Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Intimate relationships, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 10 August 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Intimate relationships. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/intimate-relationships
Intimate relationships. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 June 2021, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/intimate-relationships
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Intimate relationships [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 Aug. 10]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/intimate-relationships
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Intimate relationships, viewed 10 August 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/intimate-relationships
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How many 16–17 year olds are in a relationship?
How satisfied are young people with their relationship?
Responsible sexual behaviours
Unwanted sexual behaviours
Developing an intimate relationship is an important development stage during late adolescence and early adulthood. Several factors can affect the quality of these relationships:
Establishing respectful relationships and healthy attitudes in adolescence and young adulthood is also important for the broader community. Attitudes that condone or tolerate violence play a central role in shaping how individuals, organisations and communities respond to it (Politoff et al. 2019).
Young people are a specific focus under The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022. The delivery of respectful relationships programs in schools and other youth settings are an important part of addressing violence against women and children.
This section looks at how many young people are in intimate relationships, how they feel about them (including sexual experiences) and, more broadly, what their knowledge is of respectful relationships (Box 1). For information on family, domestic and sexual violence and on sexual assault see Crime and violence.
The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) is a major study, which began in 2004 and follows the development of Australian children. The survey collects information on physical and mental health; education; and social, cognitive and emotional development. The data are sourced from parents, child carers, educators and the children themselves.
Population estimates from the LSAC represent the population of Australian children born in Australia between March 2003 and February 2004 (B cohort) and those born between March 1999 and February 2000 (K cohort). These 2 cohorts of children totalled more than 10,000 children at the outset of the study in 2004. (Data are not representative of children who migrated to Australia.)
The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) study is a nationally representative longitudinal household study that began in 2001. It follows the lives of more than 17,000 Australians, over the course of their life. The survey collects information on many aspects of life in Australia, including household and family relationships, intimate relationships, income and employment, and health and education. The same households and individuals are interviewed every year, to see how their lives are changing over time. The survey follows not only the initial sample members for the remainder of their lives, but also their children and all subsequent descendants. While the HILDA includes variables to support the disaggregation of data by remoteness and socioeconomic areas, findings were not statistically significant, and so are not reported in this section. This may in part be due to small sample sizes.
The ABS Personal Safety Survey (PSS) collects information from women and men aged 18 and over about the nature and extent of violence they may have experienced since the age of 15. Sexual harassment is considered to have occurred when a person has experienced or been subjected to 1 or more selected behaviours they found improper or unwanted and that made them feel uncomfortable, and/or were offensive due to their sexual nature (ABS 2017).
The National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health aims to provide information on:
Data are collected from a diverse cross-sectional convenience sample. The results of the survey should be seen as a good indication of the knowledge, behaviour and educational experiences of secondary students in Australia, but results do not constitute a representative sample (Fisher et al. 2019).
The National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) collects information with a representative sample of Australians aged 16 and over. The survey sample for young people aged 16–24 was 1,761. Data were collected on young people’s understanding of (and attitudes towards) violence against women, attitudes towards gender equality, what influences their attitude, and whether they are prepared to intervene when witnessing abuse or disrespect towards women.
Findings from LSAC research showed that, in 2016, among young people aged 16–17:
Based on data from the HILDA, in 2018, young people aged 15–24 were, on average, very satisfied with their relationship with their partners. On a scale of 0 to 10, the average satisfaction score was 8.5.
Based on findings from the 2018 National Survey of Secondary Students and Sexual Health, among students from Years 10, 11 and 12, just under half (47%) reported ever having engaged in sexual intercourse; for the purposes of the study, these students were considered to be sexually active. Of these participants:
males were more likely than females to report having always used a condom in the previous 12 months (45% and 35%, respectively) (Fisher et al. 2019).
The proportion of males who engaged in sexually unwanted behaviours towards someone else was significantly higher among those who had viewed pornography for the first time before the age of 13 than among those who had never viewed pornography (24% compared with 7%) (Warren & Swami 2019).
Based on the Personal Safety Survey 2016, among young people aged 18–24:
Data on attitudes to gender equality in relationships are available from the NCAS (Box 2).
Adolescence and young adulthood is a time when gender identities, roles and relationships are being formed. Supporting young people to establish positive gender expressions and relationship practices can help to reduce the risk of violence and abuse in the present, prevent future harm and maximise the prospects of a violence‑free environment for future generations (Politoff et al. 2019).
Findings from The National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) for 2017 showed that among young people aged 16–24:
In relation to the condoning of male peer relations involving aggression and disrespect towards women, in 2017:
In relation to the circumstances in which young people justify non-consensual sex:
For information on topics related to intimate relationships in Australia’s youth, such as:
For more detailed information on:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Personal Safety Survey, Australia: user guide, 2016. ABS cat no. 4906.0.55.003. Canberra: ABS.
Fisher CM, Waling A, Kerr L, Bellamy R, Ezer P, Mikolajczak G, Brown G, Carman M & Lucke J 2019. 6th National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2018. ARCSHS Monograph Series no. 113. Bundoora: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University.
Gómez-López M, Viejo C & Ortega-Ruiz R 2019. Well-Being and Romantic Relationships: A Systematic Review in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 16:2415.
Politoff V, Crabbe M, Honey N, Mannix S, Mickle J, Morgan J, Parkes A, Powell A, Stubbs J, Ward A & Webster K 2019. Young Australians’ attitudes to violence against women and gender equality: findings from the 2017 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS). Sydney: Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety Limited.
Shulman S & Connolly J 2013. The Challenge of Romantic Relationships in Emerging Adulthood: Reconceptualization of the Field. Emerging Adulthood. 2013:1(1).
Warren D & Swami N 2019. Teenagers and sex. In: Daraganova G & Joss N (eds). Growing up in Australia—the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Annual Statistical Report 2018. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Xia M, Fosco GM, Lippold MA & Feinberg ME 2018. A Developmental Perspective on Young Adult Romantic Relationships: Examining Family and Individual Factors in Adolescence. J Youth Adolesc. 47:7.
For general technical notes relating to this report, see also Methods.
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