Banter, Flanter or Sexual Harassment? 19th May 2022
This question has been around in some form or another for years, but since Soma Sara started the Everyone’s Invited movement in 2020 to eradicate ‘rape culture’, it has become clear that sexual violence is not only happening on our streets, but also in our schools.
“Bang”, “Smash”, “Whack”, “Destroy”, “Beat”, “Poke”...
Yr 10 students tell us that these are common words for sex. It’s heart-breaking that the language for sex today is so violent and aggressive, the total opposite of what sex is supposed to be about. So, when language like this is embedded into the mindset of young people today, is it any wonder that what someone may perceive to be ‘banter’, can actually feel intimidating or even threatening to the recipient. When people say “It’s just banter”, are they in the safe zone of true banter or roaming into the murky waters of sexual harassment... it seems to be a fine line on the continuum of communication...
But, what’s the difference?
• Friendly banter - there’s no intention to hurt anyone and the limits/boundaries are respected.
• Ignorant banter – when a person crosses the line, but has no intention of causing harm.
• Malicious Banter – intentional communication with the purpose of humiliating a person, often in public. THIS IS BULLYING.
• Sexual harassment - has to do with creating an intimidating / harassing environment. It involves abusive language intended to make the other person feel shame/threatened/uncomfortable (also applies to videos, pictures, and texts)
When a 17-year-old student says “I’m so scared of getting a girlfriend. She might accuse me of sexual assault like they do on Everyone’s Invited”... we know there’s a lot to be done to not only empower young women, but also young men with the knowledge around the law and sex crimes, consent and healthy relationships.
So, when does ‘flanter’ (flirty banter) drift into the realm of sexual harassment?
Is there really such a fine line between the two or is this behaviour simply becoming more and more tolerated, trivialised and normalised in society?
Well, sexual harassment can look like this...
• sexual comments or jokes,
• unwelcome touching, hugging, massaging or kissing
• displaying sexually graphic pictures, posters or photos
• sexual gestures
• spreading sexual rumours about a person
• suggestive looks, staring or leering
• propositions and sexual advances
• making promises in return for sexual favours
• intrusive questions about a person’s private or sex life, and discussing your own sex life
• sexual posts or contact on social media
• sending sexually explicit messages/images on social media
• criminal behaviour, including sexual assault, stalking, indecent exposure and offensive communications.
Once upon a time pinging a bra strap, wolf-whistling, and smacking a person’s bum was considered positive attention... it meant that you’d been noticed and considered appealing to another. But in recent years women, in particular, have been reclaiming their agency, their rights, their bodies.
But, what about when two people are in a relationship together? Does this give unconditional permission to be sexually available at all times?
Spoiler alert... the answer is NO!
We need to know where love stops and abusive relationships start
1Research by Women’s Aid has found that a third of teenage girls have already been in an abusive relationship and when the remaining two-thirds were asked additional questions, it became apparent that 64% of them had experienced abusive behaviour, they just hadn’t realised it was abuse.
When delivering a workshop around healthy relationships to a co-ed group of year 10s we talked about ‘Gaslighting’ (when a person hurts you and blames you for it... when they make you question your sense of reality and doubt yourself). The responses were encouraging, yet chilling at the same time...
"I won't let him treat me in an unhealthy way any more"(age 14). How is it that 14 year olds are already experiencing abuse and toxic relationships at such a young age?
Perhaps the messages delivered via films / rom-coms are contributing to the hidden narrative being sold to our children? ‘Pursue the girl at all costs and you'll get her’.
• The Notebook - Noah threatening to kill himself to get a date with Allie
• Twilight - Edward repeatedly stalking Bella
• Friends - “lovable” Ross repeatedly showing excessive jealousy and ownership of Rachel.
Abusive behaviours can be seen as gestures of love, and rewarded with the couple reaching “happily ever after”, rather than experiencing, in reality, unhealthy/abusive relationships. Love and relationships require vulnerability. Educating people on abusive behaviours in relationships isn’t “the death of romance”... it’s about highlighting that abuse was never romantic in the first place.
