Sexual harassment, violence and assault is on the rise internationally – with statistics proving it is not just women who are finding themselves in difficult situations where they feel like they have “little or no choice”.
In a recent study done by Dr Debi Futter-Puati alongside the Ministry of Health, data proved that many youngsters feel pressured to participate in sexual activities or had experienced forced sex. More than half of the 15-19 year olds questioned felt they had little to no control over the kinds of sexual activity they engaged in.
In addition, young men felt less in control than females with regard to their sexual activity.
Futter-Puati believes that if young people are going to participate in sexual activity, they need to understand many things, but particularly the idea of consent.
“No one has the right to force someone to have sex,” she says.
“‘Yes’ feelings can change to ‘no’ feelings and aronga mapu (youth) need to be aware of respecting one another’s decisions when feelings change.”
According to Family Planning New Zealand, “consent is a free agreement between those involved in any sexual experience. If a person is pressured, forced, blackmailed or tricked into having sex, they are not giving consent. It is the responsibility of the person initiating sexual activity to get consent from their partner. Even if a person agrees to sex beforehand, they can change their mind at any time”. Futter-Puati says that lack of knowledge and discussion around sex, sexuality and sexual relationships in the Cook Islands means youth are finding themselves in predicaments where they do not have the correct tools to navigate the situation if they feel uncomfortable.
“Communication is key. We are really doing our youth a disservice by continuing to ignore the need to talk about these topics,” she explains.
“People and parents in the Cook Islands think that if we talk about sex or sexual relationships, youngsters will be influenced to become sexually involved more often or earlier.
“It is time people understand that youth are already finding themselves in situations where their sexual debut occurs before they are actually ready.
“In the Cook Islands, research shows that most girls between 14 and 15 have already taken part in sexual activity – a seemingly surprising statistic when the lack of discussion regarding sexual relationships is considered.
“What people are yet to grasp however, is that by talking about love, intimacy and sexual relationships, youngsters will find they are far more in control when making decisions about their sexuality, and in many instances actually put off having sex.
“This is simply due to a broadened knowledge of intimacy and sexuality – its value, importance and meaning.”
Futter-Puati believes that early discussion relating to love, intimacy, sex – and consent in particular – can help Cook Islands youth avoid finding themselves in unnerving or traumatising situations.
“Planning for and deciding if one is ready to become sexually active are mature qualities. There are many decisions to consider, and consent from both individuals is essential in maintaining emotional and physical health.”