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“SEX, sex, sexual intercourse, penis, penis, vagina.” More than 150 undergraduates are sitting in a lecture hall at China Agricultural University in Beijing, shouting loudly. Yet for most it is the first sex education class they have attended.Their instructor hopes that shouting such words will help youngsters talk more openly about sex.
“Happy Middle School Students”, written for 12- to 15-year-olds in 2006 and still widely used, refers to sperm meeting egg without describing the mechanics of intercourse.
Pre-marital sex fell foul of a range of laws, including the catch-all charge of “hooliganism”, only scrapped in 1997. Most news items about sex involve scandals or crimes.
Schools ban pupils from dating and many deploy “morality patrols” to root out flirting or frolicking couples.
Peng Xiaohui of Central China Normal University, who runs sex-education classes (including the one at China Agricultural University), had excrement thrown at him last year because of the work he does.
Several Chinese and foreign NGOs have tried to fill the gap, but many are now wary after the month-long detention this year of five feminists who had launched a campaign against sexual harassment.
The Communist Party has stuck its nose into people’s bedrooms for 30 years through its harsh family-planning policies.
Yet taboos on sex before marriage prevailed, the result of paternalistic—not religious—values about female chastity, with a dose of Communist asceticism thrown in.A more explicit volume for primary-school pupils published in 2011, which did explain how sperm were delivered, was criticised for being pornographic. A 2013 review by UNESCO and Beijing Forestry University noted the prevalence of “terror-based” sex education, with content largely focused on the horrors of pregnancy, abortion and HIV.Earlier this month a university in Xi’an in central China ran a course entitled “No Regrets Youth” where students received a “commitment card”, essentially a pledge to remain a virgin until marriage.Sex outside wedlock is not illegal but children born to unmarried mothers face obstacles obtaining a , or household residency, that entitles them to subsidised education and welfare.Yet with greater freedom from their parents, more money and increasing exposure to permissive influences from abroad, China’s youth are clearly separating sex from procreation. Pilot campaigns in Shanghai and Beijing schools in the 1980s were incorporated into a nationwide programme in 1988 but it was never implemented.The pill is not widely used in China, even by married women.