Support and information about this topic can be found at the following sites:
Sex... Pleasure or Pressure? 2nd April 2022
SEX. It would be fair to say it’s everywhere, in some guise or another, woven into the intricate tapestry of society. Whether it’s on TV, in books, magazines, films or on social media. With such prevalence how can we ensure the matter of sex be one of pleasure, rather than pressure... a pressure that perhaps underlies every new encounter and relationship...a pressure to be the perfect partner, lover, or spouse?
Research has identified, of those interviewed, 44% of men and 52% of women said they were not ready to have sex the first time (BMJ study (2019)).
If first-time sex is rarely about sex, but rather about pressure, status and feeling accepted, how do we raise a generation of young people who recognise their worth and seek to have fulfilling sexual relationships when (and if) they decide to do so? And what about those who are asexual, experiencing little or no sexual desire, but enjoying intimate, romantic relationships? Or those who choose to delay sex, abstain, or choose to be celibate all of which are ok too?
If some children are accessing pornography as young as eight years old and therefore, have no point of reference, how will they ever know what healthy sex and relationships look like? In the 2021 Pornhub Year in Review statisticians, found that the popularity of searches containing ‘how to’ increased by 244% (over 200,000 videos on Pornhub are tagged ‘how to’). Perhaps this increase shows that people are looking to improve their sex lives and is a result of the fact that talking about sex and relationships has been taboo for so long, leaving people unsure as to where they need to go to learn about sex.
However, when violence, aggression and coercion are perceived and normalised as 'passion' within a sexual encounter, it is evident that the need for conversation, education and sensitivity is paramount. Learning about sex from pornography is like learning to drive by watching Mario Kart or The Fast and the Furious. Young people need a safe space and opportunity to be able to ask questions and become critical thinkers so they can identify the differences between what the media and pornography tell us sex and bodies ‘should’ look like and what healthy sex and relationships actually require.
So, how do you build and maintain sexual intimacy IRL?
The key to a fulfilling sex life is not necessarily trying different sex positions, experimenting with sex toys, watching pornography, or practising role play, as many internet searches will have people believe. Although these activities may assist some people, without the foundation of a deep emotional connection, they’re more of a ‘sticking-plaster’ solution. Sharing a deep bond with a partner builds sexual intimacy. Intimacy comes from friendship and romance, and from sexual intimacy comes sexual fulfilment.
There are several elements to developing that strong bond and ensuing sexual intimacy, including:
• Increasing physical affection – regularly engaging in non-sexual touching such as holding hands, hair stroking, or hugging creates connection and increases sexual intimacy and desire. But, of course, some people are less tactile than others and find too much touch overwhelming or uncomfortable (and that’s ok too), so finding a happy balance that works for both partners is essential.
(Check out www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/love-language to see what your love language is)
• Honest communication – couples who talk honestly and freely understand each other and gain mutual respect. Without second-guessing or misinterpretation, negative feelings don’t follow into the bedroom, where they can hinder pleasurable sex.
• Consent – The presence of consent dramatically determines whether a sexual experience is pleasurable or not. Without consent, the act is not only a criminal offence but will not be pleasurable for all involved. So, what is consent? ...it’s actually all about FRIES: Consent (or permission-giving/receiving) is:
So how do people communicate consent? Well, it can be verbal and non-verbal (body-language)... Just because you don’t hear a “no”, doesn’t mean the ‘green light’ has been given. *Silence*, *nervous giggle*, *changing the subject*... this is not consent (check out our video for more about this at https://youtu.be/jMFyK1pzl-I).
“No” means no, not “convince me”.
So what does consent sound like? It can sound like “Yes”, “That feels good”, “I'd like to...”, “It feels good when you . . .” It’s a process that must be entered into every step of the way; if you want to move to the next level of sexual intimacy, just ask.
• Emotional vulnerability – being able to acknowledge and express feelings openly with a partner creates a trust bond. Both parties should feel comfortable relaxing, exploring their sexuality, and enjoying their sexual relationship in this safe place.
