Life Wellbeing The sexual revolution China needs – education

The sexual revolution China needs – education

China sex education
Efforts are being made in China to increase awareness about reproductive health and popularise sex education. Photo: China Photos/Getty
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A trend of unwanted pregnancies and a rising HIV rate among students has prompted some campaigners in China to provide proper sex education to young people.

Despite enforcing a strict one child policy up until recently, many Chinese school students have received little, if any, education about sex.

Peng Xiaohui, one of China’s most outspoken sex education advocates, says the country has a long history of sexual repression.

“This type of culture still exists, so when ordinary people talk about sex, they feel embarrassed,” he said.

Mr Peng says a national report released last year found the overall number of people with AIDS in China is declining, but among university students it is increasing by 30 per cent each year.

The 60-year-old Trilby-wearing sexologist travels the country giving sex education lessons to university students and young people.

“Generally speaking in Chinese schools and universities education authorities don’t actively organise sexology research or sex education,” he said.

Officially, sex education is supposed to be taught in Chinese high schools but university students like Han Xiaofeng say comprehensive lessons are rare.

“During anatomy class, the teachers all avoided topics relating to sex, even detailed lessons about the sexual organs,” he said.

The 22-year-old is taking part in one of Mr Peng’s sexology lessons at Wuhan Normal University.

“In many rural areas, they definitely don’t teach sex education,” said 19-year-old Hong Jiazong, a fellow student.

“We mainly learn from the internet.”

Chinese sex educator
Wu Si, 21, organises sex education sessions at Beijing University. Photo: ABC

Beijing-based university student Wu Si says the lack of open discussion about sex is all the more concerning in an era of dating and hook-up apps.

“Opportunities to have sex are increasing but knowledge of safe sex isn’t,” she said.

The 21-year-old organises sex education sessions for fellow students on campus, as part of a program supported by the Chinese Red Cross.

“The most effective way to prevent AIDS is to use condoms but many people don’t want to use them,” she said.

“They claim they don’t how to use them, or they feel embarrassed, or they think it will ‘kill the mood’.”

The Red Cross program is partly in response to rising HIV infection rates among young people, particularly among young gay men, who themselves face difficulties accessing support and education.

Wu Si says young women she encounters are often misinformed about contraception methods, such as the birth control pill.

“Traditional thinking in China is that any medicine is at least 30 per cent harmful to your body, so young people don’t want to know how the pill works – they just believe it’s harmful,” she said.

Chinese couple bicycle
Sex education is becoming increasingly urgent in China. Photo: Goh Chai HIn/AFP/Getty

In the final year of the One Child Policy in 2015, at least 13,000 women across China underwent abortions.

While the policy has since been abolished, sex education campaigners say unwanted pregnancies are still relatively common among young couples.

School textbooks have also been in focus, with a student recently taking a provincial education department to court over a book that described homosexuality as a “disorder”.

Peng Xiaohui and Wu Si agree such action encourages overdue public discussion of topics that have long been taboo.

“Some students have written to me, saying their life has benefitted from my classes,” Mr Peng said.

“These students say even the next generation will benefit.”


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