1 in 5 young adults have more than one partner

Thursday July 06, 2017 Written by Published in Local
Attendees discussing the topics of the seminar. 17061228 Attendees discussing the topics of the seminar. 17061228

Research indicates that a fifth of young Cook Islanders (aged 15-24) have more than one relationship at a time.


Dr Debi Futter-Puati has studied intimacy and relationships for the past five years and what her research has uncovered could be uncomfortable for some people.

“One of the interesting things in our research was that about 20 per cent of the young population have more than one relationship at one time.

“I would suspect that would be very similar with the adult population. It’s not something that only young people do.

“I think it’s an interesting - and challenging - thing in this resource to take that statistic and work out how do we keep people safe when they are choosing to have more than one relationship at the same time?

“In the past we always have promoted that people should be faithful as a way of minimising Sexually Transmitted Infections.

“When we know that a fifth of our population is having more than one relationship we have to think outside the box to consider how we can keep people safe if they are choosing to have multiple relationships.

“We have to start actually talking about polyamorous relationships - where people are not monogamous - in a safe way mentally, emotionally, physically. That was the biggest challenge.”

Futter-Puati says there is a future lesson about that and “It will be very interesting to see how they respond to that”.

“Telling people to just stick to one person doesn’t work – people have been told that for decades and it hasn’t stopped these behaviours! “

Is there a large lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender population on the island?

Futter-Puati says a 2012 survey showed almost 10 per cent of youth identified as being LGBT.

But, she says, 23 per cent either refused to answer the question or didn’t know.

“Because we were talking about 15 to 24-year-olds there could have been young people still questioning their sexuality, or they could have been too scared to answer.

“I think if you are straight (heterosexual) you just tick the box and move on ... you don’t think twice. But if you are not ...”

She says the fact that 23 per cent were confused tells her it is likely that more than 10 per cent of the population are probably LGBT.

“Therefore our society needs to support these people.”

In the educational resource the stories of eight LGBT Cook Islanders are shared.

“These courageous people were willing to write about the discrimination and fear they have experienced and how they have overcome some of these issues and how they would like to, or do, live their lives now.

“Some are able to do be who they are in our society but, for others, it is much more difficult. It is determined by society’s ‘rules’ and often by a person’s immediate family values.

“It is not easy for anyone who is LGBT to come out in the Cook Islands.”

Futter-Puati says while sexuality education was mandated in 2004, the realities are different. 

“There may be only two schools providing comprehensive sexuality education. They are Tereora and Mauke. The fact that Mauke can offer sexuality education from Grade 1 (age-appropriate lessons of course) right through to their senior level takes away all the excuses that are often given that communities don’t support sexuality education.

“What the staff at Mauke School are achieving is inspirational.

“There may be others and I would love to be proven wrong.”

She says: “I’d really like to see all 30 people trained this week to be supported by their communities to facilitate this education on their island or in their school.

“Then we would straightaway have 550 kids who are being educated and who are more likely to make ‘good, healthy’ choices for themselves.

“Isn’t that what we all want for our kids? Ideally they’d teach this work with more than one classroom of kids ... three or four classes.”

Futter-Puati says education is just one step, with changes in the Crimes Act needed and support systems in place for kids struggling with aspects of their sexuality or relationships.

The Rangi Marie: Suicide Prevention Report (2015) identified that issues with sexuality and relationships are more often than not the main reasons that young people ring the helpline.

So how difficult is it to get across these ideas in a religious country?

“I think that most people really care for their children - no matter what religious denomination they are - and they want the best for their kids.

“My experience when I talk to parents concerned about their child’s sexual education is that we are usually on the same page.

“We want our kids to choose good partners, want our kids to have positive relationships and we want our kids to be happy and safe.

“And that’s what this is about. People say to me that this is so long overdue and they can’t believe we finally have a Cook Islands sexuality education resource and are doing this work.

“It is very rare to have somebody - once they understand what we are doing - to actually resist it.”

So what do the workshops teach people?


“Understanding we are all different and unique and what I want in a relationship is not necessarily what someone else wants and that is okay. Because if we talk about and decide that our needs together aren’t compatible then we can work with that in respectful ways rather than resorting to the violence that young people told me happens regularly in relationships here.

“Either stay together, or not, it isn’t rocket science is it?”

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