China’s sexual education, taboos and consequences

China’s a very interesting place right now in terms of sex education, sexual behaviour, and tenacious, strong taboos surrounding discussion of sex.

When we first landed in Tianjin (2007) we walked to Chinese class, and noticed that the walls lining the sidewalk outside of residential and school compounds had condom boxes affixed to them. The anonymous (though still public) nature of the transaction made sense to me, given that sex talk was still very much taboo and buying condoms at a convenience or grocery store risked a scowl or scolding from the cashier if the customer looked young.

Here’s a picture of one kind (they didn’t all come with cute posters and fancy framing):

DSCN7431 condom box Chinas sexual education, taboos and consequences
关注生殖健康共建和谐家园
Pay Attention to Reproductive Health, Together Build a Harmonious Home
关注生殖健康构建和谐社会
Pay Attention to Reproductive Health, Construct a Harmonious Society
安全售货
Condom Vending Machine (They chose “safety cover” 安全套 rather than “contraception cover” 避孕套。)
Contraceptive Social Marketing

I was reminded of these things by a recent e-mail from the author of this article: “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Didn’t Learn Because You Grew Up in China): Despite the one-child policy, millions of Chinese citizens don’t know how to have sex without getting pregnant”, and much of it rings true to what we’ve seen volunteering with a sex ed. project in Tianjin — for example, the practical difficulty of implementing sex ed. directives:

his teacher forced an assistant—who until then had not taught a single lesson—to lead the class. The younger instructor stood in front of the students red with embarrassment, unable to broach the subject. Eventually, the students were told to read the chapter themselves.

The article makes for a decent introduction to the current sex ed. situation in China, tying together the state of Chinese sex ed., cultural taboos surrounding sex talk, traditional Chinese patriarchal gender roles, the rampant, uninformed sexual activity among students, the lack of birth control use and China’s abortion epidemic.

Here’s more on sex ed., cultural taboos, and current sexual behaviour in China, including stuff about the university sex ed. project we’ve volunteered with:

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