• Prioritising each other – the demands of modern life can be all-consuming, leaving many with little or no time to consider their partner. So, when couples take the time to acknowledge each other’s presence and prioritise their needs, they demonstrate caring and help cement that deep bond.
• Positive affirmation – regularly sharing positive statements about each other removes negative or unhelpful thoughts and can generate positivity in the relationship. Nobody is perfect, so reminding ourselves of the great qualities of ourselves and our partner can help create a greater sense of satisfaction and happiness, often leading to greater sexual desire and pleasure.
• The three C’s... Communication, Consent, Contraception. Without communication (verbal or non-verbal), consent can’t be present and without contraception, unnecessary worries about STIs or unplanned pregnancy can dampen the mood!
The ingredients for enjoyable sex are there for all to utilise, if desired. The key is to recognise them and apply them consistently..
All we need is love? 4th March 2022
Our deepest emotional need is to feel loved. It’s in the depth of every human and can significantly affect our well-being if this need is not met. When we feel loved, we can cope with life’s ‘ups and downs’, and things generally feel a little bit more positive. However, when we don’t feel loved, we can feel lonely, rejected, unhappy and life can look pretty rubbish. Yet, it is possible to be loved, but not feel loved.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” (George Bernard Shaw)
Dr Gary Chapman defines five key methods in which love can be communicated between people (the 5 Love Languages):
1. Quality time – Uninterrupted time, one-on-one time is important
2. Acts of service – letting them know you’re available to help / complete tasks for the other person
3. Physical Touch – using non-verbal body language and touch to show love
4. Gifts – Thoughtfulness, prioritising the person.
5. Words of affirmation – encourages, affirms, shows appreciation
Communicating in a person's primary ‘love language’ can help them feel loved and speaking each other’s 'love language' can help build and maintain happy, healthy relationships. This not only applies to couples in romantic relationships, but also to relationships between parent-child, friends and colleagues.
Too often in our personal and professional lives, miscommunication happens and can lead to unnecessary frustration. Here are some common causes of poor communication:
1. Not listening effectively (thinking about your response, rather than listening to the person speaking).
2. Assuming you know what is about to be said before it’s actually said (creating a narrative in your head of how you think the conversation will go)
3. Interrupting (whether it’s accidental or not, it means that we subconsciously think what we need to say is, in fact, more important than the person who is already speaking)
4. Misunderstanding (jumping to conclusions and not clarifying the actual message)
5. Blaming (verbally ‘attacking’ the person rather than the behaviour)
6. Avoiding the issue (shoving the issue ‘under the carpet’ because it’s too painful/difficult/uncomfortable to talk about it)
But what if we:
1. ...are intentional when listening? (Consciously listen to the words and meaning of what is being said).
2. ... acknowledge we have two ears and one mouth for a reason? (Listen to understand, not to respond).
3. ... recognise that if someone is speaking to us it’s because they are wanting to share something? (No matter how mundane it may seem, try and view it as a gift that someone has chosen to give you).
4. ...reflect back what we think we’ve heard to clarify our understanding? (Avoiding misunderstandings and unnecessary hurt in the meantime)
5. ...recognise that there is always an emotion behind a behaviour? (Looking out for the emotion behind the behaviour/what is being said can help us better understand the true message that's being communicated)
6. ...address the 'elephant in the room' instead of letting the frustration build up inside? (Preventing unnecessary future damage to the relationship)
Click here to see some of the student feedback received following one of our Healthy Relationships workshops (including the importance of communciation).
So what's your ‘Love Language?
Why not find out and take the quiz today ... www.5lovelanguages.com
#communicationiskey #5lovelanguages #investineachother
Pornography... a Public Health Crisis? 3rd February 2022
Whether you consider this question to be about trivia or truth, it’s a topic that can’t be avoided in this digital age. Long gone are the days when it took courage (and height) to walk into the local newsagents, reach the top shelf and purchase an X-rated magazine. Over time, with the advancement of technology, there’s now accessible porn 24/7... an amount that is too much to watch in a lifetime. Porn sites attract more visitors each month than Amazon, Netflix, and Twitter combined.
