Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (1.75 MB)

"The devil will make you pregnant": Constructions of Sexuality and Womanhood among New Zealand Filipino Women

Download (1.75 MB)
posted on 2021-11-10, 09:38 authored by Melnicenko, Aiyesha

High youth pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates in New Zealand are an under-researched health concern, particularly among ethnic minority communities. Conflicting sexuality messages from home and dominant cultures may make negotiating a sexual standpoint problematic for immigrant adolescents. An understanding of cultural minorities' constructions of sexuality and influences affecting their decision-making would aid the development of culturally applicable sexuality education. This thesis discusses research with New Zealand Filipino women, with an aim to investigate how immigrant women make sense of sexuality in the context of intimate relationships. For the first study, six focus group interviews, involving 33 New Zealand Filipino adolescent women, discussed individual and cultural interpretations of sexuality, safer sex and womanhood. A discursive analysis examined patterns of agreement and conflict in the young women's talk to reveal how they used and resisted cultural discourses of heterosexuality. Contradictions often arose as they shifted between dominant Western and Filipino messages about sexual safety and appropriate feminine behaviour. Principal constructions of women and sexuality that came out of the talk, and how these constructions promote or restrict sexual behaviours, are discussed. The second study, twenty-six individual interviews with New Zealand Filipino adolescent girls and their immigrant Filipino mothers, explored how immigrant women construct life narratives to make sense of their sexual selves. Interviews focused around individuals' personal stories of intimate relationships, heterosexuality, romance, sexual education, womanhood, and adjustment to the interface between New Zealand and Filipino portrayals of sexuality. Thematic and narrative analyses explored areas of agreement and dispute within and across the women's stories, as they took up different identities as mothers, daughters, girlfriends, Filipinas, and New Zealanders. Thematic analysis of the daughters' interviews examined key patterns in the young women's constructions of first sexual experiences, including explanations of first sex, the gap between expectations and experiences, sexual safety, and perceptions of their partners. One young woman's story was focused on in a more comprehensive study of how sexual, feminine and cultural identities are constructed and reconstructed through narrative. After an overview of the themes from the mothers' interviews, three mothers' narratives were discussed in relation to their constructions of sexual selves as they learned about, experienced, and taught their daughters about sexuality. Links found between mother and daughter narratives likely signify the passing of cultural stories of feminine sexuality through the generations. Many contradictions were apparent in the adolescents' talk, as girls worked to develop and explain a sense of self that moved between subject positions offered by the heterosexuality discourses of their new migrant context and their Filipino heritage. How young Filipinas' sexual stories recycle and resist the talk of their mothers and cultural contexts is discussed, as well as how cultural identities influence sexual practices. The thesis also reflects upon the appropriateness of discursive research for allowing cultural expression among marginalised populations.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Jackson, Sue; Wilson, Marc