The impact of tradition, morality and law on sex education in China

Over the years, “sex education” in China hasn’t been an acceptable subject for adolescents as most parents and even teachers avoid it like plague. People who brand themselves as “traditional” often see sexuality as a taboo that shouldn’t be discussed in public or education institutions.

Image shows a group of young girls who work in massage and spa houses. Such places are always used as brothels with the employees rendering sex services in secret. 

Young people are often scolded for their curiosity on sex-related matters and as fate would have it, they quickly mature into adulthood without knowledge of sexual crimes, safe sex, unwanted pregnancies and sex ethics. In return, the society gets to pay for its hypocrisy.

There’s truth in the saying, “a stitch in time, saves nine”.

Sex education refers to people’s comprehension about sex, which involves not only sexual structure (anatomy, physiology, birth control, pregnancy, etc.), but also sexual relationships concerning human and moral problems. It includes at least sexual physiology, sexual psychology, sexual ethic, sexual law, etc., which aims to help people form the attitude and behavior that both society and morality can accept.

Recently, one sexual education pilot programme in Beijing made headlines for the wrong reasons. The textbook approved for students to learn about the sex life of bees and birds, was criticised for being “overly-graphic”.

Parents were divided over the matter as some argued that schools were trying to pervert their kids while others admitted it’s a necessary evil.

In may schools, teachers always skip Biology lesson chapters on sexuality. Most educators would rather ask students to read the pages at home.

However, the times have changed from those days when students were denied answers to life-changing questions on their sexuality. Parents now have a better understanding of the need for sexual education and would want their kids to get an all-round development.

Image shows a group of prostitutes under arrest at a Chinese brothel.

Ma Li is a teacher in Shanghai who teaches a small group of Chinese women about sex. The subject is called something that literally translates to “sex-taboo”.

Li’s educational course is aimed an sensitizing woman about wrongs done to the society by “traditional thoughts” on sexuality. According to a Huffingtonpost report, the teacher charges about $410 per month for every student.

Surprisingly, a large number of women in Shanghai are registering for the “somewhat funny lessons” to learn about their anatomy, psychology and intimacy positions.

“I had absolutely no sex education at all. I thought adult male bodies look the same as baby boys’,” said Sophia Hu, a 30-year-old lawyer who’s Ma Li’s student. “I want to understand myself and the realities of sex.”

Don’t let your mind wander. Read along and you’ll understand there’s more to the story.

Image shows a sex worker busted in her hotel room.

“In Beijing, Shanghai and other big cities, women are very influenced by Western, Taiwanese and Korean culture so have very modern attitudes to sex,” said Jay Zheng, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan. “But in rural areas, some women know nothing.”

Over the years, China has recorded very little improvement in sex education due to the country’s cultural background. This is so, partly because people generally hate to talk about these things with others.

In 2011, a married couple in the city of Wuhan made the news for believing – for three years – that lying side-by-side on one bed would result in pregnancy. Only after a visit to the doctor did the couple, both college graduates, realize their failure to conceive was down to not having sex, Chinese media reported.

“In China, schools are focused on grades, so non-examinable subjects are often changed to ones that will raise grades,” said Maggie Hu, who works for the Guangzhou-based sex education provider SexualityZone.

According to Ma Li: “One of my clients said they were told by their mother that sex is like being shot at with a gun.”

“Many people will grow up thinking that sex is a dangerous thing or really shameful,” the sex educator added.

Image shows prostitutes under arrest as police clamps down on sex workers around China.


It’s not surprising that over 300 million youths in China are said to be uneducated about sex and this is causing problems. Marriages have ended in divorce due to ignorance on sexual matters.

There are wide speculations that over 80 percent of young people in China have very little or no knowledge about sex. This is so because parents have always believed young couples will finally learn about it when they get married but they’ve been proven wrong in so many ways.

Even with the country’s one-child policy, a lot of young people are going through abortions thanks to the “kind” and “selfish” laws which made it legal.

How is it reasonable that sex education is frowned at, while abortion is legalized?

Students in S China learn how to prevent sexual assault

Image shows primary school students taking lessons in a sex education class.

According to a report by China’s National Working Committee on Children and Women under State Council in 2010, 60% of young Chinese aged 15-24 were open to pre-marriage sex, while 22.4% actually had sexual experience.

Among those who got pregnant before marriage, 91% had an abortion, while only 4.4% of unmarried people aged 15-24 had the “correct knowledge” about reproduction. It also added that only 14.4% of that group understood the risks of HIV.

A Xi’an university which recently opened a sex education course has gained wide popularity among students, a local newspaper reports.

According to Qi Xinyan, a teacher at Xijing University, the university started several new optional courses this semester, including sex education, death psychology and female psychology.

The course is expected to help students get an overall understanding about sex and health and to allow them to gain more information about how to prevent AIDS, venereal disease and other sex related disease.

“Besides theory, how to use condoms will also be taught in the class,” said Qi. “Students are very interested in the course, and there are no vacancies left.”

Students in S China learn how to prevent sexual assault

Image shows a primary school pupil drawing on the board during a sex education class.

The higher institution in Xi’an is one of the many universities in China who have adopted sex education among their courses.

“The Chinese government’s general attitude (toward sexuality and sex education) has been more and more open,” USAToday quotes Li Yinhe, a leading sexologist in China and a fellow with the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“When I was in Peking University back in 1988, I intended to open a course on the sociology of sex, but the university did not approve it.” Li said. “But Renmin University later opened a similar course, lectured by Pan Suiming.”

“Students cannot start to receive sex education after entering their adolescence, because all the compulsory education is ‘advanced’,” Pan, another sexologist said. “Also, it (sex education) should be absolutely ‘compulsory’, not only for students, but also for parents and government.”