And Finally

Taboo subject

China’s primary school sex-ed textbook stokes debate


The birds and bees, China-style

The Chinese government wants people to have more children (two per family, to be precise). So perhaps now is a good time to improve its record on sex education.

But when a mother from Hangzhou saw the textbook her seven year-old son had brought home last month, she found it so explicit she thought it might be a fake. The book called Cherish Life is being used as part of a pilot sex-ed course for primary school kids. It is picture-heavy and covers topics ranging from reproduction to sexual abuse.

Many parents complained about the forthright language: “Daddy put his penis into Mommy’s vagina” is a line that drew a lot of complaints in particular.

But even as the Hangzhou school was forced to recall the books, parents elsewhere made a beeline for their local bookstore to order a copy. It has since sold out nationwide.

“We are expecting a second baby and I want to explain what is happening to my daughter,” said one of the millions of people who commented on weibo.

“It’s such a shame there was no book like this when I was young,” wrote another. “It would have saved a lot of confusion!”

Chinese schools have traditionally shunned sex education – preferring to assign the human reproduction part of the biology curriculum as homework. But as more young people have become more sexually active there has been a growth in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

The books are an attempt to promote better sexual and mental health. “When the scientific name of a sexual organ cannot be said aloud, how can a child describe a problem or report an assault?” says Beijing Normal University, the book’s publisher.

The nine-part book series is considered groundbreaking because it also tackles topics like gender discrimination and same-sex couples.

“Most people are heterosexual, but there are also some people who feel attracted to the same sex. This is a completely normal phenomenon. We can’t discriminate against them,” the book says. It was only in 1997 that China decriminalised homosexuality. In 2001, it was removed from an official list of mental disorders.

The need for education is clear. Last year China launched its first domestically made tampon. As few as 2% of Chinese women use internal menstrual care because they believe it is bad for them. “Women often don’t understand their own anatomy,” the manufacturer said.

If Cherish Life goes into reprint perhaps that won’t be the case in the future.

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