Porn stars showing up on your doorstep? You’re joking, right?

Jean M Allen, a New Zealand-born Tongan/Pālangi health educator, reflects on how she negotiates discussions about sex and pornography with her children.

The recent Keep it Real Online campaign ads feature two porn stars knocking on the door of a Pākehā family’s home to talk to a mother about what her son has been up to online. What strikes me about this television advertisement is that if those porn stars knocked on the door of a Pacific Island household, it would be very different. I imagine it might look like the following: 

A Pacific Island mother opens the door to the porn stars, she is shocked and starts telling them off for appearing naked at her doorstep. She would then proceed to take off her cardigan and cover the female porn star’s nakedness, while at the same time grabbing the taufale/salu (Island broom) and begin waving it at the male porn star so he moves away.

The male members of the household would hear the commotion, see what was going on, then proceed to chase the male down the street. The mother would invite the female into the house and provide her a cup of tea while talking to her about better life choices. The males would return laughing, saying how crazy some people are!

Although the above situation is imaginary, it demonstrates that not all households deal with sex and pornography the same. For many Pacific families,  attitudes towards sex are greatly influenced by religious beliefs and cultural norms that are often heavily gendered.

For example, within many Pacific families, fathers generally talk to their sons about sex, and mothers talk to their daughters. When Tongan boys reach a certain age, or when their sisters begin going through puberty, the boys often stop sleeping in the house, and the garage or another type of sleep out arrangement is made for them. Girls are expected to be pure until they are married. Porn, in my experience, was never discussed with females, but I am not sure about males. 

Working as a teacher and researcher in high schools, and having my own children in high school, I know that teenagers are accessing porn regularly, and in some cases on a daily basis. It is not uncommon to walk past a group of boys crowding around their phones and see that they are watching pornography.

Netsafe NZ and other organisations are working with communities and families to help support them in talking to their kids about pornography use. Research conducted by Netsafe NZ shows that one in four children view pornography by the time they are 12 years old. This means that by the time our kids are having discussions about pornography and sex during health education classes in high school, most would have already been exposed to porn. 

While the current campaign calls for parents to have discussions with their children, it is easier said than done. We all want to support our children and we want what is best for them, but many of us grew up in households where our parents weren’t as open about sex as campaigns like the current one expects us to be. However, one way Pacific parents could be better supported is through working with the wider communities that we are part of.

As Pacific peoples, we do not see ourselves within silos, but rather as part of larger communities. Therefore, these discussions do not only fall to parents but also to the various community groups we belong to, such as church groups, youth groups, and community centres. This means that groups like these could take up the challenge and branch out by helping facilitate these discussions with their members.

I know some of this work is already happening, especially throughout school communities, but more could be done to support our parents with their children. This would also mean more support for our wider Pacific community from government. While the ads raise an important issue, they do little to actually support Pacific parents and communities. 

Furthermore, how are parents, who have been raised in more sheltered ways, expected all of a sudden to be able to talk to their children about sex and pornography? While the latest national campaign has an important message, it is unrealistic to expect parents to immediately know how to approach these topics. Personally, I have had to do a lot of work on myself in order to be more open and have these conversations with my children. I use a lot of humour to cover up my awkwardness and the kids seem to appreciate that our “talks”, although important, aren’t too serious.

My kids tell me “it’s not rocket science”, but it sure feels like a minefield to me, so I can only image what other families, especially Pacific families, are feeling and experiencing while they try to navigate this space of sex and pornography. Perhaps working together with others in our communities is a way forward – it has got to be better than having naked porn stars show up on your doorstep, right?

Jean M Allen is a lecturer at AUT University School of Public Health & Interdisciplinary Studies




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