Understanding a culture requires not only the exploration of its history, culture, and beliefs. For a more comprehensive look at how a homogenous group of people develops through centuries, learning about its sexual behaviors is beliefs is paramount. Aboriginal Australians represent one of the two groups of Indigenous peoples of the country. The history of the population dates back around 35,000 years ago, which means that it went through the hundreds of years of development but still managed to preserve its cultural heritage (Tonkinson & Berndt, n.d.). In this paper, a closer look on the sexual behaviors and beliefs of Aboriginal Australians to identify practices that can be considered positive and harmful to the society as well as to understand the culture’s approach to intimate relations between people. Sexual health issues will be explored in great detail since they show the level of the population’s awareness about beneficial sexual behaviors.
Beliefs and Behaviors
Marriage has been considered the key institution to guide sexual behaviors and beliefs of the Aboriginal population because of its central role in the traditions. The most important difference between the marriage of Aboriginals and those of white Australia is that in the former, marriage is not a contract between specific people but rather between kin and other parties involved. This is explained by the need to preserve the national heritage and ensure that the traditions are kept up. However, the freedom of marriage was restricted by the prohibition to the marriage of close relatives. In addition, marriage was the main vehicle for being attached to land. There are four key elements that define marriage, which include the following:
- A couple should be eligible for marriage based on the local rules “defining ideal preferences and accepted authorities” (Australian Law Reform Commission, n.d., para. 4);
- The two kin groups concerned should make appropriate betrothal arrangement;
- Marital responsibilities that include sexual relations distinguish actual marriage from betrothal;
- The birth of the first child strengthens the marriage union.
Over the past hundred years, the marriage practices of Aboriginals have been significantly altered due to the impact of colonization. The white authorities lacked the understanding and respect for Aboriginal marriage practices and their sexual behaviors, which had caused some issues in cross-cultural communication. For instance, in the 1940’s if an Aboriginal person engaged in sexual activities white a white person, and it was widely known, the relationship would be punishable by the respected authorities (Bell, 2013). This lack of respect led to the Aboriginal community assimilating to the practices of colonizers.
Premarital sex norms imposed on females on the Australian Aboriginal population is a complex topic within the exploration of the community’s sexual behaviors. Early marriage has been a tool for regulating the sexuality of women in the community, which explains why arranged procedures were very common (Burbank, 1988). Today, premarital sex has become more prevalent, which led to premarital pregnancies and issues associated with the lack of support for young families.
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For males, other mechanisms of regulating sexual behaviors are imposed. The initiation ceremony is performed during the first signs of boys reaching puberty. The ceremony consists of circumcision along with the incision of scars on the body (predominantly chest, shoulders, and arms) (Lommel & Campbell, 1998). The fresh wounds are filled with sand to make the larger and thus make more extensive scars. However, it should be mentioned that when girls get their first menstrual cycle, during the initiation ceremony implied the incision of scars on their buttocks. After the ceremony, girls are considered eligible for marriage.
Sexual Matters Issues
In the second half of the twentieth century, sexual assault as a practice was practically unknown in the community, as suggested by the report by Australian Institute of Family Studies (2002). Aboriginals Australians had a clear understanding of unacceptable sexual behaviors, which were strictly disciplined by tribal elders. Penalties ranging from physical beatings to even death could be administered if a member of the community behaved against the rules. Rape and incest were categorically prohibited, and were one of the most prominent taboos that the Aboriginals followed. However, today, most of the models have fallen away, with sexual violence becoming one of the most problematic topics to explore in the context of the Aboriginal community of Australia.
In the twenty-first century, reports of sexual abuse within the Aboriginal population of Australia have been occurring at a high rate. According to The Australian report “Culture of denial” (2007), male violence and sexual abuse were obliterating the Indigenous community of the country. The author mentions the lack of embarrassment that the men in the community have about having sex with minors or physically abusing women. This aligns with a range of transgressions to the Aboriginal law that range from incest to adultery, and these issues continue deteriorating the community today. In The Australian report, several examples of sexual abuse being defended by cultural traditions were presented (“Culture of denial,” 2007). For instance, a 14-year old girl was raped by a middle-aged man because she had been promised to them. Such cases point to the fact that the sexual behaviors and beliefs of Aboriginal Australians have significantly deteriorated from no-rape policies to accepting deviant behaviors as a part of the culture. Deteriorating race relations in Australia overall have contributed to the problems of sexual behaviors and beliefs within the population. Following the race riots of 2005-2006, the concerns of sexual abuse and violence in the Aboriginal community became more visible.
