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Young People Don’t Think That Their Relationships Are Represented in Mainstream Media

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Youth charity The Mix are releasing data from a new YouGov survey of 2,000 16–25-year olds across the UK, which shows the variety of relationship types that young people are having, and the wide range of sexual identities, yet also shows that a third of young people disagree that the media represents their relationships.

What kinds of relationships are young people having?

  • 51% of young people are single.
  • 11% are in non-romantic/non-monogamous relationships including:
  • 5% in casual relationships
  • 3% in open relationships
  • 3% in asexual relationships
  • 2% in polyamorous or other relationships

67% of young people want to see more honest representations of the complexity of relationships, rather than what they perceive to be idealised versions. Close to half of young people (44%) believe they would feel more confident if there were more varied representations of relationships shown in mainstream media.

Young gay and lesbian people are particularly impacted by lack of representation; this group were the most likely to agree that they would feel more confident if there were more varied representations of relationships shown in mainstream media (81%). 65% of young bisexual people also agreed with this. 

With regards to relationship types, young people in open relationships, asexual relationships  and casual relationships are more likely to feel confident if there were a wider range of relationships shown in the media (65%, 57% and 51%, respectively).

When it comes to family support and acceptance, 45% of young people in asexual relationships and 37% in casual relationships do not feel their families are a support system during challenges.

Quotes from anonymous survey respondents

I’m bisexual, so I have trouble with homophobic family members sometimes. I haven’t come out to a lot of them because I’m worried about their reactions, so I let myself pass as “straight”.’ 

‘I’m pansexual and I think my older relatives don’t really understand what that means.’

‘I feel uncomfortable around my family when they say homophobic things without knowing that I am a closeted lesbian.’

The Mix believes that improved representation may lead to better support from families, who may not currently understand or accept the identity or relationship choices of the young person they care for. Previous studies in the UK have shown that LGBTQ+ young people are often rejected by their family and community support networks and The Mix’s survey shows that 40% of young people who identified as gay or lesbian disagree that they feel comfortable being themselves around their families.

The most significant factors affecting relationships with family members among gays or lesbians are sexuality (60%) and gender identity (13%). In contrast, young heterosexual people are the least likely to feel uncomfortable being themselves around their families, with 85% claiming their families support their goals. They are also far more likely to feel comfortable with their own identity (84%) than young gay, lesbian or bisexual people.

The Mix believes this needs to change and that by representing more diverse and complex relationships in the media, it will improve awareness and allow families to gain and show more understanding and acceptance.

What needs to change?  

The Mix is calling for the UK media to take this data seriously and address the lack of representation of the reality of young people’s relationships within mainstream film, TV and advertising. They want to see real diversity of relationships across all media channels, which will allow young people and their families to see their relationships portrayed as ‘normal’ and healthy, leading to greater levels of acceptance and support.

The Mix also wants to point young people and those who care for them in the direction of existing services they can turn to for support on relationship issues, such as the counselling, helplines, support articles and peer-to-peer support that The Mix offers. The Mix wants young people to know they are there to listen and support them, no matter what kind of relationships they are having.   

To help address this, The Mix are launching a Relationships Campaign, led by insights from young people via co-design sessions and the YouGov survey. It will include a youth-led social campaign and a range of article and video content offering expert guidance on navigating relationships, forming news ones and building self-acceptance and self-esteem. The campaign will also include relationship-focused discussions, as well as a weekly watch club, where young people can come together to discuss the difficult relationship themes in critically acclaimed shows such as Euphoria on streaming service NOW.

Zoe Bailie, deputy CEO at The Mix: ‘This important new research is a startling reminder that young people are struggling to get their voices heard and true lives represented in mainstream media. The underrepresentation of the LGBTQIA+ community and young people in less “conventional” relationships is having a huge impact on their mental health and self-esteem.

‘We are delighted to be working on a campaign to help represent and celebrate the many different kinds of relationships young people are having. We believe this will also improve family relationships by leading to more acceptance and understanding. The Mix will continue to support all young people and we are calling for more media platforms to take this issue seriously.’

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