Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Controversial expos help diffuse sex education

By Huang Yinyin (China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-08 07:44

Some Chinese Dama have been protesting against the Reproductive Health Industrial Expo in Xi'an of Shaanxi province and Dalian of Liaoning province. The Dama, or middle-aged women deeply influenced by Chinese tradition, have delivered fiery speeches outside the expo hall in Xi'an during the opening ceremony and even threw eggs at models and performers at the Dalian expo.

The protests by Dama, which became a specific term to describe middle-aged women when many of them rushed to buy gold as an investment when prices fell last year, against so-called eroticism centers on three core issues: Western conspiracy theories, traditional Chinese theory of chastity and the belief that eroticism is a social evil.

The Western conspiracy theory is an old argument based on ideology and opposed to the corrosive influence of Western culture (that is, capitalistic lifestyle). Such theories were popular from the 1950s to the 1970s in China, but do not cut much ice with people born after the launching of reform and opening-up.

Quite a few people, however, agree with the traditional Chinese theory of chastity because they believe such expositions don't conform to the social milieu of China where people have traditionally had a prudish attitude toward sex. But theories and novels written in ancient China show that the country used to have a rich "sex culture". And some Western scholars have even criticized the sexual repression in modern times by citing the openness enjoyed in ancient China.

The contention that sex education (which the Dama mistake for eroticism) is a social evil is related more to demonology and less to sexology, which has found its way in many articles and websites. Examples of such a concept: masturbation is harmful to health and homosexuality will hinder human development.

Using the three issues, however, the Dama have argued that "eroticism" (that is, sex education) can lead to moral decline and even social instability in China. This contention cannot be backed by evidence. In fact, the Dama are ignoring the real reasons for moral decline and social instability by blaming on sexual issues for the development.

Since the Dama's actions are well coordinated with simultaneous campaigns being organized in different cities, complete with carefully prepared speeches, one could easily ask: Are third parities backing their campaign? How else could the Dama collect enough money to run the campaign and establish their own websites to oppose expos on sex education?

Although such expos have their own problems - for example, they become expos for sex rather than sex education thanks to consumerism - most of them are also evident in other expos. So what we should focus on are the positive aspects of expositions on reproductive health and sex education such as lectures on how to remove sexual discrimination.

There is also need to be clear about a key issue: Is there a need to hold expos on sex education in China? We need such expos to tear off the veil of shyness shrouding the subject of sex, which is responsible for sexual repression and sexual discrimination in our society. Only by holding discussions on sex education instead of suppressing them can we promote gender equality, protect sexual rights and respect people's sexuality.

Although we seem to be peeved about consumerism, business forces have actually helped break many obstinate sexual practices. Of course, there is need to guide the business forces to help establish a positive culture which is not prudish and does not promote sexual discrimination. And expos on sex education are conducive to promoting such a culture.

The author is a professor in the Institute of Sexuality and Gender with Remin University of China.

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