Does jealousy equal love? One in five young people say yes

The Sydney Morning Herald

Miki Perkins

Published: February 27 2017 - 12:42AM

The sex ed Callum Jones got at high school was largely biological, the 21-year-old says.

How contraception works. Tick. Startling pictures of sexually transmitted infections (and how to avoid them). Tick. What happens when sperm meets egg. Tick.

But he doesn't remember a conversation about the hallmarks of a healthy relationship, or consensual sex. And the classroom wasn't an easy place to ask questions. Who wants to seem stupid or vulnerable?

"It was more a science class than one teaching you about the expectations of behaviour in a relationship," he says.

Yet some of his peers needed it. Like the young man who insisted on knowing where his girlfriend was at all times during the day. Or the bloke who told his partner she couldn't go to parties, talk to other men or start talking.

One in five young people think jealousy is a sign that your partner loves you, according to a snapshot of 1000 young people and 500 parents undertaken by the national anti-violence initiative Our Watch.

And the same percentage think men should be the head of a household, the results show. The survey also finds:

  • Almost a third of young people think it's hard to be respectful of a woman who wears revealing clothing.
  • About 20 per cent believe that if a woman is drunk or affected by drugs she is partly responsible for unwanted sex.
  • One in 10 young people think physical violence can be excused if intoxication is involved.

Why does this matter? Evidence shows that people who rigidly adhere to stereotypical gender roles are more likely to support or condone violence against women, says Our Watch head Mary Barry.

"Attitudes like these are worrying because more often than not, jealousy stems from insecurity and possessiveness. Possessive and controlling behaviour is not healthy, it's abusive," Ms Barry says.

Our Watch did the same research a year earlier, and will use the waves of data as a way of taking the pulse of young people's attitudes to relationships.

The most recent data shows any shifts in outlook have been incremental, but long-term surveys over the past decade show attitudes are slowly improving.

Even in a year there have been some positive changes: only 30 per cent of young people think most women could leave a violent relationship if they wanted to, compared with more than 40 per cent a year ago.

And, happily, the data shows that most young people don't equate jealousy with love, or think the clothes a person wears is relevant to their sexual activity.

It wasn't until Callum did a first-year gender studies class at Melbourne University that he became aware of the links between gender inequality and family violence, and considered how expectations of masculinity or femininity can affect a relationship.

"It became apparent I'd really been under-equipped in terms of my sex education," he says.

In 2017 the Victorian school system will introduce mandatory "respectful relationship" education into the curriculum, which advocates hope will broaden sex education beyond the biological.

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