Whether we like it, or not young people are growing up in a sexualised society that normalises pornography with (1)81% of adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18 having seen pornography. Baroness Kidron, who chairs the children’s safety group the 5 Rights Foundation, says: (2)“Frictionless access to online pornography is not an equivalent to the hazy memories of men who once read a soft porn mag behind the cricket shed. It is a multibillion industry delivering eye-watering violence towards women and girls, delivered by a tech sector proven to be driven by profit and with a willful disregard for children’s safety and wellbeing.”
The adolescent brain
Young people go through significant social, cognitive, biological, and psychological changes during their teenage years. (3)Anything that interrupts healthy development can result in young people being more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. After all, porn is rated 18+ for a reason...the prefrontal cortex (the thinking, rational, logical part of the brain) is not fully developed in teenagers so their judgement is likely to be impaired when watching behaviours depicted in porn and may believe this is what is expected in sexual encounters. In addition to Increased levels of sexual aggression, low self-esteem and poor body image, impotency is no longer an ‘old’ mans’ problem. Erectile dysfunction in young men is now a reality. (4)Watching porn has a neurological impact on the brain, which in turn can have negative physical and emotional consequences to the individual and their relationships.
Understanding the 'Why?'
There are a variety of reasons why someone might watch pornography...Novelty (What weird things might we see?); Nudity (for titillation / comparing self with others); Pleasure/outlet for masturbation; Sex education, Boredom, Peer Pressure, No fear of rejection if interacting with porn (no need to be vulnerable or risk getting hurt); Relationships require work, porn is about consumerism and is therefore easy (it feeds the consumer-culture of one-way gratification).
So, what’s the problem with mainstream porn?
Learning about sex from porn is like learning to drive by watching ‘The Fast and the Furious’, or ‘Mario Kart’. It’s never going to end well! In porn, there's no real reference to consent, contraception, intimacy, communication or foreplay. It creates a sense of entitlement with whoever, whenever, however (no consent) and can include the use of child sexual abuse images.
Furthermore, porn performers are paid to look like they're enjoying extreme versions of sex, but they are only acting. Sure, not everyone in mainstream porn may have been forced against their will, but how do you know? Porn depicts sexual aggression and yet female performers are paid to appear to be enjoying it – they are paid to ‘act the part’. How can you tell if what you're seeing is genuinely consensual - both at the time of the act and to the availability of the video thereafter?
The messages projected from mainstream porn include narrow gender stereotypes (body shape, size, body hair); Misogyny and violence against women (content is increasingly more violent compared to 50 years ago, (5)88% of scenes in top rented and downloaded porn include violence against women.
If this is sex education for so many in today’s society, then it’s hardly surprising that a person's first sexual experience (based on porn) can cause anxiety, fear and a pressure to perform in a certain way based on porn's unrealistic portrayal of what sex 'should' be like, especially if there’s no frame of reference. First time sexual experience based on porn takes away the choice of being kind, loving, gentle...very confusing for those trying to learn about sex from porn!
‘Planet Porn v Planet Earth’ - the things mainstream porn doesn’t show us...
• Struggling to take trousers off.
• Erectile dysfunction.
• Pets watching.
• Sex with socks on.
• Leg cramps.
• Needing a wee.
• Struggling to put the condom on.
• Peeing after sex.
• ‘Queeffs’ (an audible release of air from the vagina, typically during or after sex)
• Running to get the loo roll.
• Emotional releases...such as crying.
• Stretchmarks and scars.
• Changing your mind halfway through.
• Awkward position changes.
• Having difficulty getting in the mood.
What would happen if we simply accepted this reality as a beautiful collection of vulnerable, honest, and sometimes funny exchanges between intimate partners? Maybe, we would discover a depth of fulfilment, safety and pleasure that is unexpected and wonderful. (6)Research shows that couples who do not watch porn have stronger, healthier, more faithful relationships and experience higher sexual satisfaction.
