Chinese youth short on safe sex awareness

CHINA - As China reported at least 13 million abortions each year on the mainland, family planning officials called for strengthened sexual health and contraception education, particularly among those aged 15 to 24.

In the latest reproductive health survey among China's young people, more than 22 per cent of the 22,000 respondents reported having had premarital sex.

Half of them took no contraceptive measures when they first had sex, according to the survey conducted by the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council.

Notably, 21.3 per cent of the females said they had an unwanted pregnancy, and 91 per cent of those sought abortions.

Moreover, nearly 19 per cent of those who had abortions said they later had more.

Mo Lixia, deputy director of the family development department under the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said a top priority will be put on reproductive health education for young people, such as college students.

She called on schools, universities and communities to help improve young people's knowledge of safe sex.

She made the remark at an event on Wednesday to mark World Contraception Day, which falls on Sept 26.

Zhu Yuechi, a sophomore at Renmin University of China, said that he had had premarital sex.

"I know it's important to use a condom, but I don't know how to explain to my girlfriend why I should use it," he said.

Zhang Chi, a psychology instructor at Beijing Jiaotong University, said he used to be asked by students how to decline sexual requests from their partners.

He said many young people lack knowledge about safe sex and contraception. He suggested universities set compulsory courses on such knowledge for students. "They mainly learn on their own, which might expose them to incorrect information," he said.

Chen Suwen, a veteran clinician at Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, agreed, citing rising teenage pregnancies at the hospital.

"Sex and unwanted pregnancy are common nowadays among young people. Even junior middle school students have come to our hospital for abortions," she said.

That might seriously harm their reproductive health, she warned.

In addition, more than 50 per cent of the abortions performed at Chen's hospital were not for first timers, she said.

Xu Zhenlei, director of the Sexuality Education Committee under the China Sexology Association, said many young people had unwanted pregnancies due to poor education about contraception.

"In the United States, education on condom use starts from middle school," he said. But many Chinese parents are against such education as they believe it will serve to encourage puppy love and premarital sex.

Chinese youths' awareness of contraception lags far behind their US counterparts, resulting in a far higher prevalence of unwanted pregnancy and abortions, he noted.

In recent years, many Chinese universities have started to introduce vending machines for contraceptives on campus. Lectures on safe sex and reproductive health have been held for students, said Mo Lixia.

"Society is becoming more open about the topic and many people can address the issue in a more rational, mature and practical way," she noted.

Xu said practical tips like how to reject unwanted sex and choose contraceptives should be considered while delivering safe sex education to youths.