Sex Ed

Shang­hai for­eign­ers ar­gue in fa­vor of con­tro­ver­sial chil­dren’s sex-ed text­book Let’s talk about sex, baby

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Qi Xi­jia

Weibo post made by other from angzhou, hejiang Prov­ince, re­cently ent vi­ral for show­ing pages from er ri­mary school-age son’s new sex ed­u­ca­tion text­book. “O boy, ou are grow­ing taller,” a mid­dle-age man in one of the book’s car­toon ill tra­tions tells a lit­tle oy adding “now pull own your pants nd let me ee if your enis s grow­ing too?

The book series, called Cher­ish Life, con­tains ex­tremely graphic draw­ings de­pict­ing male and fe­male gen­i­tals and shows how adult cou­ples have sex­ual in­ter­course. The books were pub­lished by Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity fol­low­ing ap­proval by ed­u­ca­tion and med­i­cal ex­perts.

The books were in­tended to be used in Chi­nese public schools for chil­dren aged 6 to 12. The above quote was taken from a sec­tion de­signed to teach chil­dren to pro­tect them­selves from abuse.

Based on the In­ter­na­tional Tech­ni­cal Guid­ance on Sex­u­al­ity de­vel­oped by UNESCO in 2009, the new Chi­nese series con­tains 12 books cov­er­ing fam­ily and friends, life and skills, gen­der and rights, body de­vel­op­ment, sex and healthy habits, and sex & re­pro­duc­tion.

How­ever the ex­plicit di­a­logue and graphic illustrations of gen­i­tals and sex­ual in­ter­course have shocked many Chi­nese par­ents, es­pe­cially those of the post-1980s and un­der gen­er­a­tions who did not re­ceive much if any sex ed­u­ca­tion while grow­ing up.

As a re­sult of the re­cent con­tro­versy, the book has been pulled from public school class­rooms, which in turn spawned a heated on­line de­bate about the state of sex ed­u­ca­tion in China, where tra­di­tional par­ents and teach­ers are pru­dent about in­form­ing youth about sex.

While many Chi­nese ne­ti­zens are re­fer­ring to the book as porno­graphic and ob­scene, a num­ber of more open-minded cit­i­zens and par­ents have praised the Cher­ish Life series as a great leap for China’s sex ed­u­ca­tion and an op­por­tu­nity to catch up with Western civ­i­liza­tion, where sex ed is the es­tab­lished norm.

Western per­spec­tives

To glean some in­sight into the Western per­spec­tive of this sen­si­tive sub­ject mat­ter, the Global Times re­cently chased down some for­eign­ers seen strolling around Shang­hai, showed pages and illustrations from the book series, then asked them for their opin­ions.

Most of the for­eign­ers we in­ter­viewed agreed that it is im­por­tant for China to have a text­book like this, but some ar­gued that show­ing it to kids in the ear­li­est years of pri­mary school is prob­a­bly too early.

“I do think that, for grade 1 or 2, this might be a lit­tle graphic. I started my sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion in grade 5 or 6. We had sim­i­lar books like this,” Rene from Aus­tria said.

“I think it’s su­per im­por­tant, es­pe­cially in China. What I learn from my friends here is that peo­ple don’t know much about this topic from school,” he added.

Lau­rence from France also agreed that the book is ed­u­ca­tional, es­pe­cially in China. “It will help you to un­der­stand more about con­cep­tion and pro­tect­ing your­self from dis­ease or get­ting preg­nant,” she said, adding that the pic­tures might be too star­tling for 7-year-olds and would be bet­ter to wait closer to pu­berty age.

Noth­ing shame­ful

China’s lack of sex ed­u­ca­tion has been ac­cused by local and world lead­ers of re­sult­ing in a grow­ing num­ber of HIV in­fec­tions through sex­ual in­ter­course as well as the coun­try’s high abor­tion rate caused by un­wanted preg­nan­cies.

