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Youths Need More Reproductive Education

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Youths in China are becoming more open about premarital sex, but their awareness of reproductive health and safe sex remains relatively low, the first-ever extensive nationwide survey on the subject suggests.

About 60 percent of those polled expressed a tolerance of sex before marriage and more than 22 percent had already lost their virginity, according to the survey released Tuesday. The survey polled more than 22,000 unmarried youths aged 15 to 24 nationwide.

Nearly 70 percent of those who had been sexually active first had sex before they were 20 years old and, alarmingly, more than half of them did not use any contraceptives at the time, said the poll conducted by Peking University, the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council and the United Nations Population Fund.

"Youth reproductive health remains under-addressed in China," said Professor Zheng Xiaoying with Peking University.

"They are facing rising risks like unsafe sexual behaviors, unplanned teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS," she noted.

Besides low contraceptive use, more than 20 percent of those surveyed had more than one sexual partner in the past 12 months, with males showing a higher proportion of multiple sexual partners than females, it said.

Among females who had had sex, 20 percent had unplanned pregnancies, with 91 percent resorting to abortion.

"With rapidly changing social values, young people's need for sexual and reproductive health information and services is growing but is unfortunately unmet," said Professor Zhang Guoyou, vice-president of Peking University.

"There is surely a great need for that among China's more than 160 million youths, married and single alike," said Tang Kun, chairman of the China Youth Committee of the 5th Asian and Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights.

In reality, however, single youths who are also sexually active are not well covered by government-sponsored sexual and reproductive health services like consultations, health checks and free contraceptives like condoms, complained a single man in his early 20s.

Findings from the survey echoed that sentiment.

About 60 percent said they hardly had access to reproductive health counseling and services when they needed it.

Only 4.4 percent said they were well informed about reproductive health and only 14.4 percent said they had proper HIV prevention knowledge, despite schools across the country teaching reproductive health since 1988.

"It's required by law, which aims to secure youths' rights to and access to sex education," said Pan Guiyu, deputy director of the nongovernmental China Family Planning Association.

But implementation has been poor mainly because sex remains a "no-go area" in most parts of the country and cannot be openly discussed, particularly among the young, experts said.

Su Fengjie, deputy director of the National Working Committee on Children and Women, said the survey results would help better address the unmet needs of youths on reproductive health, one of their basic rights.

(China Daily May 5, 2010)

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