Healthy living

Relationships, sex and other stuff – friends and relationships

During puberty, you experience lots of changes. Some of these are physical. Many are emotional.

Each young person will be travelling at a different rate along the road to adulthood. Between the ages of 12 and 14, girls are often taller than boys, and their bodies may be developing into the women they will become. By contrast boys of this age, who will eventually go on to become well-proportioned, deep-voiced, muscular adults, may still be short and skinny!

In the beginning of puberty there may be a mismatch of size and proportion amongst your friends which might make you feel different or contribute to a feeling that you no longer belong. Rest assured, it all sorts itself out in the end.

During adolescence, you might find that the interests of your friends start to vary too. Someone you have known for all your primary school life may suddenly feel like a stranger to you and things that never used to matter suddenly do. Some of your peers may start to have strong opinions about clothes, music or how to spend free time while others become greatly concerned about who you like, what you’re good at, what is cool and what is not. These opinions may not always match your own.

Highly opinionated people are just marching in different ways on the road to adulthood. Everyone will get there in your own way.

In the end, the friends you stay close to will probably be those with whom you share the same values, interests and concerns, and the same ways of enjoying your spare time

Communication

Being a teenager is enjoyable and liberating. There are wonderful freedoms associated with not having yet assumed all the responsibilities of adulthood. And there are many amazing things to discover and learn.

But with all the changes taking place in your life, you are bound to experience the full spectrum of mood swings: from confidence and exuberance, to loneliness and despair. This is a totally normal part of being a teenager. As well as your friends, you may find your relationships with different family members are changing too. People who you once got along with may seem to be not as close or as easy to be with as they once did.

The best way to sort out complex situations is through communication. Saying things aloud is a way of sorting out the good, the bad and the confusing. Without talk, there can be no resolution.

If you find it difficult to talk about things that are troubling you, different people may be able to help you with different things. Try talking to someone who cares about you and who can support you and help you work out what you think or want to do. This might be a trusted and respected adult or friend, or your doctor, or a school counsellor. You can always call a telephone helpline, especially if you are having problems talking to your family (see Where to get help.)

Like? Like a lot? Love!

As you become a sexual being, you may discover that the way you feel about different people becomes more complex too.

It is quite normal to suddenly experience strong feelings, or crushes, for particular people. These feelings may remain deliciously private and unexpressed. Or you may choose to confide in a friend or even express them to the person directly.

Just remember speaking your feelings aloud puts you in a vulnerable space. If your feelings are not returned by the other person, you may feel exposed and rejected. On the other hand if they are reciprocated, you may find yourself in an exciting new friendship or relationship. A good rule of thumb is to ‘tread carefully’ and exercise caution.

What if someone gets a crush on you?

You could even  find that someone feels strongly about you, but that you don’t feel this way or return these feelings. Try to treat this person with dignity and respect and privacy. Be honest and clear about your feelings.

Will someone ever love me?

Sometimes it might feel as if everyone around you is falling in love, or finding someone, except for you. It can be hard to be patient and wait for your time, even when, in all probability, you can be sure your time will come. There are many years ahead for these things to happen, even though you may want them to happen now.

In the meantime, try to focus on those things which make you happy. Enjoy your own company. A happy, together person is the kind of person someone will be greatly attracted to.

Is it love?

The feeling of falling in love can be wonderful. It can affect your sleep, your appetite, your desire to do, or not do, different things. It can even take over your whole world. But young people mostly experience that they just like someone a lot.

How do you know if it is really love? You can ask yourself:

  • Do you both care about each other to the same degree?
  • Do you have things in common, and enjoy similar activities?
  • Do you share similar broad values and beliefs (about family, morals)?
  • Do you encourage each other to pursue your own interests?
  • Can you talk to each other about important things?
  • Do you feel understood and heard?
  • Do you understand and listen to your partner?

What if my heart gets broken?

Just as you have fallen in love, it is also possible for you, or the other person, to fall out of love. Most people fall in love more than once before they find a long-term partner who is ready to fully share the challenges and emotional journey of loving and being loved.

