Love and dating are important aspects of adolescent development; it is during this time that romantic relationships are often initiated, and many people have their first sexual experience during adolescence. Sexual relationships and use of contraception has been the focus of much research, often because of the health implications of early or unprotected sex among young people. However, romantic feelings and relationships are important aspects of adolescent emotional well-being that are often overlooked in the focus on sexual risk-taking. In the 2014 HBSC study for England, 63% of boys and 54% of girls said that they had ever been in love, and around 60% said that they had been involved in a relationship with someone, compared to 21% who said they had ever had sex.1 Romantic interest and attraction may be for a person of the opposite gender, someone of the same gender, or both.
Last week, a paper on patterns of same and both-gender love and dating among adolescents across Europe was published by members of the HBSC Sexual Health group2. This shows that the proportion of 15-year olds who say they have been in love with, or dated, people of the same gender or people of both genders was similar across eight countries in Europe. Girls were more likely than boys to say that they had ever been in love with people of both genders, and although sexual orientation has been found to be fluid during adolescence3, this mirrors findings from research with adults which suggests that women are more likely to identify as bisexual than are men4.
The paper also highlights some findings that are particularly relevant to English young people. First, although patterns for same- and both-gender love and dating were similar across countries, boys and girls in England were the most likely out of the eight countries to say that they had been in love with people of both genders. English girls were also most likely to report having had romantic relationships with both boys and girls. Secondly, 15-year olds in England were significantly less likely to say that they had ever been in love with a person of the opposite gender compared to young people in other countries, and significantly more likely to say that they had never been in love with anyone. Among English boys, 39% said they had never been in love, while in the other countries no more than 10% of boys said they had never been in love. Among girls, 45% in England had never been in love, which is more than twice the proportion of the country (FYR Macedonia) with the second highest proportion (21%) of girls saying they had never been in love.
Research with adults show that there are cultural differences in how love is perceived and expressed5, and the data from HBSC suggests that this difference exist also among adolescents. Since the experience of being in love can be such an important aspect of overall health and well-being, we hope to soon find out more about why young people in England appear to experience this less than their peers in other countries!
1. Brooks, F., Magnusson, J., Klemera, E., Chester, K., Spencer, N. & Smeeton, N. (2015). HBSC England National Report. Hatfield, UK: University of Hertfordshire
2. Költő, A., Young, H., Burke, L., Moreau, N., Cosma, A., Magnusson, J., Windlin, B., Reis, M., Saewyc, E.M., Godeau, E. & Nic Gabhainn, S. (2018). Love and Dating Patterns for Same‐ and Both‐Gender Attracted Adolescents Across Europe. Journal of Research on Adolescence. Published online 15 April 2018.
3. Ott, M. Q., Corliss, H. L., Wypij, D., Rosario, M., & Austin, S. B. (2011). Stability and change in self-reported sexual orientation identity in young people: Application of mobility metrics. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 519–532.
4. Gates, G.J. (2011) How Many People are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender? The Williams Institute, UCLA
5. Wilkins, R. & Gareis, E. (2006). Emotion expression and the locution “I love you”: A cross-cultural study. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. 30, 51-75