Not only was I bullied, but repeatedly I was subjected to this pathetic pseudo-helpful “advice”. In fact once, when I was 13 and pre-self-harm, I went to tell my teacher – my personal tutor, in fact – about being bullied in school for my sexuality (everyone suspected I was gay, that’s a story for another day). He gave me similar advice about not letting them get to me, ignoring them and such. A couple of days later at my parents evening he even had the cheek to tell my father I was “unbulliable”, such was the fuck that man specifically put in charge of my care did not give.

The main problem with this advice is that it represents just that – it reeks of ‘put up and shut up kid, because it’s not our responsibility, and damn it you probably deserve it‘. It’s not dramatic of me to say so – it’s all summed up explicitly in the last three so-called “rules”:

Rule #7: Do not tell on bullies. The number one reason bullies hate their victims, is because the victims tell on them. Telling makes the bully want to retaliate. Tell an adult only when a real injury or crime (theft of something valuable) has occurred. Would we keep our friends if we tattled on them?

Rule #8: Don’t be a sore loser.

Rule #9: Learn to laugh at yourself and not get “hooked” by put-downs. Make a joke out of it or agree with the put-down. For example: “If you think I’m ugly, you should see my sister!”

Loving number 9 – bully your sister, kids, on the off-chance that by ruining the reputation of your sibling and destroying your relationship, you might, just might, stop being bullied. Lovely.

Seriously though, this advice assumes automatically that you have done something to offend the bully, so you totally deserve to be bullied. Maybe you “tattled”, or it’s your sense of humour. Maybe it’s the way you dress, or talk, or walk. Maybe it’s your family. Maybe it’s your gender, or your sexuality. Hey, whatever, kid. You must suffer the consequences of being different. Including, but not limited to, the intense and wide-ranging physical and psychological effects of being bullied.  It just isn’t our concern.

It’s so easy to pass the buck if you pin all the blame on the kids being bullied…

Except we all know the responsibility for bullying lies with the perpetrator, not the victim. Blaming the victims is only going to reinforce this as a viable option in response to whatever shit the bully is going through. Is this really the only plan we’ve got in dealing with bullying – messing up a whole bunch of kids lives because we can’t be bothered to get our hands fucking dirty? It seems so obvious to me that we should try to help the damn people involved, including the bullies.

Before you weep for humanity though, guys, there are two things you have to remember. The first is that there’s people like this guy in the world. The second, is that you can still change these things. Get involved campaigning against bullying, teach your kids or your friend’s kids or whoever about it. Call people up on the stupid advice they’re giving if you overhear this rubbish. Do things.

Don’t let bullying win.

 

 

Lame anti-bullying “advice”, that we somehow still use

On childhood romances

I happened to notice the daily prompt today, on what attracted people to their significant other. It got me thinking – not about what attracted me to Joe so much (because I don’t have a billion years to talk about how awesome that guy is!), but actually about something I was discussing with my siblings the other day.

We were talking about childhood romances (well, more teenage for me), specifically about how those shape who we end up being, romantically, and why we entered into them. It was an interesting debate, especially since I am renowned for just having the worst relationships in adolescence. Yet, in a messed up way, I wouldn’t undo a single one of those.

But I digress!

My first relationship – at least the first that I remember – was when I was 13, with a guy called John. We’d been friends for a while, and eventually he asked me out. At first my reaction was oh hell no, boys are SO icky! 

Eventually though, I took him up on the offer – because even though I wasn’t really into him that way, I was certain I probably would be, if I gave it a go. I felt pressured into having a boyfriend, in part by my friends, and mostly by the homophobic bullying I’d been receiving. What better way to prove to everyone, even myself, that I was actually heterosexual? (Which you want to be when you’re 13 and being bullied. Trust me!)

Months went past, and the bullying didn’t stop. Neither did my feelings towards my same-sex friend, who I’d developed the hugest crush on. But I did care about John, I did have a soft spot for him. He was my defense against the bullying, for starters; I could tell myself they were wrong while ever I was with him. Plus it was nice to have someone around, for a bit of a cuddle and a chat when things were rough – which was every single day at school. He was a bit of an arse, in retrospect, and he wasn’t ‘me’ at all, but he was at least around when I needed him.

Except that time he cheated on me and we broke up. Then he was on their side, telling the whole school I was totally a lesbian. Thanks, John.

After a while, ‘Ben’ came to fill the friend-shaped hole left by John. We weren’t a couple, we were just good friends – he was there for me at the onset of all my mental health problems, and he did make an effort to understand. That didn’t really work out either, as I’m sure you read in the last post! But at least when he asked me to marry him, I knew two very distinct things: he wasn’t my type, and I wasn’t into marriage. That’s valuable information right there.

I had another boyfriend – we got together just as ‘Ben’ and I had our bust-up – and he was a total jerk. He physically pushed me to get his own way (often into things, which hurt like hell), and put enormous emotional pressure on me. He didn’t last long. I built up the courage and ended it as soon as possible – which taught me that I can be courageous and strong when I want to be, and that I’m not the kind of person to put up with other people’s shit. It also taught me that just about anyone can end up in a bad relationship. Guys like him seem wonderful, but under the surface they are actually abusive. I think that made me a bit more compassionate and understanding with other people.

So then I finally plucked up the courage, and dated the girl I’d liked forever. It was actually pretty amazing! I was completely infatuated, at the time; perhaps we weren’t so infatuated with each other as we were with knowing and accepting who we were. While in the end we were too incompatible to make it, I learnt yet another valuable lesson from the experience. I liked girls, and there was nothing wrong with that.

After *quite* a long time, I met Joe and loved him instantly, and we’ve been together since then. He’s so cool. He’s changed me too – in lots of little awesome ways!

But the point is, I took away some important messages from these life experiences – about who I find romantically attractive, and who I don’t; about what I want out of life, and what I don’t; about who I am and what I’m capable of. The people I dated sucked at the time (can’t really blame some of them, they were young and stupid), but they taught me some valuable stuff about me, and shaped the kind of person I am today to an extent. For that you kind of have to thank them.

On childhood romances