Chi­nese start to talk more about sex ed­u­ca­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

Sun Xiao­fang, a 25-year-old preg­nant math teacher at a school in Bei­jing, re­mem­bers one par­tic­u­lar mid­dle school bi­ol­ogy class clearly.

Her teacher glossed over the ba­sic anatom­i­cal and phys­i­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences between males and fe­males in a text­book in less than 20 min­utes, telling the stu­dents to “read it by your­selves af­ter class”.

“Girls flipped over those pages and blushed, and all the boys kept silent,” Sun said. “The at­mos­phere in the class­room was one of em­bar­rass­ment and hi­lar­ity.”

That 20-minute les­son ac­counted for the en­tire for­mal sex ed­u­ca­tion she re­ceived, an all too fa­mil­iar ex­pe­ri­ence for young Chi­nese. Talk­ing di­rectly about sex is of­ten deemed dif­fi­cult by par­ents.

“It is too late for stu­dents to re­ceive sex ed­u­ca­tion af­ter they en­ter ado­les­cence,” said Pan Suim­ing, direc­tor of the Ren­min Univer­sity of China’s In­sti­tute of Sex­u­al­ity and Gen­der.

Talk­ing about sex re­mains taboo in Chi­nese cul­ture. Some ex­perts con­sider a lack of proper sex ed­u­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly in schools, as one of the fac­tors lead­ing to se­ri­ous health prob­lems in China, such as the grow­ing num­bers of HIV in­fec­tions and stag­ger­ingly high abor­tion rates.

Zhang Yin­jun, direc­tor of the AIDS Preven­tion Ed­u­ca­tion Project for Chi­nese Youth, said that HIV is now grow­ing fastest among Chi­nese ado­les­cents, and more than 90 per­cent of in­fec­tions oc­cur through sex­ual re­la­tions.

From Jan­uary to Septem­ber last year, there were 96,000 new HIV in­fec­tions, with 24.4 per­cent in the 20-29 age group, ac­cord­ing to China’s Na­tional Cen­ter for AIDS/STD Con­trol and Preven­tion.

Teenage pregnancies and pre­mar­i­tal abor­tions are also ris­ing. The Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion re­ported in 2015 that around 13 mil­lion abor­tions are per­formed an­nu­ally in China. By com­par­i­son, the United States, with roughly a quar­ter of China’s pop­u­la­tion, has fewer than 1 mil­lion abor­tions per year.

Change on hori­zon

To­day, an in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese ado­les­cents are en­gag­ing in pre­mar­i­tal sex, in many cases with only vague knowl­edge of safe sex prac­tices, ex­perts say.

“As a re­sult of se­cre­tive sex ed­u­ca­tion in China, most un­mar­ried Chi­nese ado­les­cents know lit­tle about the con­se­quences of pre­mar­i­tal sex,” said Li Yinhe, a Chi­nese sex­ol­o­gist.

China is mak­ing strides to break its si­lence on sex. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion re­cently is­sued a guide­line sug­gest­ing that higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions set up pub­lic cour­ses on health ed­u­ca­tion to teach stu­dents about sex and re­pro­duc­tive health.

In re­cent years, there have been in­creased calls for bet­ter sex ed­u­ca­tion in China. Liu Wenli, a pro­fes­sor at Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity, has been run­ning a pub­lic WeChat ac­count called “Love and Life” since 2014, of­fer­ing a free sub­scrip­tion ser­vice on sex ed­u­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion.

Liu and her team have also been pop­u­lar­iz­ing their Cher­ish Life sex ed­u­ca­tion text­books for Chi­nese chil­dren. Each month, the team vis­its kinder­gartens and pri­mary schools in Bei­jing to ob­serve les­sons and coach teach­ers.

Sun, the preg­nant math teacher, of­ten thinks about the sex ed­u­ca­tion of her child.

“It will def­i­nitely be bet­ter than mine,” she said.

Most un­mar­ried Chi­nese ado­les­cents know lit­tle about the con­se­quences of pre­mar­i­tal sex.” Li Yinhe, sex­ol­o­gist

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