For adolescent Aboriginals, sexual beliefs and behaviors are of great importance. According to Savage (2009), there are several challenges that need addressing when it comes to adolescents’ sexual behaviors. The first issue is associated with the lack of information on how adolescent Aboriginal Australians behave in terms of their sexuality and gender. Most sources on this topic are descriptive and do not provide evidence about the socio-cultural role of sex within the adolescent group of Aboriginal Australians. The second issue is associated with the absence of coherent support systems and programs to educate adolescent aboriginals on appropriate sexual behaviors. In the context of the increased sexual abuse prevalence, the community needs the support of developmental, community-based, and school-based programs.
Sexual health issues within the Aboriginal population of Australia have not been studied to a needed extent. The research on this issue among the country’s population only included a small subset of Aboriginal peoples, thus ineffective in generalizing the results to the minority population. However, several issues of sexual health should be noted. First, Aboriginal women give birth at a much younger age compared to non-Indigenous women (Savage, 2009). More than one in five of these women were teenagers, and most births among Aboriginal women took place at ages 20-24 years old in contrast to white Australians who gave birth predominantly at ages 30-34 years old (Savage, 2009). Teenage pregnancies among Aboriginal women lead to poor health and socioeconomic issues. Such risks as pre-term labor, infant mortality, and low birth weight are direct consequences of early pregnancies. In addition, such problems as increased likelihood of domestic violence, poor educational arraignment, and low incomes that result from teenage pregnancies negatively affect the quality of life of young Aboriginal women and their children.
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Sexually transmittable infections (STIs) are also of concern for the Aboriginal population, which exhibited high rates of disease prevalence, especially among adolescents (Savage, 2009). For instance, chlamydia was among the most widespread infections among the males and females of the Aboriginal community, which points to the lack of sustainable sexual health practices. While data on the status of Indigenous Australians is incomplete in terms of sexual health, the rates of infection among young people reach 78% (15-29 years) (Savage, 2009). This points to the need for comprehensive interventions for the community for addressing a range of challenges associated with the sexual health of Aboriginal Australians.
The exploration of the sexual behaviors and beliefs of the Aboriginal Australian population showed that there is a lack of information on the topic, with most research exploring the problem of sexual abuse. This points to the fact that additional studies on this topic are needed in order to understand the traditions and beliefs in greater detail. In was revealed that women and girls are the targets of sexual abuse within the community, and their social position was governed by the norms that the community held.
- Australian Institute of Family Studies. (2002). Child abuse and family violence in Aboriginal communities. Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/child-abuse-and-family-violence-aboriginal-communities/aboriginal-beliefs-about-gender
- Australian Law Reform Commission. (n.d.). Aboriginal marriages and family structures. Retrieved from https://www.alrc.gov.au/publications/12.%20Aboriginal%20Marriages%20and%20Family%20Structures/marriage-traditional-aboriginal-societie
- Bell, J. (2013). The persistence of Aboriginal kinship and marriage rules in Australia: Adapting traditional ways into modern practices. The Journal of the European Association for Studies of Australia, 4(1), 65-75.
- Burbank, V. (1988). Aboriginal adolescence: Maidenhood in an Australian community. Newark, NJ: Rutgers.
- Culture of denial. (2007). The Australian. Retrieved from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/culture-of-denial/news-story/3dd28525dc85e34c1fb549813bd4d9f4
- Lommel, A., & Campbell, I. (1998). The unambal. Queensland, Australia: Takarakka Nowan Kas Publications.
- Savage, J. (2009). Aboriginal adolescent sexual and reproductive health programs: A review of their effectiveness and cultural acceptability. Retrieved from https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/research/Documents/11-aboriginal-adolescent-sexual-and-reproductive-health-prog.pdf
- Tonkinson, R., & Berndt, R. (n.d.). Australian Aboriginal peoples. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Australian-Aboriginal
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