Can boys and girls really be "just friends"? According to an in-depth study, maybe not. Research by Professor Emma Renold at Cardiff University, has highlighted the pressure to turn a close boy-girl friendship into a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship from a young age.

Boys and girls as young as 11 struggle to be just friends because they are subject to teasing from their classmates. In a qualitative study involving 125 children aged 10, 11 and 12, one boy admitted that he had to pretend his best friend Alice was a cousin for an entire school year so they could hang out and be free from "heterosexual teasing".

Professor Renold says that children largely talked about boyfriend-girlfriend cultures as something they had little choice in participating.

"Children are actively learning everyday about the contradictory and often confusing ways in which gender and sexuality shape who they are, how they feel in their bodies, what they can do, where they can go, how they relate to others and how others relate to them," she said.

The study was carried out to understand how pre-teens feel about growing up in an increasingly sexualized society and how they respond to sexual imagery being bombarded on TV and in music videos. Miley Cyrus, you're not helping!

Some of the girls interviewed said they liked to wear high heels to look older to ward off any bullying or taunts from older girls. One girl said: "Sometimes we do try and look older... when you’re older you have more independence."

Boys as young as 11 said that they started weight training to gain a six pack not to look good but to protect themselves from being beaten up.

Prof Renold's research comes after a national survey by Girlguiding found three quarters of girls and young women believe sexism affects most areas of their lives. Many of them were subject to sexual taunting or sexist jokes at school.

What the hell is happening to our society? Is there really so much pressure?