Outrage in China over 'backward concepts' in sex education book

BEIJING • Young women who have sex before marriage are degenerates. A girl who gives her body for love will make the boy who "conquers" her love her less. Premarital sex has a "tremendous negative psychological and physical impact on girls".

These are some of the assertions in a sex education textbook approved by a provincial education department in China that has led to an outcry on social media.

Outraged by the text, Senior Middle School Student Scientific Sex Education, a teacher posted photos from the book on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, last Friday, unleashing a firestorm of comments.

"I was so angry when I read the textbook," Ms Zhong Guangquan, the teacher from Guangdong province whose post started the online debate, told Chinese website Sixth Tone. "The concepts are backward, and all the negative comments are directed towards girls."

In addition to fears about the harm such attitudes inflict on girls, the online reaction reflected concern about the lack of sex education in China. Teenagers often talk about how their parents explained to them as children that they emerged from armpits or even from dustbins.

Anatomy is commonly taught as a substitute for sex education. In schools with rudimentary sex education, the message for girls is often abstinence, women's rights campaigners said.

The textbook, first issued to high school seniors in Jiangxi province in 2004, is old and seems to have had a limited circulation. Apparently embarrassed by the outcry, the publisher, 21st Century Publishing Group, told Sixth Tone the book would be revised.

In a broader sense, the antiquated attitude of the school system is not keeping up with the sexual revolution in China. A 2012 survey published by a magazine of the central government showed 70 per cent of Chinese had had premarital sex, up from just 15 per cent of those surveyed in 1989.

Women's rights advocate Xiao Meili, 27, said the text reflected "a common idea among the Chinese public". She added: "It was the same in Western countries in ancient times. To solve sexual problems? Try abstinence."

Ms Xiong Jing, 28, editor of the website Gender Watch, said the debate showed that values were changing. "Many Chinese now won't accept these biases any more because they receive more information from the Internet," she said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Outrage in China over 'backward concepts' in sex education book'. Print Edition | Subscribe