Putting the relationships into RSE is long overdue. Relationships resources should provide the opportunity to critique relationships and how we do them (and how we are told they should be organised).
‘Common sense’ relationships discourses
“You just need to find the one.” “I just want to share my life with one special person.” “It’s all about those three little words.” “Find the right person and everything will be okay.” “Hard working families.”
At first they seem benevolent – but the underlying messages from many love stories are:
- You must have a romantic relationship
- Romantic relationships are the most important relationship
- Being in a romantic relationship is a sign of success, being single is a sign of failure
- We just need find ‘The One’, or let ‘The One’ find us (depending on our gender)
- ‘The One’ will meet all of our needs and we will live happily ever after
Just as porn is not great at teaching people about how to have sex, love stories are not a great way of teaching people about how to have relationships. These love stories create a huge pressure to have romantic relationships but little advice on how to actually have one. Relationships resources in RSE should be offering opportunities for us to critique these discourses.
Why RSE relationships resources should be critical
Many people in unhappy or unhealthy relationships can feel trapped by these love stories. Sometimes they can be retold by an abuser in an abusive relationship too: such as; “if you loved me you would do this” or “I’ve got all the love you need.” This is not to be cynical about love and relationships, but to understand the importance of being critical about them and that we can choose whether and how we might want to have them.
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With a lack of good relationships education, young people and, let’s face it, not young people use these messages about relationships until they find that they don’t work for them. Just as with sex, we all learn by doing, but why suffer unnecessary heartache when we could learn some more helpful messages beforehand.
Putting the R in RSE
So there is a huge opportunity to put relationships first in RSE. However, all too often the R in RSE is reduced to simplistic messages like ‘it is better to have sex in a committed and trusting relationship’. This runs the risk of retelling unhelpful love stories they hear everywhere else, as well as making it about you rather than about them.
Young people said to us that relationships and the ‘emotional sides of SRE’ can’t just be told. They told us that it was best delivered when they were asked to think about things themselves, given scenarios and facilitated to have a debate. My own resources in Love Innit, and also in DO… RSE address these key critical questions.
- Why do people have romantic relationships?
- Which of these can only be achieved in a romantic relationship?
- What other relationships (including the relationship with ourselves) can give us these things?
- What makes for a healthy relationship?
Perhaps you could ask yourself these questions. What were you taught about relationships growing up? In retrospect, how useful or valuable was that for you? How about for others? (Teachers have told us that they find our self-reflection activities super useful).
Love innit, my own relationship resources
My own RSE relationships resources in Love Innit features a unique discussion game called talk for a minute, which is an opportunity for young people to get really deep into discussions about ‘the one’, friendships and relationship ethics.
There’s also the relationships graph activity, to help young people to explore what an unhealthy relationship might look like. There’s game of Family Fortunes where you people have to give what they think are the ‘top answers’ to “what’s the most important quality in a partner,” “something you wouldn’t do on a first date,” and “what’s the worst chat-up line you’ve ever heard?”
It’s just £9.50 for 9 great activities that I’ve used in the classroom, youth club and training room. All with comprehensive instructions: aims, learning points, discussion points and alternative activity ideas.
More RSE resources
For even better value for money the Bish Bish Download is a bundle of all my teaching resources with a 10% discount. This download also includes my new Activity Book which has loads of other quick ideas for you to use as worksheets in the classroom (including a How to Be a Good Mate Board Game).
Over at Bish, my sex and relationships advice website for young folk, you can see that I have a lot of stuff about relationships and love. You might also get some ideas if there’s a specific thing you would like to teach about. I also have videos that you could show in class if you like.
© Justin Hancock, 2023
Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people and adults in person and millions online at his website for young people BISH. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here and stay up to day by signing up for the newsletter.