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Psychology

Times of cholera in love

Adolescent lovers use violence as a form of communication

CAETO MELO“There are always conflicting reactions: commitment vs. non-commitment; long duration vs. short duration; sexual intimacy vs. sexual superficiality; emotional involvement vs. non-emotional involvement, and exclusivity vs. betrayal,” assesses the researcher. “However, if machismo persists as a long-lasting (anti) value, there are changes brought about by women who put themselves in a position of partners who are capable of questioning and proposing new relationship modalities. Many adopt so-called male behavior, like physical and verbal aggression,” observes Maria Cecília, even in the case of sex. “Boys use romantic strategies for having sex with partners, using arguments that it would be a ‘proof of love’. Many girls reproduce subjugation values, but a not insignificant number of them take the initiative and test the boys’ sexuality, by humiliating those who don’t want to have sex with them,” she adds. “Going with someone” has brought something new to homosexuals and bisexuals, too: 3% and 1% of the young boys, respectively, assumed this behavior. “For young men who engage in these relations, ‘going with someone’ serves as experimentation and confirmation of sexual option. Because they are less public ‘going with’ relationships generate less suspicion and minimize rejection, sexual harassment and violence until the young person is secure in his or her sexual orientation,” notes Simone. However, despite the renewed discourse of the young people who say they “adore gay friends,” the reality is that the prejudice of old times remains and is a source of bullying between colleagues.

Another ally of “going with someone” is the Internet, seen as a freer space and one of greater communication for organizing encounters, expanding the possibility of experimenting relationships and a way of knowing the partner better, getting closer and establishing firm friendships. Still, not even this modern tool manages to put an end to the natural fuel of fights: jealousy, considered by young people as something natural between people who love each other. This includes the famous “shouting”: some teenage girls use this strategy to avoid subjugation, adopting an aggressive posture before the young boys do so. In turn, unlike what women think, boys consider that shouting does not solve relationship problems. In this there is a worrisome fact. “We saw that the young man who is the victim of verbal violence in the partnership has 2.6 times more chance of having suffered this type of aggression from his parents, compared with those who have suffered no form of violence,” says Kathie. “Teenagers chose the family as the main reference point for emotional-sexual relationships. The data reveal, however, that teenagers rarely seek help in situations of violence in relationships and only 3.5% of them said they looked for professional help because of aggression caused by the partner.” For Kathie, professionals in schools and friends need to be informed to help in the process.

Aggression
“A large part of the boys and girls consider verbal and physical aggression to be normal in solving their love conflicts. Breaking with these practices implies questioning certain models of existence instituted in the social field. It is important to question the mechanical association of characteristics held to be universal when ‘being a man’ and ‘being a woman’, and to criticize the disqualification of one gender in favor of valuing the other,” advises the researcher. Patterns of emotional-sexual violence tend to be reproduced because they are structural and structuring. “Very little is done with regard to this violence between young people and teenagers. They are used to remaining in their own worlds; schools generally do not get involved in the matter because they consider this is not within their remit. Parents either do not have the time or do not really follow the lives of their children and the tendency is to reproduce family and group patterns, analyzes Maria Cecília, according to whom there is an over-valuing of models of consumption, beauty, competitiveness and power, to the detriment of other models. This is largely fueled by the media and causes a crisis of values in society. “Youth reflects these values in many ways. But I tend to think that young people today, in the midst of deep and fast-moving changes, are no worse than those in our time, either ideologically or from the social commitment point of view,” believes the author. “On the contrary: as always they are here to move in a new direction in the world and surprise us, as has been happening politically in various countries in the world”; in the opposite direction to our parents, fortunately.

CAETO MELOThe chorus of the song by Belchior is renewed in every generation as a curse without antidote “My pain is to perceive/ that despite having done all that we did / We’re still the same and live with our parents.” This is what is revealed in the research Violence among teenage lovers (now launched as a book Amor e violência, [Love and violence] by Editora Fiocruz), carried out between 2007 and 2010 at the request of the Jorge Careli Latin American Center for Studies in Violence and Health (Claves/Fiocruz) and coordinated by Kathie Njaine, a professor in the Department of Public Health at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC). The project brought together a group of 11 researchers from various universities to investigate violence in emotional-sexual relations when “going with someone,” or dating, between young people from 15 to 19, from a universe of 3200 students in state and private schools in 10 Brazilian capitals. “Young people today, at the same time as they recreate new ways and means of having relationships with each other, in which ‘going with” and use of the Internet for loving and sexual interaction are new, they repeat and reproduce traditional and conservative relational models, like machismo and the feeling of possession, expressed in their words and their dealings with male and female partners,” says the researcher; and perhaps they do it even more intensely than their parents did.

