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Better sex education will keep youth safe

By Cesar Chelala | China Daily | Updated: 2015-12-08 07:48

Better sex education will keep youth safe

Lack of proper sex education, particularly in schools, is having some serious effects on Chinese youngsters. Today, an increasing number of Chinese adolescents are engaging in premarital sex, in many cases without any knowledge of how to protect themselves from the negative consequences. 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 seen an upsurge in syphilis, gonorrhea and Chlamydia and HIV/AIDS cases.

An official report on families, released earlier this year, shows the average age of Chinese adolescents having sex for the first time is 15.9 years. No wonder, there is an increase in unwanted pregnancies. According to a think tank, affiliated to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, about 13 million abortions are performed every year in China. But Marie Stopes International, a reproductive-health agency, estimates the real figure could be much higher, considering the sales of domestic drugs used for terminating pregnancies.

What makes the situation more serious is that girls are undergoing abortions at a younger age.

Still, many parents are either reluctant or refuse to teach their children the use of condoms and the importance of safe sex, hoping they would never engage in premarital sex. This lack of knowledge on the part of adolescents may partly explain the high pregnancy and abortion rates among youngsters.

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 reproduction. Contraceptive methods, however, are usually excluded from these classes. This happens because teachers, school administrators and policymakers are worried that they could be blamed for condoning or encouraging adolescent sexual behavior.

However, adolescents who become sexually active need information about the proper use of contraceptives and how to prevent STIs. More important, girls should learn how to negotiate their refusal to engage in sex. Studies show that emphasizing abstinence cannot prevent youngsters from engaging in sex.

Educating adolescents in the use of contraceptives and negotiation skills are important components to consider while implementing comprehensive sex education programs in China. Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Shenzhen have become part of an early network of cities that have implemented such curriculum.

Because many educators give more importance to students securing high scores in exams to facilitate their admission to good universities, they tend to lay less emphasis on sex education. This prompts many youngsters in China to use the Internet (even pornographic sites) to seek information, which is not always accurate.

"The Chinese government's general attitude toward sexuality and sex education has become more open," Li Yinhe, a fellow with the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said recently. "Compared to older generations in China, teenagers in the 21st century have more access to sexual knowledge," she said.

Sex education is compulsory in Japan and the Republic of Korea, countries that share many cultural traits with China. Since China, too, is taking measures to provide sex education for its younger generations, it should make it more comprehensive and more effective.

The author is an international public health consultant and has the book, Quality of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services, to his credit.

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