Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Young Chinese clueless about sex, most likely to seek abortion - study

Zhu said her parents, like most Chinese, did not expect her to be sexually active until after marriage.
Zhu said her parents, like most Chinese, did not expect her to be sexually active until after marriage.

Young Chinese migrants are misinformed about sex and move to New Zealand with little or no sexual knowledge, a University of Auckland study found.

They are being told masturbation is dangerous and gendered sexual norms prevent some from practising safe sex, making them vulnerable to sexual risks.

Asians have the highest abortion rates and ratio among all ethnic groups in New Zealand.
Chinese born in China who had been in the country for five years or less made up a majority of those who sought abortions, the report said.

Asian induced abortion - which don't include miscarriages - were the highest by ethnicity ratio, about 3 per cent more than Maori and 24 per cent higher than European.

Last year, 2480 Asians had abortions and many were Chinese tertiary students, according to the report.

The study found that Chinese women's "inconsistent or unsuccessful condom use" was a result of cultural norms.

"It is connected with gendered sexual norms, such as putting partner's needs, eg. 'he doesn't like condoms', before one's sexual safety."

More than 300 people, which included 177 female, 134 male and six who identified as neither, were surveyed for the report "How do Chinese young people become sexual subjects?".

The study also involved 10 focus groups and 19 interviews.

Researcher Alex Li said sexual and gender studies had always been her passion.

A lack of information and research on Asian sexuality motivated her to embark on this topic for her PhD.

Nearly 71 per cent of mainland Chinese immigrant respondents chose the internet as their top pick for sexual information, followed by 44 per cent choosing friends and sex partners.

Mainland Chinese men were also found to be more resourceful with erotic knowledge than with contraceptive or sexual health.

The study found that school-based sex education was largely absent in China.

Even when there was information on reproduction, the sex acts themselves are not mentioned.

"There are sometimes prohibitive messages against sexual activities, including masturbation, constructing them as 'wrong' or 'harmful'," Li said.

"The resulting feelings of guilt and anxiety created among young people are detrimental not only in their sexual autonomy but also sexual health and safety."

Sexual relationship was "especially valued" by the Chinese as a source of sexual knowledge.

Family was rated by participants as the least helpful sexual source for sexual information.

Chinese parents often warned their offspring against sexual activity based on the assumption that abortion was the only means of birth control, instead of educating young women about contraception.

"Before I left China, Dad said don't get a boyfriend unless you're absolutely sure about someone," said one respondent Eri.

"Getting pregnant overseas is big trouble. You'd get deported."

There was also a double standard, with sexual respectability not imposed on Chinese men.

Instead, they are warned of the "mess" they had to clean up as a result of sex acts.

"Both my father and mother told me this, better not sleep with Caucasians," another respondent Bill said.

"Because once they get pregnant, they can't get an abortion, this way it may become more messy."

For sexually active Chinese youth, peers and mass media were identified as being most helpful sources of information.

This indicated that the type of sexual knowledge they sought tended to be erotic rather than "official" sexual knowledge, the report said.

Case study

Chinese student Yue Zhu turns to the internet to learn about sex because she wasn't taught about it in China.

Zhu, 22, a University of Canterbury undergraduate, came to New Zealand in 2012 thinking masturbation could make her sick.

"Sex education in China is very different from New Zealand, we don't receive much education about sex in school because teachers always think it is an adult topic that's not suitable to talk in class," she said.

"I don't remember being taught about masturbation at all, rather teachers or family members telling us it is completely bad, it may make us sick and make other people feel disgusted about us."

Until she came to New Zealand from Jiangsu at age 18, Zhu's mum did not allow her to watch any shows that had kissing scenes.

Zhu said her parents, like most Chinese, did not expect her to be sexually active until after marriage.

"My parents were worried about me coming to New Zealand, they said abortion is not allowed in my family so I must protect myself," Zhu said.

"There are times I felt lost because I did not know how to deal with some situations, I had to search online for information to fill in the gaps."

- Herald on Sunday

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