Dream of the bed chamber
1 “SEX, sex, sexual intercourse, penis, penis, vagina.” More than 150 undergraduates are sitting in a lecture hall at China Agricultural University in Beijing, shouting loudly. Many are sexually active, or soon will be. Yet for most it is the first sex education class they have attended.中国农业大学北京校区的讲堂里坐了超过150位本科生，他们齐声说着类似于“性、性爱、性交、阴茎、阴道”等词语。他们中有多人正处于性欲旺盛时期，有的人也即将迎来这一时期。但是对他们大多数人来说，这是他们上的第一堂性教育课。
2 Their instructor hopes that shouting such words will help youngsters talk more openly about sex. Lu Zhongbao, a 24-year-old forestry student, says he was told as a child that he “emerged from a rock”. When he started having sex with his university girlfriend he had little idea about contraception. This evening he arrived an hour early armed with another question: will masturbating damage his health?
3 It is not just China’s economy that has loosened up since 1979. The country is in the midst of a sexual revolution. A 2012 study found that more than 70% of Chinese people have sex before marriage. Other polls put that figure lower but consistently indicate that over the past 30 years, more young Chinese are doing it, with more partners, at a younger age. But a lack of sex education means that many are not protecting themselves, resulting in soaring abortion rates and a rise in sexually transmitted diseases.
4 The Communist Party has stuck its nose into people’s bedrooms for 30 years through its harsh family-planning policies. Yet taboos on sex before marriage prevailed, the result of paternalistic—not religious—values about female chastity, with a dose of Communist asceticism thrown in. Pre-marital sex fell foul of a range of laws, including the catch-all charge of “hooliganism”, only scrapped in 1997.
5 The social climate remains chilly. Most news items about sex involve scandals or crimes. Schools ban pupils from dating and many deploy “morality patrols” to root out flirting or frolicking couples. Sex outside wedlock is not illegal but children born to unmarried mothers face obstacles obtaining a hukou, or household residency, that entitles them to subsidised education and welfare. Yet with greater freedom from their parents, more money and increasing exposure to permissive influences from abroad, China’s youth are clearly separating sex from procreation.
6 Education on the subject is compulsory in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan—societies that have some cultural similarities with China. But most Chinese schools teach only basic anatomy.
7 This is not entirely for lack of trying. Pilot campaigns in Shanghai and Beijing schools in the 1980s were incorporated into a nationwide programme in 1988 but it was never implemented. In 2008 the Ministry of Education included sex education in the national health and hygiene curriculum. The barriers are not just prudery. Like football, fashion and other teenage pastimes, sex (and learning about it) is seen as a distraction from studies. “Sex is not an exam subject,” says Sheng Yingyi, a 21-year-old student.
8 Where classes happen, most students are merely given a textbook. “Happy Middle School Students”, written for 12- to 15-year-olds in 2006 and still widely used, refers to sperm meeting egg without describing the mechanics of intercourse. A more explicit volume for primary-school pupils published in 2011, which did explain how sperm were delivered, was criticised for being pornographic.
9 The dominant message is to abstain. A 2013 review by UNESCO and Beijing Forestry University noted the prevalence of “terror-based” sex education, with content largely focused on the horrors of pregnancy, abortion and HIV. Earlier this month a university in Xi’an in central China ran a course entitled “No Regrets Youth” where students received a “commitment card”, essentially a pledge to remain a virgin until marriage.
We need to talk 我们要谈谈
10 There is almost no discussion in Chinese schools about love, communication or trust, how to say no or to deal with harassment or abuse. Homosexuality is not discussed, and Chinese parents rarely talk with their children about sex. Peng Xiaohui of Central China Normal University, who runs sex-education classes (including the one at China Agricultural University), had excrement thrown at him last year because of the work he does. Several Chinese and foreign NGOs have tried to fill the gap, but many are now wary after the month-long detention this year of five feminists who had launched a campaign against sexual harassment. Most Chinese youths find out about sex from the internet and online pornography.
11 That does not work well. Because of the mismatch between lust and learning, around a quarter of all sexually active women under 24 get pregnant by mistake. Half of them do not use prophylactics, some because they know little about them, others because of insufficient access.
12 The pill is not widely used in China, even by married women. The government encourages the use of intra-uterine devices which provide less chance of human error. Until last year advertising condoms on television was banned (abortion, by contrast, is widely promoted). Convenience stores sell condoms, but they are not always available near college campuses.
13 Those who do use prophylactics often use them wrongly: a 2014 study found that a quarter of under-17s who got pregnant had used some form of birth control. There is also a flourishing trade in “counterfeit condoms”, shoddily made sheaths being passed off as popular name brands. As a result sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise; 91% of new HIV cases are from sexual contact.
Dirty secrets 肮脏的秘密
14 It is hardly surprising that the abortion rate is so high. The one-child policy has made termination a normal phenomenon. Most clinics, private or state, put a premium on speed and offer no advice on how to avoid getting pregnant again. So repeat abortions are common: a study of nearly 80,000 Chinese women who terminated pregnancies in 2013, published in October by the Lancet, a British journal, found that 37% were doing so for the second time, and 29% for a third time or more. Unmarried women account for a rising share of these—and are a significant reason why, after an extended period of decline, terminations have been increasing in number since 2003.
15 Although China has no national system for counting abortions (official statistics include only state facilities), a researcher from the National Health and Family Planning Commission reckons there could be 13m terminations or more a year, a figure widely quoted in state media. But Marie Stopes, an international reproductive-health agency, reckons that figure could be as high as 40m, given domestic sales for pharmaceutical companies selling drugs used in terminations. If that number is correct, around half of all abortions worldwide are in China. The high number of terminations is in marked contrast to the low birth rate. If Marie Stopes is correct, 2.5 babies are aborted in China for every one born, compared with about two live births per termination in Russia and five births to one abortion in America. Even using the widely cited 13m figure, there are nearly as many abortions as births in China each year. That, and not frank talk about sex, is China’s shame.
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