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Chinese Youngsters Need Better Sex Education

Lack of proper sex education, particularly in schools, is having some serious health consequences on Chinese youngsters. Today, an increasing number of Chinese adolescents are engaging in premarital sexual activity in many cases without any knowledge of how to better protect themselves from its effects. As a result, teenage pregnancy and premarital abortion have become major public health issues.

There are increasing numbers of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) –including HIV/AIDS- among young adults. In recent years, China has had an upsurge of syphilis, gonorrhea and Chlamydia, and the country is in an early stage of a major HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is estimated that at least 7,000 youths are HIV positive.

According to the latest reproductive health survey carried out in China -which involved 22,000 adolescents- over 22 percent among them had had premarital sex. Because of lack of knowledge, of this 22 percent who had premarital sex 21.3 percent of females had an unwanted pregnancy, and 91 percent of those pregnancies ended up in abortion.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission reports that approximately 13 million abortions are performed annually in China. However, Marie Stopes International, a reproductive-health agency, estimates that the real figure could be as high as 40 million when considering the sales of domestic drugs used for terminating pregnancies. That would represent a high proportion of abortions performed worldwide.

What makes the situation even more serious is that girls requesting abortions are doing so at younger ages. Many parents refuse that their children be taught condom use, hoping that they may never engage in pre-marital sexual activities. This lack of knowledge may be responsible, in part, for high pregnancy and abortion rates.

Increasingly, schools and communities have been implementing sex education programs for adolescents. In many cases, emphasis on those programs is generally placed in increasing adolescents’ knowledge of anatomical and physiological facts of human reproduction. Contraceptive methods, however, are usually excluded from these classes. This happens because sex education teachers, school administrators and policymakers are concerned that they would be blamed for condoning or encouraging adolescent sexual activities.

Adolescents who become sexually active need information about the proper use of contraceptives and how to prevent STIs, as well as, in the case of girls, how to negotiate their refusal to engage on sexual relations with their male companions. It has been proven that emphasizing abstinence in youngsters is not an effective way to stop them from having sexual relations.

In this regard, a study conducted in Shanghai and published in 2005 in the magazine International Family Planning Perspectives found that teaching contraceptive education and negotiation skills are important components to include in comprehensive sex education programs in China. In this regard Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Shenzhen are part of an early network of cities that have implemented such curriculum.

Because many educators give more importance that their students score high in exams so as to get them into good universities, they don’t give too much importance to teach their students sex education issues. As a result, many young Chinese resort to the Internet and to pornographic sites for information, which is not always accurate.

Fortunately, “the Chinese government’s general attitude toward sexuality and sex education has become more open,” told the China Daily Li Yinhe, a Fellow with the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “Compared to older generations in China, teenagers in the 21st century have more access to sexual knowledge,” she added.

Sex education is compulsory in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, which are countries that share similar cultural values. China has begun to move forward on providing sex education for its younger generations. Now is the time to make it more comprehensive, and more effective.

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Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

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