In practical terms, nine out of ten young people who are dating practice or suffer from various forms of violence; to mark their territory young couples resort to violence to control their partners and aggression has become synonymous with domain in the loving relations of these teenagers. “I think this violence is becoming a means of communication between young people, who alternate the roles of victim and author depending on the moment and the environment in which they live. These acts are becoming trivial to the point of being naturally incorporated into their daily lives, without any reflection on what this might mean for their emotional-sexual lives,” observes Kathie. “Teenagers adopt violence in varying degrees ever earlier and begin to think this is very natural. They believe that in order to have control of the relationship and of the partner it is necessary to use violence.” Belchior continues to state prophetically that the “new always comes,” even though not always on a positive register. According to the study, girls are at the same time both the biggest aggressors and the biggest victims of verbal violence and in the category of physical aggression, which includes slaps, hair-pulling, pushing, punches and kicks, the numbers reveal that men are more often the victim than women: 28.5% of the latter said they physically abuse their partners; 16.8% of the boys confessed the same. In terms of sexual violence the expected happens although there are surprises: 49% of the men report they practice this type of aggression, while 32.8% of the girls admit the behavior. Curiously, in the opinion of 22% of the young people of both sexes, violence is the main problem in the world today, far ahead of hunger and poverty. Who said that coherence is the strong point of young people?

This is equally reflected in the practices that young people at home hate in their parents, like constantly controlling their habits and the way they dress. To dominate their partners teenagers seek to control the behavior of the other, the clothes they wear, the names in the diary or the cell phone, access to virtual relationship networks and the people to whom they talk. “As if this were not enough a new element is arising: the threat of defamation of the other by disclosing intimate photos on the cell phone or over the Internet were strategies that young people mentioned they use to try and avoid the end of the loving relationship, especially the young men,” says the psychologist and researcher from Fiocruz, Maria Cecília de Souza Minayo, who organized the study with Kathie. Violence with a threatening tone (causing fear, threatening, hurting or destroying something of value) affects 24.2% of the young people, a dirty game perpetuated by 29.2% of those interviewed. According to the data, 33.3% of the young girls admit that they threaten their partners, compared with 22.6% of the boys. “The numbers are close. Everything suggests a cycle of victimization and perpetration. The permanent experiences of aggressive situations translate into a stimulus for conflict in relations and in learning the use of violence to obtain power and frighten others. This behavior, both learned and accepted, interferes with the place that the young person will occupy in the social network and with their performance in emotional and sexual relationships,” observes Dr. Simone Gonçalves de Assis, a researcher at Claves/Fiocruz and another of the project’s organizers.

Emotions
“The complex thing is that there is an identity that goes beyond regions and social classes when we observe the behavior of the young people from these ten capitals. There is also a similarity between students from the public and private education systems. In emotional relationships young people draw one’s attention more to the similarities than to any eventual divergent aspects,” notes Kathie. One aspect that brings together everything is the new format of contemporary loving relationships. “They’re more provisional and temporary. Since the 1980s the expression ‘going with’ has been widely used by young people to characterize an attraction without any great commitment, which may involve anything from kissing to sexual relations,” observes Maria Cecília. In “going with” someone, note the researchers, love is not a requirement and implies a love apprenticeship, a type of test for a possible love relationship that is seen as more “serious” and, above all, more public, symbolizing the entry of the young person into the adult scene, with visits to the partner’s parents, planning time together and a feeling of greater strength in the relationship. “It is, however, all very nebulous and many young people say that after ‘going with someone’ they don’t know if they’re seriously dating or not,” says the author. In both states, there is jealousy and the desire to control the other. “Because of the imminence of being accused of jealousy, mistrust and betrayal in loving relationships, many young men and girls justify their preference for “going with someone,” as being a relationship in which supposedly there are no ties and less risk of falling in love and being disappointed,” notes Kathie. In the words of one interviewee: “I don’t trust anyone. I might think, I’m not going to betray her but no one knows what’s happening with her.”

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