Debate heats up over explicit content in sex education books

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The direct description of sexual intercourse in China's first sex education textbook for primary school students in Beijing has triggered a wave of parental concerns and heated debates among educators.

"To let sperm find the ovum as soon as possible, dad inserts his penis into mom's vagina at full tilt and the sperm enters mom's vagina."

This passage taken from the textbook titled "Growing Steps" appears with illustrations of the intercourse-engaged penis and vagina in the first part of the series for students aged six to seven years old.

"It's too much for children. Is that simply porn pictures for kids? It is not healthy," said a mother surnamed Liu, who worries that the material may be too mature for her eight-year-old.

Liu's concerns are echoed by many parents in a country that has never before offered sex education to primary school students, said 33-year-old mother Wu Ou, deputy chief editor of China's popular science website

"It's not wrong to describe sex in direct ways, but the sentences in the book are too rude, and it's even banned from our website," Wu said, is designed for adults from 20 to 35.

The wording should be more tender and more beautiful in the books for children, she said.

In her opinion, early sex education is a field demanding more design and more ideas, which should be delicate in details with vivid words and clear pictures.

The textbooks written for primary school students by experts at the Beijing Sex Health Education Research Association are divided into three phases for pupils from six to twelve years old.

The first phase includes "My Body," "Where Am I From," and "Can You Protect Yourself?"

The second features "Body Changes During Adolescence" and "Techniques to Communicate with Parents," as well as "Beauty in Puberty" and "Little Man."

The third contains the chapters "To Accept Yourself," "AIDS Prevention," as well as "To Be A Healthy Netizen."

The trial run for the primary school books is set to begin in 18 schools in the coming semester.

Meanwhile, books for junior middle school students are currently being written by experts and will be tested in 30 schools, said an official with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education.

Children's books not written for adults

Although some parents are concerned that the content seems to be too graphic or mature for their young children, others are voicing their support.

Feng Zhihua, deputy editor of one of China's most popular biological and medical website, Dingxiangyuan (, is also a father who considers the book appropriate and necessary.

"Adults see dirty things in the book while students may not. They see things in a different way and we should not judge from our perspectives. The words 'penis' and 'vagina' will come to the students sooner or later. There is no need to avoid them in education," Feng told Xinhua.

"The children's world is pure and cannot be judged through adult eyes," said Lu Weihong, one author of the books.

In China, sex education often faces resistance, especially from an older generation of parents who told their children that babies were picked up in streets or jumped out of rocks, Lu said.

China's sex education is considered conservative, especially in schools which had been avoiding the subject and, instead, leaving the topic to be taught by parents or society, she said.

Students became more confused after reading past teaching materials, she added.

Surveys show little sexual awareness

In 2002, an experimental sex education curriculum launched by the Beijing Sex Health Education Research Association for junior middle school was dropped after strong protests from parents.

Since then, new books have been created based on surveys conducted among 453 fourth and fifth grade students in 14 schools in Beijing, Lu Weihong said.

The results showed that less than 20 percent of students acquired knowledge of sex in school.

Only five percent of the students surveyed could properly identify sexual organs, while another 16 percent did not know these organs at all.

More than 14 percent said they would not know how to handle sexual violations and another four percent said they felt "indifferent" to violation.

"The statistics reveal the weakness of sex education in China's schools," said Zhang Meimei, director of the Sex Education Research Center of Beijing's Capital Normal University.

Sex education has been absent in primary and middle schools and children know little about their sexually maturing bodies, causing many psychological problems during adolescence, Zhang said.

"Some girls even thought the development of their bubbies was breast cancer," Zhang said.

The new books combine the essence of foreign sex education as well as Chinese traditional culture and future-oriented perspectives. They are expected to offer sex knowledge, values and guidance to students, teachers and parents, she said.

She added that many foreign countries have had plenty of experience in sex education.

Education authorities in the city of New York announced that they will launch sex education courses for 11-year-old students in the upcoming spring semester. These courses will include advice on the proper age for sexual activity as well as how to correctly use a condom and resist unpleasant sexual activity.

Although this program also triggered debate, it gained the support of the majority, she said.

Zhang said she is more worried about the teachers than the students. She hopes the teachers won't feel too shy to properly approach the subject, which could waste the teaching materials.

Sex education based on beauty and biology

China has very few sex education websites. Only a few portal or medical websites have sex-focused channels, which look more like sex techniques than education, said Ding Zheng, an editor of the Love and Sex channel of, who also holds a masters degree in Biological Sciences from the China Agricultural University's Microbiology College.

"I prefer to share knowledge from a more scientific perspective. When we talk about intercourse, we introduce magnetic resonance imaging of intercourse, vaginal muscle contractions, and how to measure the hardness of a penis," said Ding, whose channel mainly attracts readers aged 20 to 35 years old who live in China's big cities, not children.

Ding suggests parents take a greater role in sex education.

"The more open your attitude is, the healthier your child's attitude is," he said.

Guan Bo, a National Certified Counselor in China's Tianjin Hospital in Tianjin Municipality, believes sex education should begin at an early age.

National convention requires sex education starting between the ages of three and five, and usually begins with gender awareness, Guan said.

Although there may be few sex education websites, convenient Internet access has led today's children to obtain knowledge about sexual behavior earlier than in previous generations, making it imperative for China to update its early sex education system in a way that is both sophisticated and manageable for children.

"It is too late to first encounter sex education in junior middle school. Schools should give a sex knowledge questionnaire to each student before entering school to help the school choose different sex education books. And then these disputes may not exist," said Duan Yupei, a Biology teacher at Beijing No.4 High School, one of Beijing's most famous middle schools.

"My students can see a flash of the penile erection process and the structure of the female reproductive system in my classes, and I prefer to say words like 'penis' and 'vagina' directly," Duan said.

"It will not be mysterious when you say it naturally. The bias only comes from ignorance," he said.

"Children need to know that sex is clean, beautiful, sacred, private and normal human physiological behavior when they are very young. We need more elegant words instead of 'to ejaculate at full tilt into mom's vagina,'" said Xiao Ji, a member of the Scientific Squirrels, China's most popular science writing club, and a postgraduate student of Clinical Medicine at Shanghai Jiaotong University's School of Medicine.

Liu Nianlong, a club member who is studying Biology at Guangzhou University in south China's Guangdong Province, suggested asking fairy tale writers to pen sex education books instead of scientists or teachers.

"This new book tells the truth but leaves no space for the beautiful imaginations of young people," Liu said. "Sex is not only about knowledge, it is also a beautiful thing."Wall Street down for fourth week on economic fears

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