Following the report about a British boy who became a father at the age of 13, a recent report on sex education that revealed middle school students in Foshan, Guangdong Province starting dating and having sexual experiences at 13 has sparked a storm of controversy.
The report surveyed more than 1,000 middle school students and found 2.8 percent of respondents admitting they had had sexual experiences, and even 13-year-old children have had sexual experiences, the Nanfang Daily reported yesterday.
It was not known which organization commissioned the survey and how "sexual experiences" were defined in the report. But experts suggested that "sexual experiences" is a broad term.
"It could include kissing, hugging, fondling, masturbation and other forms of intimate contact," Pan Suiming, a sexology professor at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.
While some people question the validity of the survey due to a lack of details on how it was conducted, experts on juvenile psychology called the rising rate of teenage pregnancies and sexual experiences "disturbing."
"Puppy love or teenage pregnancies are no longer rare in China and the stories about teenage pregnancies and sexual experiences are always disturbing," Zhang Xiaohui, a teacher specializing in juvenile psychology at Beijing Normal University, told the Global Times.
Several incidents help reinforce Zhang's concern.
In 2007, a 13-year-old girl in Foshan became pregnant and the father was reportedly an 18-year-old senior middle school student.
By the time she was eight months pregnant, she was unaware of the consequences of having a child at an early age and told the reporter from the Nanfang Daily she would save money to play online games.
On September 12, a girl from a middle school became the heroine of an online sex video scandal. The schoolgirl in Shunde, Guangdong Province, dressed in school uniform, was reportedly paid 400 yuan ($59) to shoot the sex video.
Parents attribute the rise in teenage pregnancies to the increasing exposure of sex on TV,in films and in online videos.
"When I heard these stories about teenage pregnancies, I just thought how worrying it is that in China today children are having children," a parent of a junior middle school student in Beijing surnamed Wu told the Global Times.
"Too much exposure of sex on TV, in films and in online video negatively influences our children," she said. However, experts suggest otherwise.
"Sex education is not fully in place in China and many teenagers are shielded from any form of sex education, which fuels their curiosity," Zhang said.
In the United States, sex education and teenage pregnancy are also controversial topics, centered round differing religious, political and social views.
In China, the situation is quite different.
Although school curriculum includes information about sexual characteristics, in practice some teachers prefer to skip that part. Parents are too often embarrassed to talk to their kids about the topic.
Calls to several middle school students in Beijing by the Global Times questioning about sex education at school were nipped off halfway, indicating discussions on such a topic are still a taboo among many middle school students.
A senior middle school student who refused to identify himself told the Global Times yesterday that his teacher skipped the pages on sex education and asked them to read it at home.
"It's common for fast-growing teenagers to show affection to peers of the opposite sex or be curious about sexual experiences," Zhang said.
"The best way to prevent teenage pregnancy and sexual experiences is not hiding information from them but educating them about the secret of human bodies either through textbooks or psychological counseling," he added.