Navigating the complex world of sex for Sāmoan youth

By Raewyn Rasch

Dr Analaosa Veukiso-Ulugia

Sexual health is not an easy conversation topic in any culture but new research is urging those working with Pasifika youth to recognise the complex cultural contexts they live in to ensure the message does get through. By Raewyn Rasch

Dr Analaosa Veukiso-Ulugia’s doctoral thesis is entitled Sexual Health Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviour of Sāmoan Youth in Aotearoa NZ and used the large scale Youth2000 National Health and Wellbeing survey coupled with focus groups of Sāmoan youth and interviews with key experts who worked with youth.

Dr Veukiso-Ulugia, who graduated last year, says the research shows Sāmoan youth often live within complex cultural settings where influential family and church views are often at odds with attitudes around them.

Many are having to deal with a lot of mixed messages, she says. “The theme from parents and influential church was abstaining, waiting until you’re older and well settled in a career. On the other hand, young people were sexually active and exposed to a world of media and music that promotes a very different message.”

The focus group conversations confirmed while families and church influences are very important, school is where young people receive the majority of their sexual health information, Dr Veukiso-Ulugia says. However even between schools there was a diversity around what information they’re getting.

There is also a diversity of behaviours, she says. The Youth2000 study showed that in 2007 55% of Sāmoan students had not had sex – which means 45% had. Dr Veukiso-Ulugia says within that group a small number were engaging in practises that put them at risk. “There is a group of vulnerable students and we need to consider ways to support these young people.”

Given all the varied and often conflicting influences on Pasifika youth it is vital there are better co-ordination of services, she says. “It’s all of our responsibilities to ensure our children make safe healthy choices. School takes up a huge part of our young people’s lives but the research also highlights the role of families, churches and even sports groups and cultural groups – it would be great if they all promoted similar messages not only around sexual health but alcohol, drugs and violence.”

There were a lot of community interventions set up in the 1980s during concern about high Pasifika abortion rates and yet fast forward 20 years an Dr Veukiso-Ulugia wonders how much change has there been?

“There are some promising interventions but [the question is] how do we highlight and draw attention to initiatives that are working?“

She hopes her research will encourage those working with Pasifika youth to understand the complex world they live in to better engage and provide more co-ordinated services.

Dr Veukiso-Ulugia is currently a lecturer in Social Work at Auckland University.