The event was the third instalment in the “Hearing Her Stories” series and Futter-Puati shared her personal life story around 30 people who attended, as well as talking about business, academia - and sex.
Futter-Puati is a specialist on health and sexuality issues in the Pacific and her research was recently a catalyst for decriminalising homosexuality in the Cook Islands.
Futter-Puati told the audience that after facing many personal tribulations, she had finally been able to finish a doctorate which focused on gender, sex and sexuality among young people in the Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands resident said her research had involved questioning and conversing with 674 individuals from Rarotonga and the outer islands about their intimate lives.
“So as you can imagine I have a lot of interesting stories that I could share. However, we don’t have enough time,” she joked.
Futter-Puati told the audience that in expanding on her study, she crafted a 35-point questionnaire that had been included in a Ministry of Health questionnaire and reached a large number of Cook Islands youth.
“The questions I posed were quite different. They ranged from, ‘what actually happens in your sex life, to what do you find sexy in your partner?’ I was interested in body image as well and young people’s ideas about relationships.
“I wanted to look at things that are not traditionally part of the sexual education programmes in school,” said Futter-Puati.
As to what she had discovered from her extensive research, Futter-Puati admitted she hadn’t had an opportunity to analyse all the data she had accumulated.
“I mean we asked 674 young people, 35 questions each. Now that is a heck of a lot of information to go through.
“In addition, I undertook focus groups with 90 young people and we sat around and chewed the fat around a whole lot of things going on in their lives.
“From the studies we found that most young people have had sex by the time they are 14. Which means that they don’t wait till they are married.
“By telling our children to wait till marriage we are actually giving them that drive to have sex before they are ready. We are actually putting them at risk.
“Of the 15-19 year old age group, 80 per cent of them had already had sex,” she said.
Futter-Puati said young people in the Cook Islands were generally too afraid to talk to their parents about sex.
“When asked where participants received their information and knowledge about sex, the most common source was their friends, then lovers – which was interesting, as in other countries lovers never came up as a source of information.
“And extended family was the last, but absolutely not parents. It was said that if they did they would get a “hiding”.
“And to me that is a sad state of affairs, that young people cannot go ask the people that care about them the most in the world – about a really important part of adult life.”
Futter-Puati also discussed social media and its impact on young people’s perception of sex, and the role this had on their sex life.
Futter-Puati said she had designed a resource that could aid parents in addressing questions about sex and its importance with their children.
She said the Cook Islands needed to take a more open approach to talking and educating young people about sex.
“The more you don’t talk about it, the more issues there are going to be.”
Futter-Puati is now working to provide Cook Islands schools with the resources and the skills to address sex and its place in young people’s lives.