If you are emotionally hurt, it is important to be kind to yourself, and to distract yourself with things that make you feel good. Try to talk to the people around you who care about you. You may find perspective, consolation and useful advice from hearing the heartbreak experiences of others.

Types of relationships

From the moment you are born, you have different kinds of relationships and connections with those around you: parents, siblings, friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers and people you admire as role models.

The nature of these bonds with others will depend on the type of connection people have. It may involve dependence, responsibility, equality, respect, or a combination of these.

From each of these bonds you will learn by observation and practice:

  • how other people behave towards each other
  • how other people behave towards you
  • how other people expect you to behave.

You also receive many messages about human relationships from books, movies, TV and other media.

What is sexuality?

As you grow up, you begin to make choices and decisions about how you want to behave in the relationships that are important to you. As you develop sexual feelings, you may also feel ready to express your affection and love through a sexual relationship.

The way people express their sexual feelings is a part of a person’s sexuality. Different cultures view sexuality differently. Certain sexual practices and standards vary from country to country, religion to religion, and culture to culture.

What is heterosexuality?

The word heterosexual means a person who has emotional and sexual feelings towards a person of the opposite sex. Heterosexual men are attracted to women and heterosexual women are attracted to men.

What is homosexuality?

People who have sexual and romantic feelings towards people of the same sex as themselves are homosexual. This means women are attracted to women, and men are attracted to men. Another word for homosexual is gay (used most often for men) and lesbian (used for women). ‘Same sex attracted’ is another term commonly used to describe this orientation.

What is bisexuality?

The term bisexual is used to describe a person who is sexually attracted to people of either sex.

Gender stereotypes

Narrow, fixed expectations about being a male or being a female are called gender stereotypes. For example, there are stereotypes about males being ‘tough’ and females being ‘soft’. In fact, most people don’t fit into gender stereotypes and there is an enormous variation in gender roles. In adolescence, as people develop into mature males and females, girls and boys who don’t fit the stereotype are sometimes picked on by others. This can be very hurtful. Remember, the differences between us all are what make humans wonderful and unique.

Homophobia

Homophobia is fear or hostility towards people who are homosexual. Homophobia is sometimes expressed through bullying or insulting people who appear to be different, whether or not they are gay, lesbian or bisexual. Any kind of bullying is totally unacceptable and a healthy sexuality includes tolerance and understanding of people who are different or who don’t fit into stereotypes.

Who can help me work out what I am?

It can sometimes be lonely and confusing to feel attracted to people of the same sex, or to have sexual feelings which seem to differ from those of everyone around you. Your confusion may be particularly hard to deal with while you are still defining who you are, and at a time when the opinions of others count for so much

Remember that some of the other people around you will be going through the same stuff as you, you just may not know about it. And remember that communication and talking through things is the best way to become the person you want to be. Support and information about these kinds of questions is available from the Freedom Centre (see Where to get help).

As you become a sexual being, it is natural that you will want to learn to use your new body. And as you do, you will discover what you like, what makes you feel good, satisfied, happy and safe.

Where to get help

  • If you have any sort of problem you want to talk about confidentially with a trained counsellor, call Kids Help Line (24 hours) on 1800 551 800 (free from a land line only).
  • Visit The Hormone Factory (external site), a great site with lots of answers for 10 to 12 year olds, especially about puberty.
  • Other good sites for teenagers include Get the facts (external site) and I stay safe (external site).
  • Read the section on Avert (external site). This section is really good for sexuality education.
  • For general health information call healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222.
  • For information about sexual health and contraception:
  • For help with sexual abuse or assault, phone the Sexual Assault Resource Centre (24 hour emergency line) on 9340 1828 for metro callers or 1800 199 888 for country callers (free from land line only).
  • Young people who are questioning their sexuality can call the Freedom Centre on 9228 0354.

Acknowledgements

Public Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

Text: Let's talk about sex. Information about safe sex, STI, relationships and more.