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Students look to peers for sex education
Updated: 2004-10-19 10:23

Liu Chennan, a 19-year-old volunteer from the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing, holds a banana in his hand to demonstrate how to use a condom properly.

Around him, 30 college students, aged 18 to 22, hold their breath and watch his every move.

"How do you take it off?" one student suddenly asks, and the meeting hall at Beijing University bursts into laughter.

In a country that rarely discusses sex publicly, it is the first time that these college students were able to ask straight questions about sex.

This is due in part to peer education programs that are emerging in China. The programs are spreading knowledge on how to use contraception, prevent HIV/AIDS, deal with sexual harassment and even refuse sexual advances.

First introduced to China in 1996 from Australia, peer education has played an increasing role in sex education among Chinese youth, who health experts said could be vulnerable to unwanted pregnancy and AIDS.

International non-governmental organizations such as Marie Stopes China, a branch of a British non-commercial public service group, has spearheaded a program in China. The group has been conducting peer education about sex and reproductive health issues for students in eight Beijing universities since September 2003. It has trained 200 student peer educators.

Cui Qi, program officer of Marie Stopes China, said such peer education would help more teenagers and youngsters develop a correct attitude toward sex, drugs, and sexual discrimination given its interactive communication.

"It is not a lecture, neither an academic seminar. It is a game," Cui said. "Young people should be given a chance to learn how to make rational and proper decisions on sexual relationship and reproductive health."

Peng Zhu, a freshman from the prestigious Beijing University, agreed: "This is my first time to attend such a peer education. I feel quite relaxed instead of embarrassed when talking about sex."

Peer education experts said it is necessary to further expand such education among young Chinese since the HIV/AIDS epidemic threatens 200 million teenagers, who often do not have access to information about sex due to the country's conservative traditions.

Governments have been urged to pay greater attention to training more sex education teachers in primary and middle schools while cultivating more professionals through opening sexology majors in universities.

"Teenagers have become sexually mature and active much earlier, but lack of sexual education will put them in a very vulnerable position vis-a-vis HIV/AIDS," said Liu Liqing, chief representative of Marie Stopes.

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