Young people are much wiser than they are often perceived to be in terms of what they want in a relationship, says academic Dr Debi Futter-Puati.
Recently Futter-Puati led a workshop with four youth trainers on relationships education for 30 teachers, principals, Non Government Organisation and youth workers, church youth groups for the CI Family Welfare Association.
She says: “The idea of the workshop is to train people who will be educating young people in sexuality education.
“What this workshop is doing is taking on what young people said was important to learn about in relationships and teaching educators activities so that they can teach young people these skills.
“They want to know things like how to break up kindly, how to pleasure their partner, and how to negotiate many different aspects of their relationships.
“These are all really adult, mature concepts.
“It shows that because when you want to know those sorts of things you are not only thinking about your own needs in a relationship.”
She said it didn’t surprise her that young people thought so maturely.
“I think youth are often painted with a brush that they are irresponsible and only think about sex. We paint young people with a brush we could paint ourselves with, so it didn’t actually surprise me that they were much wiser than they are often perceived to be in terms of what they desire.”
Futter-Puati said that in interviews for her teaching resource young people said many adults were not good role models and their parents needed educating around “understanding the landscape of sexuality that they (young people) are in”.
“This has changed so much - with social media, the internet and what really goes on.
“There is cyberbullying, the rumour mongering, teasing people who are having sex ... as well as if they are not.”
She says there was a lot of discussion about discriminatory practices in Cook Islands schools for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT) pupils.
One horrendous example of that was in a science lesson where a teacher said to someone that they were an example of chromosomes going wrong.
“And the child was made to stand up and tell the class about this.”
There were many examples of bullying that happened in schools by peers or teachers of LGBT pupils
Futter-Puati says there are eight stories in the resource written by people who were willing to share their stories about the realities of growing up in the Cook Islands as a LGBT person.
“There are lots of hopeful messages in them, but there’s also some really heart-wrenching aspects to parts of their life stories as well.
“It is a useful tool for walking in another person’s shoes and gaining an understanding of social injustice and understanding what needs to change so that everyone is celebrated and supported in our community.”
She says: “The main thrust of the resource is about developing the skills to have positive healthy sexual relationships.”
Research has shown that in countries that educate young people right from the time they start school about (age appropriate) sexuality the average age of sexual debut is 18+.
“Whereas in Cook Islands 40 per cent of 14-year-olds have already had sex and 52 per cent of 15-year-olds have had sex. Which also tells you that half of our 15-year-olds haven’t,” she said.
“What we would like is to provide really comprehensive sexuality education to encourage more young people to only make their sexual debuts when they are emotionally and physically ready rather than ‘losing their virginity’ in ways that are unplanned and often regretted.
“What we’d really like to do is talk more about sexuality with young people, because if we don’t give them really good information and help them identify their values and beliefs - then the internet, music and pornography does it for us.”
Futter-Puati says a major problem is young people accessing pornography online and they think that’s how to have sex.
“They turn to porn because no one else will talk to them about sex.
“Anywhere in the world - Australia and New Zealand - many 10-year-old boys are accessing porn on their smartphones. They are watching three to five porn movies a week. “What does that to their attitudes? Power over women, no consent ... no contraception.
“Young men then think that when they get with a real person, that women want these things and get very surprised when they don’t.
“And they get very confused.”
She wonders if parents here know what their youngsters are watching on their smart phones and that porn is readily available through DVD stores – one participant in the course last week picked a movie for her children and when she got home the wrong DVD was placed in the case and it was a porn movie.
She says an Australian researcher noted: “If our voice isn’t the loudest for kids about sexuality whose will be? And it is likely that it will be pornography.”
Futter-Puati says: “And if tha’s what we are happy for them to learn - then stay silent, otherwise we need to get talking – and not just to tell them to wait until they are married as for many people this is not a reality.”