Guangzhou: sex in the city

By Bonnie Lee

June 1, Children’s Day, was the seventh day after her abortion.

Twenty-two-year-old Qiuyue is about to graduate from Jinan University. Her boyfriend abandoned her and the child, so she decided to have an abortion. “I feel like I killed my baby with my own hand. I feel like my whole life is crumbling,” she said. For a week, she woke up with a nightmare every night.

On the day of abortion, the gynecologist asked her a question. “Do you know you may be unlikely to have a baby again if you abort your first child?”

Qiuyue shook her head in horror. “In the absence of security measures, the pregnancy probability for every sex at any time is 37 percent,” the doctor said with a sigh, shook her head and tossed Qiuyue a termination of pregnancy form.

Trembling, she signed her name. Before, she always ridiculed those painless abortion ads: “What an idiot to have an abortion!” She never thought that one day she would be the target of whose ads.

“I was once very proud that I didn’t have any sex before 22. But now suddenly I find that it’s such a big joke,” Qiuyue said. Half an hour before the abortion, she sat in a long hospital hallway, staring at the scan of her womb in her hands. The baby was no bigger than the size of her thumb. An anti-abortion ad in front of the hospital read: “All the babies are eager to come to this world. The baby has fingernails.”

She said with tears in her eyes, “I knew it has…I don’t know what I was waiting for it.”

Qiuyue is not alone.

In 2013, Yuan, a first-year student in the Chinese Language and Culture College of Jinan University, gave birth to a baby secretly in the dormitory. She was so panicked that she dumped the baby girl into a discarded car. According to the forensic identification, the baby died because of a neck compression caused by mechanical asphyxia. Yuan was found guilty of intentional homicide and sentenced to three years in prison.

China has no national system for counting abortions because official statistics include only state facilities. It is estimated that there could be 13 million or more abortions a year, a figure widely quoted in state media.

It is hardly surprising that the abortion rate is so high. The one-child policy has made abortion almost normal. Most clinics, private or state, put a premium on speed and offer no advice on how to avoid getting pregnant again. So repeat abortions are common.

A study of nearly 80,000 Chinese women who terminated pregnancies in 2013, published by the British journal Lancet, found that 37 percent were doing so for the second time and 29 percent for a third time or more. Unmarried women account for a rising share of these — and are a significant reason why, after an extended period of decline, abortions have increased in number since 2003.

It is not just China’s economy that has loosened up since 1979. The country is in the midst of a sexual revolution. A 2012 study found that more than 70 percent of Chinese people have sex before marriage. Other polls put that figure lower but consistently indicate that over the past 30 years, more young Chinese are doing it, with more partners, at a younger age.

But a lack of sex education means that many are not protecting themselves, resulting in soaring abortion rates and a rise in sexually transmitted diseases at an increasingly younger age.

According to the report of HIV/AIDS prevention program in Guangzhou, the proportion of young students having sex increased from about 7 percent in 2011 to more than 16 percent in 2014. The proportion of AIDS cases in Guangzhou students increased from less than 1 percent in 2002 to nearly 4 percent in 2014. The proportion of male homosexual transmission is up significantly.

It is estimated that the number of college-aged men who have sex with other men in Guangzhou is more than 5,000. They have a variety of high-risk sexual behaviors, including multiple sexual partners, low condom usage rate (near 30 percent in the past six months), sexually transmitted infections (about 15 percent of people have symptoms over the past year), group sex and drug abuse.

The lack of AIDS prevention knowledge and awareness, the gradual opening attitudes towards sex and the increasing sexual behaviors all lead to the spread of AIDS. Data show that in 2015 the rate of students knowing about how to prevent AIDS was about 92 percent, lower than the national requirement of 95 percent.

In an attempt to solve this problem, Guangzhou authorities began to take action. High schools and colleges are required to include sex education into the curriculum; every school should have at least one teacher specialized in sex education.

Jinan University has set up a sex culture elective course, which can hold 100 students. However, only 15 selected the course, two of whom are girls.

“I come to this class just to clarify one question: Is masturbation harmful to health?” said Addy, a student in the class.

One of the two girls, Keira, said “In the beginning, I was too embarrassed to enter the classroom. But I think it is quite essential for me to learn about it for I am an adult now.”

The other girl, Anna, said: “Most of the time we can only learn about sex through the internet or peer discussion. Formal channels for this knowledge are limited. Even if the schools open the course, few people come to listen. Lots of my girlfriends do not think it has anything to do with them.”

John was sitting alone and said: “I want my girlfriend to attend the class with me. But she said it was awkward, just like hiding in the corner to watch adult movies.”

Sex education is compulsory in Japan, South Korea—societies that have some cultural similarities with China. But most Chinese schools teach only basic anatomy. Even though schools have made efforts, many youths like Qiuyue hardly understand the most basic knowledge about sex.

Professor He Qiangyu, the lecturer of sex culture course, said “The prevalence of ‘terror-based’ sex education, with content largely focused on the horrors of pregnancy, abortion and HIV, is misleading. We must strive to lead sex education in a positive direction.”

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