"She'll be right"? National identity explanations for poor sexual health statistics in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Soc Sci Med. 2008 Dec;67(11):1817-25. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.09.022. Epub 2008 Oct 10.


The sexual health statistics around sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Aotearoa (New Zealand) suggest two things: many STIs are increasing, and the STI rates are high compared to other 'similar' countries. What sense do ordinary New Zealanders make of these figures? Focusing on heterosexual sex, this paper discusses lay accounts that sought to make sense of Aotearoa's STI statistics. In total, 58 participants (38 women, 20 men) aged 16-36 years (mean age 25) took part in 15 focus group discussions related to sexual health. Participants were mostly Pākehā (of European ancestry) and heterosexual. Data were analysed thematically. The predominant category of explanation was national 'identity' accounts. National 'identity' explanations invoked a particular New Zealand persona to explain the sexual health statistics. New Zealanders were characterised, sometimes contradictorily, as binge drinkers; poor communicators; self-sufficient and stoic; conservative yet highly and complacently sexual; and 'laid back', which was associated with a lack of personal concern about sexual health risk. The emphasis on national identity shifts responsibility for sexual health from the individual, and suggests agency lies beyond the individual, who is fully embedded in their culture and acts according to its dictates. In terms of sexual health, this suggests a need to consider whether, and if so how, national 'identity' might be meaningfully invoked and deployed in sexual health promotion initiatives.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / ethnology
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Culture*
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Heterosexuality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / ethnology*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / psychology*
  • Young Adult