So what can we do?
Tips for parents:
1. Don’t panic! You’re not alone... (7)75% of parents surveyed felt that their child would NOT have seen porn online. However, of their children, 53% said they had in fact seen it.
2. Responding in a shame-free way can help promote open dialogue and show you are a trusted adult who is there to provide support. Help them to develop critical thinking skills so they feel empowered to make healthy, informed decisions when it comes to their experience of sex and relationships.
We can’t kill human curiosity, so maybe there needs to be a greater focus on providing positive messages to young people regarding relationships and sex and acknowledging that curiosity is perfectly normal, but that there are safer places to learn about sex, relationships, and bodies.
When a healthy relationship consists of honesty, trust, respect, and consent (not a one-way relationship), a counter-narrative to porn’s distortion of sex could be to empower young people to recognise they deserve and have the right to experience healthy relationships and... that sex is designed to be enjoyed in a loving, safe, respectful way, whilst also recognising that it’s perfectly valid to delay having sex until you are ready, or not have sex at all (not everyone experiences sexual desire and that’s ok too).
More information about this topic can be found at the following sites:
• Culture reframed www.culturereframed.org
• Fightthenewdrug.org - https://fightthenewdrug.org/resources/#get-help
• Childline 0800 1111 (phone or webchat) www.childline.org.uk
• Thinkuknow www.thinkuknow.co.uk
2 https://www.thenational.scot/news/national/19882371.online-porn-normalises-behaviours-not-appropriate-wooing-woman-warns-peer/ (Accessed 4/2/22)
3 https://www.culturereframed.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/CR-Mental-Health.pdf (Accessed 5/2/22)
4 https://enough.org/stats-impact-on-the-brain (Accessed 5/2/22)
5 https://www.culturereframed.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/CR-The-Problem.pdf (Accessed 5/2/22)
7 British Board of Film Classification, September 2019
'Gaslighting' - the hidden abuse? 17th January 2022
Gaslighting is sometimes so gently, subtly executed, you could miss it. A form of psychological abuse, gaslighting is a manipulation technique used to make you doubt yourself, your memory, or your sense of reality.
The term gaslighting comes from Gas Light, a 1938 stage play, in which a husband tries to make his wife think she's losing her mind so he can commit her to a mental institution and steal her inheritance. So he dims the gas-powered lights in their home, and when his wife points it out, denies that the light changed.
Gaslighting is a highly effective form of emotional abuse that causes the victim to doubt their feelings or sanity. The abusive partner may say things like "You're crazy, I never said that" or "That never happened", deliberately misleading the victim and creating a false narrative. Gradually the victim loses their sense of reality and starts to question their sanity, which plays further into the hands of the abuser.
This form of abuse can happen in any type of relationship and at any age, but is most common in romantic partnerships. Click here to see some of the impact our Healthy Relationship Workshops have on young people.
Gaslighting techniques include:
Withholding: the abuser refuses to listen or pretends not to understand.
Countering: the abusive partner questions the other's memory of an event.
Blocking/diverting: the abuser changes the subject or questions the victim's thinking.
Trivialising: the abusive partner makes the victim feel that their needs or feelings are unimportant.
Forgetting/denial: the manipulator pretends to have forgotten what actually happened or denies something they had agreed to.
Discrediting: the abuser spreads rumours and gossip about the victim, often pretending to be worried about them but telling others that they are emotionally unstable.
Blaming: the abusive partner twists every situation to blame the other person.
Of significant concern with this type of abuse is that the victim loses all sense of reality and so becomes unaware of the manipulation. Once the victim loses the ability to trust their perceptions, they're more likely to stay in the abusive relationship. Therefore, it's essential to be aware of the signs, which include:
• You feel confused, and like you're losing your mind.
• You have trouble making decisions and second-guess yourself.
• You're constantly apologising to your partner.
• You're afraid to speak up or express your opinion.
