Comprehensive sex courses have been made available in middle schools in more than 10 major Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Chongqing, Xi'an and Harbin.
These cities have compiled their own textbooks, covering sexual ethics, behavior, procreation and contraception, AIDS prevention and anti-drug warnings. Sex-related topics were previously considered forbidden areas in teenage sex education.
The successful experience in sex education in these cities will be summed up and put into broader use in other cities and rural areas, making all middle school students at the time of puberty able to receive adequate sex knowledge, according to officials of the Ministry of Education.
The move is aimed at preventing teenage pregnancies, sex crimes, overpopulation crisis, AIDS epidemics and other sexually transmitted diseases, and also at satisfying young people's desire to know more about sex and health.
In China about 20 million children reach puberty annually.
Local governments have realized that young people are facing bigger health dangers related to sex, illustrated by rising cases of pre-marital sexual intercourse, accidental pregnancies, induced abortions and sexual diseases, which are largely blamed on earlier sexual maturity, delayed age of marriage and child-bearing, and, most of all, more open-minded attitudes towards sex than in the time of the previous generation, according to Pu Wei, a scholar at the Research Center for Media and Youth under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Chinese society is at a turning point, and sex issues are under influences from both modern liberal ideas likely to tolerate more privacy and traditional conservative concepts featuring restraint.
On one hand more and more young people accept sexual relations before marriage and at lower and lower ages. On the other hand, they lack information, and are not able to get such information from official sources, said Liu Dalin, a sex education expert in Shanghai.
According to an official survey, middle school students acquire 80 percent of their sexual knowledge, not from schools and their parents, but from books, magazines, TV programs and the Internet, which are likely to be misleading. Moreover, 11 percent of boys surveyed and three percent of girls admitted that they had obtained sex information from obscene sources.
Education experts have noted that sketchy knowledge about adolescence was available ten years ago in all middle schools across the country, yet few teachers and even fewer parents were willing to explain sex to young people.
Proper sex education in middle schools will help young people learn knowledge and skills ensuring safe and healthy sex and procreation, and furthermore help them to make a right choice of life style, according to Liu Hanbin, deputy director of the Family Planning Association of China.
"Now is the time to change the traditional ideology of sexual avoidance and to give up unsophisticated teaching methods which simply preached moral standards," he stressed.
The opening of the sex courses has received wide acclaim both from teachers and parents in the cities, which is uncommon considering strong resistance from many parents a decade ago against the offering of a physiological hygiene course which involved minimum sexual information.
"We felt embarrassed at the beginning, but we soon got used to it in the frank and pleasant atmosphere of the class," said Zhong Jing, a senior middle school girl of the 13th Vocational High School in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.
(Xinhua News Agency November 23,2001)