Some called the book "tasteless" and "vulgar"
A new elementary school sex education textbook in China has caused quite a stir.
According to Whats On Weibo, the textbook teaches children about intercourse, homosexuality, menstruation and gender equality. Whilst some have criticised the book, others have praised it as a bold step forward.
Published by Beijing Normal University, the ‘Cherish Life’ series textbooks show detailed pictures of reproductive organs and of tow people having sex. It also teaches children about sexual abuse, homosexuality and gender equality.
According to the site, the textbook drew public attention after a mother shared a picture of the textbook that showed a woman saying to a man, “can you show me your penis?“ The mother complained about the book’s “graphic illustrations” on social media.
Netizens were quick to react to the “explicit” way of teaching children about sex. However, many objected to the criticism, arguing that it was an advanced move for China”s sex education.
What’s On Weibo adds that as well as dealing with homosexuality, the textbook also warns children about sexual harassment, promoting single life as a personal choice. It adds that men taking care of the household is perfectly normal.
“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,” the book reads.
The Beijing Normal University Publishing group reportedly stated that the materials underwent strict scrutiny before being published.
The news site quotes 20-year-old journalism student Didi who published a blog on 3 March condemning those for criticising the book. ““Everyone knows sexual education in China is lagging behind,” Didi writes, “but when it finally takes a big step forward, people can only focus on ‘pornography’ and trifling matters.”
Didi explained that the book covers sex education for children of various ages at elementary school level. Using illustrations, he book provides younger students with information about the external and internal structure of male and female reproductive organs. Did argues that by covering other organs and body parts, the book “normalises” the discussion of reproductive organs.
The book discusses menstruation, sexual intercourse and other topics for higher grade students, whilst the concept of homosexuality is reserved for the highest levels. An illustration shows two students asking their teacher about their two female neighbours who live together as a couple (image below). The teacher tells the students, “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 against them.”
The books also discusses gender equality, explaining that men and women have equality on the job market and that both men and women can pursue all professions including being a soldier or factory worker.
“I was moved to tears seeing this,” said Didi, “For children, these textbooks are like a holy book, and when the teacher tells them that women can become police officers, that men can be nurses, it is such an encouragement for them. And when you explain children that homosexuality is normal and that they shouldn’t discriminate against it, it really is a step forward against discrimination.”
The textbook is being used as teaching material in at least 13 different Beijing educational institutions.
Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily published a Weibo post addressing the controversy on 4 March surrounding the book.
Some Weibo users were not convinced, describing the book “tasteless” and “vulgar”. Others called the book “pornographic”, with some parents expressing worries that the book will negatively affect their children’s idea of “normality”.
Mashable quotes a mother from Hangzhou who was shocked at the book’s contents. “Do you learn this in second grade now? Has this book really been put together properly? I can’t even read the last bit. Is this a fake book from the school?”
“We only found out about this book when our child was reading ‘Daddy’s penis is inserted into Mummy’s vagina’,” she said.
“If you were a parent and heard this without any warning, wouldn’t you be shocked?”
The site also quotes netizen SouthXiaoMingw who said, “I feel that it will only prompt children to explore what they don’t understand at a young age, like pornographic websites. You can teach children how to protect themselves, but you shouldn’t use nudity and graphic images to stimulate their curiosity, especially when they are still undergoing puberty.”
However, What’s On Weibo states that the majority of other commenters saw the book as “very good” and condemned critics for “lacking integrity”.
“There’s just nothing wrong with this book,” many said. “How can you teach children sexual education without talking about sex?”
“If we don’t properly explain sex education to our children, it will only lead them in the wrong direction,” one user wondered. “What a fantastic book,” another wrote. “It is important to teach children this, and to promote equality between men and women. Anyone who thinks of porn when seeing this is just obsessed with sex.”