Thursday night we tagged along with the Bright Future crew (“HIV/AIDS, Sexual Health and Values Training for University Students”) to Tianjin University, where we posed as guest sexperts for about two hours. Not sure that I feel qualified to be an authority on human sexuality, but most of the people that get called sexperts don’t really know what they’re talking about anyway, so my conscience is clear. I think. Anyway, we were brought in for the “When should you start having sex?” lesson. Bright Future tries to give them a better understanding of sexuality by emphasizing the psychological, relational, emotional, and mental aspects, while also providing important info regarding what actually happens to your body and how all those aspects are interconnected. The idea being that all these things considered together indicate that having sex exclusively within a committed, lifelong monogamous relationship is best for everyone involved and provides the greatest potential for the best sex in the long term.
It was fascinating for a lot of reasons. Sexual education in China is generally pretty poor by Western standards (of course, sex ed. in the West is pretty poor by
lots of peoples’ my standards). It varies a lot, but often if students here get anything it’s “Here’s a book to read” with little or no actual class discussion. Sex is still – relative to the West – not talked about very openly. This has many consequences, of course, sharp increases in AIDS and abortion rates among them. From the NYT this week:
For this new generation of single women, who have grown up in a China increasingly unmoored from the values, and inhibitions, of traditional culture, the rising abortion numbers are rooted in many factors. While the Chinese government has focused on policing the reproductive lives of married women, it has paid far less attention to educating single women about sex, partly because of cultural resistance.
Health experts say that many single women lack even a basic understanding about reproductive health and contraception. At the same time, premarital sex, once rare, is now considered common, particularly in urban areas. So as more single women are having sex, despite often knowing little about it, they also are having more abortions.
I’d partially attribute the high divorce and infidelity rates to poor sexual education as well; there’s no condom for your brain or heart. The students say they learn about sex from the internet and movies, which they can get off the street here before you see them on the store shelves in North America. One student asked me afterward what it’s really like in America because he had doubts about the picture painted by Hollywood. Many of them still don’t know the basics.
Jessica did a particularly stunning job. She wrote up and organized all the material. I didn’t contribute much, other than showing up and being the other half of the example relationship, and saying things to try and get the students loosened up (lots of fun!). Bright Future’s website is in progress. We’ll link to it once it’s up.
I’ve been exhausted and out of it for the last week or two for no particular reason, other than the accumulation of thousands of little stressors that get together and sneak up on you. No creative energy for anything, tired but can’t sleep, can’t concentrate in class, can’t remember anything, a little more cynical about the host culture and more easily irritated by the locals – all for no particular reason. I mentioned it to some foreigner friends, all who’ve been here longer, and one said, “Oh, you’re there, are you?” This kind of thing is normal when you’re living in a different culture, especially if you’re working to engage the culture. It’s part of a cycle you go around and around. The best medicine for it is actually to keep on engaging the culture, even when you feel like pulling out. It’s not really a big deal, especially when you’ve been taught how to deal with it like we have (though if you’re not prepared it can be pretty bad). But it’s an important part of the experience so I thought I’d include it.