‘Like fumbling around in the dark’: Young people’s perceptions and realities of healthy relationships

Sophie G.E. Kedzior, Vivienne M. Moore, Nathan Manning, Tassia K. Oswald, Helen Calabretto, Zohra S. Lassi, Alice R. Rumbold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Learning to negotiate relationships is a key feature of adolescence, yet insight into young people’s perspectives on what constitutes healthy relationships is lacking. In this study, therefore, insights were sought on healthy relationship qualities, common issues encountered, and relevant educational experiences. Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 18 young people (11 self-identified as female, 5 male, and 2 trans/gender-diverse) aged 14–20 years, residing in Adelaide, South Australia. Relationships with parents, siblings, peers and intimate partners were topics for discussion. Reflexive thematic analysis was utilised to generate codes and themes. The Five Cs of Positive Youth Development were used to aid understanding of findings. Young people’s accounts suggested a disjuncture between desired relationship qualities, realities and education on relationships and sexual health. Young people articulated tensions navigating peer norms and societal expectations in relation to dating and sex, including unrealistic representations, gender stereotyping and strong ‘sexpectations’. Participants in this study relied more heavily on personal experience and observation than formal education to develop an understanding of healthy relationships. Achieving healthy relationships was generally perceived to be complex and requiring skills or understanding informants were unsure about. Positive Youth Development could provide a framework for meeting the needs expressed by young people, notably by building communication skills, confidence and agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-107
Number of pages15
JournalCulture, Health and Sexuality
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 2024


  • Interpersonal relationships
  • adolescents
  • peers
  • romantic relationships
  • sex education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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