Last month in a leading state elementary school in Beijing, parents were up in arms about the school’s first sex education class for fifth- and sixth-graders. In order to quell the backlash, the school’s PTA presented a class just for parents.
Didi Kristen Tatlow, reporting for The New York Times, said that the parents who attended were asked to say things to each other and to their children they had probably never even said to their spouses. Although the Chinese Education Ministry wants schools to teach sex education, many do not because of the embarrassment factor, and because it is not a class for which students are graded.
The parent meeting was filled with questions as to what children of this age should be told, questions about menstruation, masturbation, and how to discuss where babies come from with their children. The parents were told to listen to their children’s questions, and to resist wanting to control the conversation, a counter-intuitive thought for Chinese parents. They believe that education flows from old to young.
The serious lack of sex education in China has led to:
- Vulnerability to sexual abuse
- A lack of sex education , so no one is available down the line to teach it
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), accounting for 81.7% of all new HIV infections
- Unwanted pregnancies due to lack of knowledge of contraception
- Lack of knowledge for social workers, teachers, health providers
- 22.2% of 998 Chinese males surveyed admitting to have raped a woman
- Lack of empowerment for potential victims
- Lack of control and understanding by aggressors
From 1949, when the Communists came to power, sex talk was taboo to the point of being erased from public life. China began to open up in the 1970s, and the first sex ed classes began in Shanghai and then were established in all middle schools in the country.
Jemimah Steinfeld, writing for CNN reports that, ultimately, prudishness prevailed. The country is still in the business of censoring references to sex. Teachers are still too embarrassed to talk about sex. The focus is on good grades, not a good understanding of human sexuality.
There are huge contradictions between radicals and conservatives about what is right and wrong; between Western concepts and Chinese traditional culture. Still, non-governmental organizations, social organizations, and other initiatives continue to fight for the dissemination of knowledge.
An editorial written in The China Post, encourages the dispensing of condoms to teenagers. But, the writer adds, it is not that simple.
The problem is that teenagers don’t have a clue of what they are doing. While the educational system relies on parents to check homework, cram school teachers to teach every subject and schools to train students to pass tests, nobody seems to be in charge of teaching children about sex, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and homosexuality. Not the public school, not the cram school, not the parents. Nobody. Without a doubt, there is a lack of a proper sex education curriculum that would help students understand the lessons of human sexuality, reproduction and the spread of disease. Teenagers also have to understand their social studies lessons concerning social relationships, the development of cultural norms and the role of responsible citizens.