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics re­leased by the Chi­nese Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion in 2016, sex has be­come the pri­mary method of HIV in­fec­tions in China, ac­count­ing for over 90 per­cent.

China’s Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion re­vealed that about 13 mil­lion abor­tions are car­ried out in the coun­try an­nu­ally. Of those, 62 per­cent are per­formed on women aged be­tween 20 and 29, most of whom are sin­gle.

“But you don’t have to teach kids about that when they are 6 years old,” Pa­trick from Ger­many, a fa­ther of two, said. “In my coun­try it starts from grade 5 in the school.”

Some in­ter­viewed for­eign­ers, how­ever, be­lieve that it is im­por­tant for chil­dren to re­ceive sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion at grade 1, as there is noth­ing shame­ful about chil­dren dis­cov­er­ing their bod­ies.

Gil from Canada, a fa­ther of a 2-yearold child, said it is healthy for kids to talk about such things. He said he’d pre­fer his child some­day learn in a re­spon­si­ble way from an adult, “in­stead of just chat­ting among other kids and laugh­ing about it.”

“It’s not to teach them to have sex in pri­mary school. It’s just to teach them about how their body works. Just ba­sic bi­ol­ogy,” he added.

Phoebe from the US be­lieves it is im­por­tant to learn about sex­ual health at a young age. “If you wait till the sixth grade, when it be­comes stig­ma­tized, you don’t take it se­ri­ously.”

“Ev­ery­one just made fun of it in my (sixth-grade) class be­cause it was al­ready like a taboo topic and no one wanted to talk about it,” she said.

“If you start learn­ing about it when you are young, then you can fully ab­sorb ev­ery­thing and take your body more se­ri­ously and un­der­stand it bet­ter.” Af­ter look­ing at the illustrations in

Cher­ish Life, Phoebe did not think they were too graphic. “Ev­ery­body has those body parts. It’s im­por­tant to know you have those same parts, so see­ing them drawn on a page isn’t go­ing to be a prob­lem,” she said.

Might as well ed­u­cate them

Phoebe also ex­pects that the rea­son so many Chi­nese par­ents and teach­ers want the book pulled from class­rooms is due to their own shel­tered up­bring­ing. “They didn’t have any sex-ed grow­ing up them­selves, so that’s why they don’t un­der­stand it.

“But in our con­tem­po­rary cul­ture,” she added, “kids are see­ing it any­way, so might as well ed­u­cate them in school rather than just see­ing it on­line and not know­ing what’s go­ing on,” she said.

Whereas the av­er­age Chi­nese par­ents would dodge ques­tions such as “where do I come from,” for­eign par­ents seem to be­lieve that it is the par­ents’ re­spon­si­bil­ity to teach their chil­dren ev­ery­thing about sex.

“Whether it’s about sex or whether it’s about pol­i­tics or whether it’s about his­tory, a child will pick up ideas from some­where,” said Lee from the US, who is rais­ing a son in Shang­hai.

Lee said that Chi­nese par­ents more than other na­tion­al­i­ties are re­luc­tant to be able to talk about sex di­rectly with their own chil­dren and thus he hopes that ma­te­rial like the Cher­ish Life series will en­cour­age Chi­nese par­ents to get more in­volved.

“In the fifth grade, we talked about sex and the same top­ics in this book: what body parts a boy has and what parts a girl has,” Lee re­called. “I think the pic­tures (in Cher­ish Life) are fine. They are a bit too car­toon­ish, even.”

Bon­nie from the US, who has two boys, 30 and 28, con­curs. “Such sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion is good. Sex-ed in the US has been around for prob­a­bly a good 30 years.”

She re­called that, when her sons were grow­ing up, Amer­i­can schools taught stu­dents how to avoid be­ing mo­lested by adults, which the Cher­ish Life series also cov­ers. “I would say Chi­nese par­ents are a lit­tle bit re­served,” she said.

Photo: CFP

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