There's little sex education in China, but it hasn't stopped young people from having sex. The rates of premarital sex, unwed pregnancy and abortion are testament to that.
A report released by the National Working Committee on Children and Women last year showed what China's 15- to 24-year-olds have been doing:
22.4 percent have had premarital sex. (Based on a population of 160 million, that means 35.8 million unmarried young people have had sex.)
51.2 percent of them didn't use contraception the first time.
21.3 percent of those sexually active females have been pregnant.
90.9 percent of those pregnancies ended in abortions (6.9 million of them).
19 percent have had multiple abortions.
But the subject is considered too personal, too private to talk about.
"Some officials in education departments still hold conservative attitudes toward sex. Therefore sex education has remained on the lips rather than in action for a long time," said Chen Yijun, director of the China Sexology Association's adolescent sex education committee.
It's no different at home. In a recent survey of 1,500 families, the Beijing Women's Association found that 74 percent of parents deliberately avoid talking about sex-related topics with their children. When the kids are curious, 85 percent of them consult the Internet.
"If they are not well equipped with sexual knowledge, young women are vulnerable to premarital pregnancy and induced abortion," said Xiao Yuanhong, program development director of Marie Stopes International China. And they are susceptible for about five years longer than in the past.
"With improvements in the standard of living and changes in environment, diet, diseases and other factors, the sexual maturity age (the start of menstruation) has become younger, from 14 to 11," Xiao said.
Meanwhile, people are marrying about two years later than they did in the 1990s - at age 26, where it was 24. Reasons include increasing demand for vocational skills, job pressures, a sex ratio imbalance and soaring property prices.
Many young women don't draw lessons from induced abortion because medicine and technology have greatly reduced their pain. But experts said teen pregnancy and abortion - particularly when repeated - can contribute to such complications as uterine perforation and infection, to miscarriage or low-birth-weight baby in a later pregnancy, and to gynecological disease in middle age.
"If the operations are done in illegal clinics, the risk can be much higher," said Meng Fan, a doctor at Beijing Maternity Hospital. Among Chinese women who became infertile, more than 88 percent previously had an induced abortion, a 2007 study found.
Unwed teen pregnancy also carries with it the social implications of unwanted babies, especially girls. And sex, particularly with multiple partners, is the leading means of transmitting AIDS and other diseases.
Wang Bing, general manager of a Beijing-based medical technology company, highly recommends a TV program of kindergarten games that he saw when he lived in Japan. The children were costumed as sperm and eggs to imitate the fertilization process.
"The kids were in high spirits in the games, and they learned about sex vividly without parents and teachers feeling awkward," he said.
Xiao believes that sex education should be compulsory in schools and be carried out "step by step from kindergarten to university". He also suggested that the education department encourage more social forces to work at popularizing information about sex, particularly for migrant workers.
"Family plays an important role in China's society," said the Sexology Association's Chen. "We can carry out sex education on parents first, and let them teach their children."
She also said adolescents should be given more opportunities to spend time together in public to dispel some of their curiosity and the mystery of the opposite sex. "Group dancing is a good way," she said.
"China does not have sex education in the strict sense," said Wan Shaoping, professor at the Sichuan Institute of Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Prevention. Learning how to use a condom is not enough.
Chen believes the nature of sex education is to teach people how to convert their natural impulses to love and to learn how to love, cherish and protect their partners. "Successful sex education can make people better."