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Adolescent Love Evolves: From Yearning To Exploration

For many teenagers today, the rules and taboos of love have disappeared. They see it as territory for sexual — and bisexual — discoveries, not a quest for a partner.

A sticker on the back of a marcher's jeans reads 'live under your own rules' and he carries a condom in his back pocket during the 17th annual gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual pride festival and march in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina
A sticker on the back of a marcher's jeans reads 'live under your own rules' and he carries a condom in his back pocket during the 17th annual gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual pride festival and march in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina
María Florencia Pérez

BUENOS AIRES — Spontaneous, open and diverse: This is how today's teenagers could describe their sexual relations. Their grandparents' unending, chaste courtships seem implausible, while their parents' "boy-meets-girl" format is just an option. They reject gender stereotypes, defend the right to follow their desires and freely experiment with intimate relationships outside the heterosexual norm. Spontaneity prevails over forced commitments.

Fifteen-year-old Jean Paul Rimbaud uses inclusive language and is perfectly at ease with gender theory jargon. He has no qualms donning a skirt or wearing makeup, even if adults around him react in "aggressive" or "inappropriate" ways. This secondary-school pupil realizes there is an abyss between the adolescence that his parents lived almost four decades ago and his present experience, in which he can openly declare himself bisexual. It is "another world today. Their ideas were set in stone. They didn't question many issues that now are no longer taken for granted."

Jean Paul's awareness about his sexuality began at his secondary school. It was a private school, he says, "which did not give me the tools to see life from a different perspective. Sex-ed classes were limited to teaching boys to put on a condom and taking girls to the other room to talk about menstruation. In that context, it was difficult for me to think my feelings for someone of the same sex were alright." This changed when he switched to a public school with participatory sessions, which helped him change his views: "I can feel attracted by a woman, a male or a non-binary person, and you're not heterosexual just for being a boy. Sexuality changes and is built over time."

Mara, 15, says she began to like her girl friend at the age of 12, but found it difficult within her "closed surroundings' to consider that normal. "Later, I realized I do not like boys... last year I changed school and found that my new classmates were much more open about the issue. I reckon that at least 20% of our class identifies itself as bisexual, including people I would never have guessed might be interested in someone of the same sex."

A growing number of teenagers identify themselves as bisexual.

There are a growing number of teenagers identifying themselves as bisexual in public, private, secular and religious schools. Such changes may be in part due to the current feminist discourse, which says gender is not biological but a socio-cultural construction. Joaquín Linne, an academic at the public research body Conicet, says Women's Day and Gay Pride marches, "among others have contributed to creating greater awareness and connections among diverse groups, with an exchange of information, advice and strategies." Moreover, as a result of a 2006 law that makes sexual education compulsory in schools, such topics are being discussed more widely.

But psychoanalyst and author Luciano Lutereau believes that teenage bisexuality is no novelty. "Homoeroticism was treated in other ways in the past, for example through relations with "best friends'," which he says included physical sex of differing intensity. Today's sexual stance among teenagers should not be considered "conclusive," he says.

Men kissing at the annual Gay Pride parade in Buenos Aires, ArgentinaPhoto: Gay Travel 4u via Twitter

Till A Moment Do Us Part...

Most teenagers are questioning ideas of permanent or "eternal" love, exclusivity or the dramatic "first love" at school. Many prefer multiple and simultaneous experiences, not one that implies loss of personal freedom. Last year, 14-year-old Daiana Ormachea began going out with a girl from her religious school in the Almagro district of Buenos Aires. "She came home and even met my parents. But we just went out for two months as there were problems almost immediately," she says. Infidelity appeared to be the cause. "It's so difficult to find someone who wants a serious relationship, and it doesn't matter if they identify as hetero, homo or bisexual," she says. "Everyone wants to have fun, go out and in one night make out with various girls and boys."

There is jealousy, competition, calls for attention and exclusivity or the need or desire to create a couple.

Open, fleeting relationships appear to be models that transcend sexual identity — as do tensions. "There is jealousy, competition, calls for attention and exclusivity or the need or desire to create a couple," says Linne, from Conicet. What one can observe in many youngsters, he says, is "this ambivalence between the traditional vision of enduring, romantic love (the love of their parents and grandparents) and the post-modern vision of "liquid" relations, untied to any contract, label or commitment, since these are associated with losing personal autonomy or freedom."

Parents are always concerned by their children's first sexual or intimate encounters. Jean Paul says he had to sit down with his parents to explain several things to them. "Now they know how to name me for example, because adults are quite basic when it comes to talking. Some even ask the most condescending questions like, "so what are you?". So you have to help them to learn. Dialogue is very important because they grew up in a culture that was very different to ours."

Lara also believes adults have "misconceptions." She began talking to her family members about her experiences last year, after seeing the soap opera 100 Days to Fall in Love, which showed a transgender teenager's transition in a surprisingly understanding family. Mass media, including social networks, have undoubtedly brought the broad public closer to non-hegemonic gender themes.

But this broadening of personal problems into the public sphere has also undermined the authority of parents, and their ability to help, says psychoanalyst Lutereau. "Accompanying a young person means recovering the transformative and creative dimension of adolescence, without judging it, letting us change ourselves as parents," he says. "That is if we can give up being parents of a child, and we can accept being the parents of a child who is no longer a child."

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For Seniors, Friendship May Be More Important Than Family

Even if the aging and elderly tend to wind up confined to family circles, Argentine academics Laura Belli and Danila Suárez explore the often untapped benefits of friendship in our later years.

Photograph of two elderly women and an elderly man walking arm in arm. Behind the, there are adverts for famous football players.

Two elderly women and a man walk arm in arm

Philippe Leone/Unsplash
Laura F. Belli and Danila Suárez Tomé

Updated Dec. 10, 2023 at 10:10 p.m.

BUENOS AIRES — What kind of friendship do people most talk about? Most often it is childhood or teenage friendships, while friendships between men and women are repeatedly analyzed. What about friendships among the elderly? How are they affected when friends disappear, at a stage when grieving is already more frequent?

Argentines Laura Belli and Danila Suárez Tomé, two friends with PhDs in philosophy, explore the challenges and benefits of friendship in their book Filosofía de la amistad (Friendship Philosophy).

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They consider how friendships can emerge later in life, in profoundly altered circumstances from those of our youth, with people living through events like retirement, widowhood, reduced autonomy or to a greater or lesser degree, personal deterioration. All these can affect older people's ability to form and keep friendships, even if changes happen at any stage in life.

Filosofía de la amistadexplores the place of friendships amid daunting changes. These are not just the result of ageing itself but also of how one is perceived, nor will they affect everyone exactly the same way. Aging has firstly become a far more diverse experience, with increasing lifespans and better healthcare everywhere, and despite an inevitable restriction in life opportunities, a good many seniors enjoy far greater freedom and life choices than before.

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