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Free Sex Advice Clinic Closes

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A free clinic offering sex education and advice for youths, which has operated in the city for five years, was closed this week because it was not attracting enough visitors.

The clinic, which operated under the Shanghai International Peace Maternal and Child Health Hospital, was set up to provide free sex advice and free condoms to young people aged from 15 to 24.

Young people said it was embarrassing to consult strangers at a professional institute even though they needed information on sex. They said they would turn to the Internet for help.

"The number of visitors was far below our expectations," said Cen Shuyuan, an official at Shanghai Institute of Family Planning Technical Instruction, the department in charge of the clinic.

"On average, we received two or three calls each day. Only tens of teenagers, most of whom are about 18, have come to the hospital for advice over the past five years, though we arranged to open after school hours to make it easier for students," he said.

Despite media coverage of the clinic, the number of visitors had not significantly increased, Cen said.

"If I have any sex problems, I definitely would not go to clinics for help, as it's embarrassing and unnecessary to talk about sex with strangers face to face," said Zhou Bingqin, a 20-year-old university student.

"I think searching the Internet is much better, as it's convenient, informative and most importantly, private," she added.

Teenagers tend to search the Internet rather than consult teachers or doctors when they have concerns about sex, and this has resulted in low utilization of the clinic, Hu Xiaoyu, deputy director of the institute, told Shanghai Evening Post. In addition, Hu said officials had not done enough to promote the clinic in schools.

"Clinics of this type around the country have similar problems, not just us," Cen said.

According to a survey conducted by Shanghai Academy of Educational Sciences, 32.4 percent of vocational high school students have had sex and 46.3 percent have never received any sex education.

Statistics showed that in the past five years, more than 3,500 young girls have had abortions at No 411 Hospital in Shanghai, where the city's first clinic for teenage pregnant girls was set up.

"We Chinese tend to feel uneasy talking about sex because of our cultural background. So it's understandable that young people are not willing to go to the clinic for help," said Huang Hongji, director of Shanghai Youth Research Center.

Huang suggested sex education experts establish a website on sex information for youths or provide online consulting through instant messaging, as youths now find most of their information online.

"The information provided by professionals is much better than that found by youths themselves, as in cyberspace they are very likely to see pornography when searching randomly for sex information," he said.

(China Daily December 25, 2010)