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Candid sex talk helps ignorant teenagers
Updated: 2004-03-02 11:24

Psychologists are advising the self-conscious Chinese to talk more about sex with their children, who are reaching puberty two years earlier than their parents' generation.

A survey carried out by a Tianjin hospital in north China has found a lack of knowledge about sex and reproductive health among adolescents, many of whom seek help from doctors only after the pregnancy.

Information about puberty and sex are among the most frequently asked questions at the psychological counseling center of the Tianjin Psychiatric Hospital, according to a survey of teenagers between 12 and 20 years old.

The survey found teenage boys were mostly attentive to sexual and reproductive health, whereas girls were more interested in how to avoid unwanted pregnancy.

Of the 367 teenagers who sought help on the hospital's counseling hot line over the past two months, about 60 percent were boys who asked questions such as how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and whether masturbation was harmful to health.

Over 80 percent of the girls who called the hot line asked about contraception and abortion, the survey shows.

An 18-year-old girl resorted to the doctors for advice when she realized she was pregnant, after spending a night with a boy she met on the Internet. The girl was from the central Hunan Province and was working in Tianjin. She did not know the boy's name, where he lived, what he did for a living or how old he was.

"Teenagers are still immature in terms of psychological and physiological development," said Wang Yan, a psychologist with the hospital. "But they are often interested in the opposite sex and defiant of traditional moral disciplines at home and school, which may lead to puppy love and even elopement."

The fact that the teenagers' physical maturity often preceded their emotional maturity exposed them to dangers, she added.

Most of the girls who got pregnant dared not tell the truth to their parents or teachers. "To make matters worse, some youngsters turned to posters on the streets, sometimes put up by illegal practitioners who had not been authorized to provide medication," said Wang.

A separate survey carried out by the hospital on teenage mothers showed most of the girls were totally ignorant of their own ovulatory time and emergency contraception.

The latest census shows 20 million teenagers are reaching puberty each year, at the average age of 12 to 13 years old.

"Sex education among Chinese middle school students is urgently needed," said Sun Yunxiao, research fellow with the China Adolescent Development Research Center.

A survey shows that about one-third of middle school students have never received any sex education.

Meanwhile, most surveyed students who had engaged in sexual behavior confessed they were not familiar with contraception.

A sample survey in Jiangsu Province, and Shanghai Municipality, one of China's most economically-developed regions, shows that only 15 percent of surveyed high school students had received any sex education from their teachers or parents.

In April 2002, a textbook on sex was for the first time officially published on the Chinese mainland.

However, after nearly two years, the textbook is still not usedbecause schools which had previously agreed to use the book on a trial basis are still hesitating whether it is "proper" to talk about sex to children after all.

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