Decolonizing Matauranga Onioni / Sex Education

Posted: September 26, 2019Category: Uncategorized

Reproductive justice and positive sex education sounds like something we should all be on board with, but that’s sadly not the case. High quality and non-judgemental sex education is lacking globally and NZ is no exception. We can do more to giver better and more consistent sex education across Aotearoa NZ. Providing rights-based sexual and reproductive health education is important for our youth.

Maori and Pacifika children and teens need to learn about enthusiastic consent, bodily autonomy and have accurate information to make informed and safe choices about responsible sexual activity, their sexual reproductive health and healthy relationships. We want them to be knowledgeable and safe and we need to positively express Māori and Pacific understandings of sexual and reproductive health in a way that reflects their worldviews and affirms their distinct traditional and contemporary knowledge.

High quality sex education saves lives. It addresses the root causes of many negative health and social outcomes. It gives people the right information to take care of their bodies and the skills to navigate interpersonal relationships throughout their lives. It promotes gender equitable attitudes and is an effective violence prevention tool. The evidence tells us that comprehensive Matauranga onioni /sex education means lower HIV and STI rates, less unintended pregnancies, and more access to health care which we know is an important issues for underserved Maori and Pasifika peoples.

We need better tools to ensure that sex positivity is taught in schools and is less one-dimensional, decolonised, and empowering to all. Colonisation and inequalities are lived experiences for our teen parents, even when it comes to sexual justice and reproductive health. We need to address the gaps in services and consider the differences for rural and urban youth and invest in under-resourced areas. Many adolescents today are having sex and experimenting with other forms of sexual behaviour regardless of the abstinence lessons they were taught in their communities, at home or in school. For teens who experience or witness sexual violence, positive Matauranga onioni can help because it addresses consent and helps learners identify when sexual violence is happening – both to themselves and to others.

What’s happening now? In our current sexual education guidelines, the schoolboard of trustees is required to consult with the school community, parents and caregivers on the delivery of the curriculum which may mitigate concerns over increased knowledge and increased sexual activity. But there is little or no discussion of positive sexual agency. Early high school leavers may miss sexual education curriculum, making informal whaunau provision of sexual education of greater importance.

Providing informal sexual education can be difficult if one thinks that discussing contraception with daughters is feared to promote promiscuity or early sexual relationships. Colonialism equals the dismantling and destruction of relationships that could better prepare our youth. We need to do such a better job teaching Matauranga onioni, enthusiastic consent, limiting access to pornography, and giving people tools recognise the damaging messages they are exposed to growing up that can lead to be a victim or perpetrator of sexual violence.


How to prepare our youth to be strong, empowered and confident in their choices requires more research. We can learn a lot from indigenous values which allow people to connect to their cultural beliefs, leading to delayed sexual activity and greater contraceptive adherence from North America. Discussion about sexuality can occur alongside acknowledging the impacts of colonisation in shaping our understanding about sexuality. How we think about ourselves, our bodies, colour and other attributes shape our understanding. So much so that Sexual health should include a mental health component as a prevention strategy. Shockingly those with mental health or psychiatric issues have a higher risk of pregnancy. Risky behaviour, viewing porn, drinking, alcohol smoking and illicit drug use all play factors in our well-being.

Discriminatory or non-responsive health-care practices and policies caused many youth and families to mistrust health-care professionals and practices. It is vital that nurses develop culturally safe and respectful ways of working in partnership with Maori and Pasifika clients. People with intersecting and marginalized identities, especially people of colour, can often find ourselves at odds with our culture. Trying to stay true to our whole selves and honour the complexities of our identities can be exhausting and impact our sex lives in ongoing ways. It’s Impossible to talk about a people’s sovereignty without a discussion of body sovereignty.


Decolonised matauranga onioni,

  • Expands, complicate, and decolonize their understanding of sex positivity.
  • Provides a sex positive and historically informed lens,
  • Broadens mainstream narratives on sex positivity, pleasure, sexual health
  • Increases abortion and sexual health access
  • Connects the violence against the earth to violence against our bodies.

Bodies bear the brunt of colonial violence, they also embody, create and sustain the theories, movements, and creative actions that resist it. Decolonization is impossible without gender and sexual justice as articulated by women, Two Spirit, queer, transgender and others who fall beyond and in resistance to male cis-heteropatriarchal norms.

We need to hear more stories on Maori and Pacific peoples experience Matauranga onioni and listen to voices that lead ways forward for decolonization while respecting cultural traditions. How is resistance and decolonization also embodied? What does decolonial love for ourselves and others look like? How do we pull back the colonial violence that hyper- or de-sexualize youth and peoples of colour on our own terms? How are youth, as well as other gender and sexual justice advocates, mobilizing in new ways, utilizing new tools, and establishing new forums for decolonizing practices?

There is so much promise in decolonising Matauranga onioni. What has been your experiences of sex education? Tell us in the comments below.



2014. Le Grice, Jade Sophia. Maori and reproduction, sexuality education, maternity and abortion. A Doctoral thesis submitted in fulfilment of the Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology. The University of Auckland.