• You feel alone and powerless.
• You worry that you're too sensitive.
• You feel as though everything you do is wrong.
• You feel inadequate and wonder what's wrong with you.
• You feel an impending sense of doom.
• You start lying to avoid the putdowns and reality twists.
• You don't feel like the person you used to be.
If you identify with any of the signs above, we urge you to speak to someone you trust and seek help... (https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk).
Healthy versus toxic relationships 10th December 2021
As human beings, we crave relationships with others. And stable and healthy relationships are vital to our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Yet all too often, a seemingly healthy romantic relationship can be quite the opposite. Unfortunately, for young people especially, it can be hard to discern the difference and know when a relationship is destructive to their needs.
Sometimes a relationship may start well and gradually deteriorate over time. The changes might be subtle, so the partnership becomes increasingly toxic without either party realising what is happening. It's essential to be aware of what we term the ‘red flags’, (those signs that things might not be as well as we want to believe).
Characteristics of a toxic or unhealthy relationship
Control - one partner makes all the decisions and tells the other what to do.
Coercion – pressure to do something you don’t want to do (this can be very subtle)
Fear – one partner may make the other feel fearful or timid
Gas-lighting – when a person hurts you and blames you for it. Gradually undermining your self-confidence and sense of reality.
Dishonesty - one partner lies to or withholds information from the other.
Distrust – one partner distrusts the other and can be possessive or jealous when their partner spends time away from them.
Hostility - one partner is antagonistic and picks fights with the other.
Disrespect - one partner doesn't respect their partner's boundaries and may mock them (the only people who get upset when you set boundaries, are those who benefited from you having none in the first place).
Dependence – one partner becomes so dependent on the other that they cannot exist without their partner.
Isolation – one partner may become cut off from friends and family as the controlling partner deliberately removes their support system.
Physical, emotional or sexual abuse - one partner is abusive towards the other. Relationship abuse can be physical, verbal, emotional, financial or sexual.
A healthy relationship is the opposite – you trust one another, have mutual respect, support each other, enjoy lives away from one another, communicate together and enjoy consensual physical intimacy.
How do we have healthy relationships?
Knowing our values, attitudes, and the kind of relationship we desire can help avoid 'red flag' relationships. By being aspirational in our thinking and remaining true to ourselves, we can discover safe, healthy relationships with others.
At rePHRASE, we empower young people to understand their right to have healthy and safe relationships. We educate them about the value of self-worth and respect alongside the characteristics of healthy and toxic relationships so they can confidently develop healthy and fulfilling relationships.
Championing the body beautiful 15th November 2021
Body parts come in all shapes, sizes and colours, yet living in today’s society, that’s hard to believe. Body image is how we think and feel about ourselves physically and how we imagine others see us. Our perception of our bodies is predominantly influenced by what we see around us.
So the perfectly curated beings that flout before us online, on TV, in magazines and in films dispel any notion that this idealised image isn’t the norm.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that we feel immense pressure to look a certain way, often experiencing self-loathing when we don’t. And for our young people dealing with adolescence and associated body changes while learning how to navigate life, these feelings are exacerbated.
A negative body image can adversely impact a young person in many ways. For example, low self-esteem, a lack of confidence, increased levels of anxiety, depression, critical self-thoughts, social isolation, eating disorders, and self-harming behaviour are all possible consequences of body dissatisfaction.
By allowing these unrealistic body ideals to influence young people, we’re setting them up for a lifetime of misery.
What’s the solution?
Young people need help understanding that the images of beauty they regularly see before them aren’t real. It’s time to dispel the perfection myth, stop comparisons to the impossible dream and celebrate uniqueness.
How do we achieve this?
• Talking openly with our young people.
• Educating adolescents about unrealistic appearance ideals, what genuine body parts look like, and how social media and celebrity culture distort our real-life views.
• Encouraging young people to celebrate their unique selves.
If we can influence young people to cherish their bodies, regardless of size, shape and colour, we’ll empower a next generation of happy and confident people.