A Chinese textbook is finally teaching proper sex ed, but some parents are having none of it

China's Transition
China's Transition

When Ying Zi heard her son utter the phrase, “Father put his penis into mother’s vagina,” she was mortified.

Her son, a second-year primary school pupil, was reading from a sex-education textbook. “We weren’t given notice from the school,” said Ying, who proceeded to post images of the textbook on Weibo (her post has since been deleted, but not before Chinese netizens grabbed a screenshot). “Is this really the right way for the book [to teach children]?” Facing mounting pressure, her son’s school in Hangzhou, China, ended up recalling all 12 books in the series, reports state media Beijing Youth Daily.

"The birth of human-beings" on the textbook for primary two pupils.
A chapter on the birth of human beings. (Quartz/Weibo)

China has long been considered sex-shy, but some schools are breaking the taboo to properly teach children about sex. The textbook Ying’s son was reading was part of a series published by Beijing Normal University aimed at primary school students. The books are causing controversy not just because of their illustrations of sexual organs but also for saying that homosexuality is normal.

It was only in 2001 that China removed homosexuality from its mental illness list. (That, however, didn’t stop a textbook publisher from releasing a book for university students last year that referred to homosexuality as “a mental disorder.”) In China, sex ed isn’t compulsory, which has created huge gaps in knowledge when it comes to practicing safe sex. The lack of sex education has contributed to China’s HIV crisis, especially among young people.

The textbooks that Ying helped yank from her son’s school aimed to dispel misinformation among the country’s youth. In a chapter about birth, it uses illustrations to depict the penis, uterus, and penetration. “We should all protect our sexual organs,” it reads.

In a chapter about homosexuality, it continues:

The majority of people are heterosexual, but there are also some people who feel attracted to the same sex. This is a completely normal phenomenon. We can’t discriminate them.

Romantic notions. (Weibo)
Romantic notions. (Weibo)

But not everyone feels the textbooks are inappropriate. “The parents only felt awkward because they did not have any straightforward sex education themselves when they were young,” commented a user on Weibo (link in Chinese). Another added: “The most filthy minds are from those who themselves have received barely any sex education…it would cost your kids if they don’t know anything about it.”

The publisher, Beijing Normal University, said such books were necessary because parents aren’t talking to their children about sex at home. “Children’s sex development and education has been ignored,” it said in a statement (link in Chinese). “How can you expect a child, if invaded sexually, to describe which part was hurt, if one can’t even speak about the name of a body’s organ?”

home our picks popular latest obsessions search