Representation in Healthy Relationships

Colored crayons on white

Firstly, hats off to all my fellow young people of today. It is an ever expanding and complex world out there, and we are doing a mighty job navigating it! I have been working within the youth sector for five years, and
I am constantly blown away by the resilience and determination of young people.

Adolescence is a time where everything seems to happen at once, puberty, independence, friendships/relationships, and identity. So many conflicting messages, from adults and peers, and being expected to fit into both the role of a child and a young adult simultaneously and fluidly depending on the situation. Add on a few body image pressures, and the expectation of schooling and you have yourself a mix that would challenge the most self-assured people with a wealth more experience.

Thinking back to my high school experience, I cannot remember if or where I saw someone who fits with the person I identify with now. Honestly I have to really strain to even recall when a solid queer representation was offered to me in the broadest context, and that is a pretty scary thought.

I know for myself personally, I felt that my identity at the time was formed a lot by what I saw in the media, and what was presented as ‘normal’ at school. Representation is extremely important in identity formation, and acceptance of one’s self.

It makes me wonder, if I were to have the knowledge of sexuality that I do now, would I have reached a more comfortable identity sooner, and felt less pressure surrounding it? This applies specifically to representations of healthy and safe relationships, within a sexuality and/or gender diverse frame.

Sexuality and Relationships Education in school (commonly known as Sex Ed) can often lack in representation. All the queer relationships I had seen were reserved to television shows or movies, where stereotypical roles limited relatability if they don’t fit for you.

The school education of what a healthy relationship looked like fit into the heteronormative scope. Man/woman. No variation. No examples of anything else. Many of my own peers recount similar experiences.

In all fairness, many of the frameworks delivered can be applied broadly. Communication is important, respect each other etc. However, when every example is restricted to monogamous man/woman relationships, any other dynamic begins to seem ‘wrong’. Understandably there will never be an example of every single relationship combination that has ever, or will ever exist. But a little inclusion can go a long way.

Different relationships require different things. For example friends-with-benefits will be different from a boyfriend/boyfriend one. Each relationship is unique, and all parties involved contribute to the wants, needs and dynamics.

As I’ve already said, one of the most important components of any relationship is communication. Talk it out, figure out what everyone wants from the relationship. Does the relationship include sexual activity or not. Maybe two people who’re in a girlfriend/ girlfriend partnership have been in a serious exclusive romantic relationship, and they decide that they would like to open the relationship sexually. New agreements would have to be formed, what limitations would be in place (if any), and how they feel about the new dynamic. Keep talking! It isn’t about a one off talk, and then all is sorted. People change, situations change.

Respect is another important element. A healthy relationship has respect for the people involved – including yourself! If your partner asks to be referred to in particular gender/identity or role word such as man, woman, femme, top, bottom etc. doing so is respectful to them. Correct pronouns and names are a sign of recognition and respect for your partner’s identity.

This ties into communication; if there is respect for each other, then there is that safety and willingness to listen to what needs to be said. And within all of this, be honest with yourself and your partner/s. Mind reading is really difficult/impossible! Saying everything is fine, and meaning something else sends mixed messages.

If a polyamorous relationship is agreed on, and one partner begins to feel jealous of another, they need to be honest with themselves and identify it, then communicate it with their partners. It can be hard, but with time and effort, all of these can contribute to a healthy relationship. has some great information about healthy relationships.

The Freedom Centre is holding its Epic Retreat this month, and within it I have the exciting opportunity to present a healthy relationships workshop, with a focus on all relationships. Inclusions of many different relationships will be presented (sexual, non-sexual, monogamous, non-monogamous, heterosexual, homosexual etc.) and discussions about what makes a healthy relationship with these examples will hopefully allow a representation outside of the heteronormative, and create material that is relatable to more people.

Let’s hope that more schools will get on board in providing an inclusive approach to relationship education, and education in general.


Freedom Centre Volunteer

Master of Sexology student

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