Chinese people consider themselves to be “traditional,” especially when it comes to their openness on the topic of sex. In their society, it is a positive thing to strive to come off to others as being conservative because it is sign of being good-natured. However, this is the modern age and even people from this country are experiencing extraordinary exposure to liberal society through the process of globalization. The West has had time to develop and mature in this area whereas China has some catching up to do. Because Chinese consider themselves too “traditional” to discuss sex openly, they are leaving themselves vulnerable to some devastating societal contradictions.
Lack of Awareness
The talk of the “birds and the bees” is something almost everyone in the US has with their parents in one form or another (for me, it was my mother buying condoms, placing them in my medicine cabinet and telling me to request more when I am out and an awkward talk with my father). Unfortunately, affection at home or in public is mostly absent in China today (parents and children don’t even say “I love you” to each other), so this is to say that talk of sex at home is far from occurring.
Not only is “the talk” absent from homes, schools do not even have curriculum on sex education (middle school students are too busy learning physics). Part of the reason why is because most young individuals are too weighed down with the laborious Chinese education system to have a chance to experiment with sex; however, just like the rest of the world, Chinese youth are curious and finding ways to get around the system as anywhere else in the world. This is where the Chinese government has failed to address a rapidly evolving problem, because they simply don’t want to acknowledge the fact that–oh, my God!—young people actually have sexual intercourse.
Fundamentally, Chinese youth are left with very little sources of information on sexual intercourse, including the risks. People have actually told me before that their primary source of understanding sex was from pornography or films from the West, others are absolutely clueless about what AIDS or STDs/HIVs are, and they are not sure exactly how devastating they can be. Another issue is the prevalence of unwanted pregnancies and abortions, which is a direct cause of the lack of awareness of other viable options.
“Face” and Cultural Taboos
As was discussed above, Chinese do not openly show their affections very easily. People are expected to keep that to their private homes, but it’s also not very common for married couples to show their affection for one another in front of their children (rarely kissing, sometimes hugging, maybe holding hands). Largely, this is all related to how Chinese place importance on something called “face” which is how you are looked at by others. In other words, to avoid public shame or criticism, Chinese will try to hide certain emotions such as affection as a protective measure of their “face.”
As a cause, no education on contraceptives is available to Chinese youth, and the counselor’s offices do not offer free condoms, etc. Widespread movements for safe sexual engagements that can be seen on Western college campuses are absent. One might then question how many men are aware of the benefits of the use of condoms? Likewise, how many Chinese women have considered the use of “the Pill”? In fact, most Chinese do not take Western-style medicine because they believe in the body’s natural process of healing. This means that most females are actually frighten-off by the idea of dependence upon a pill. This brings us to the most important point.
China’s Best “Birth Control” aka Abortion
According to this BBC report, there are approximately 13 million abortions performed every year in China. In fact, abortion is accepted in all manners, including on request and is a government service. The UN provides a full report on China’s abortion policy here. This report claims as I have indicated above: Chinese generally do not use condoms or the pill, married couples use IUDs or sterilization methods; however, the most across-the-board birth control has been abortion. Millions of these are repeat abortions. (image above is from http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/prc/ab-prcp2.html)
Finally, I think it is important to note that it has been reported that an abortion in China will cost around the neighborhood of 3000RMB or $500.
人流 (rénliú）- abortion