Abstinence Education and Christian Fundamentalism in China

I was disturbed last week to come across this story:

In Yunnan schools this year, teachers are being trained with a sex education curriculum created by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. The agreement with the Yunnan ministry of education is a milestone for Focus on the Family, which has struggled for four years to make inroads on abstinence in China.

It is also the result of a narrow confluence of interests: Evangelical Christian groups want an entree into China. And Chinese authorities, despite the country’s official atheism, want help with controlling population growth and managing the society’s rapidly shifting values.

You might think that sex education in China needs all the help it can get — and you’re almost right. This, however, is a firm step in the wrong direction.

First of all, there’s significant evidence that abstinence education doesn’t work. Kids who are taught abstinence are just as likely to have premarital sex as everyone else. And, of course, since they haven’t been taught about sexual health or how to properly use condoms and other forms of protection, when they do have sex, it’s more likely to end badly.

Moreover, Focus on the Family is a religious group, and their form of sex education is likely to also include some homophobia if their founder, James Dobson, is any indication. In Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide, he wrote:

“[The homosexual] agenda includes teaching pro-homosexual [sic] concepts in the public schools, redefining the family to represent “any circle of people who love each other,” approval of homosexual adoption, legitimizing same-sex marriage, and securing special rights for those who identify themselves as gay. Those ideas must be opposed, even though to do so is to expose oneself to the charge of being “homophobic.”

He has also suggested that gays and lesbians are intentionally trying to destroy marriage, and that same-sex families with children are unstable. He also opposes civil unions. And luckily for those studying the “science” that’s included in Focus on the Family’s sex ed curriculum, the group has also been charged with intentionally misrepresenting scientific data for its own purposes:

Judith Stacey, a sociologist at New York University, said her work was manipulated in an attempt to show gays and lesbians do not make good parents.

“This is a direct misrepresentation of the research,” she said.

(And here’s some more evidence of that.)

So why the hell is China letting these guys anywhere near their official sex ed curriculum? I have no idea, but it’s a terrible plan. Sex ed should be based in science — especially in an atheist country — and theirs is not, period. It’s based in an extremely narrow interpretation of a several-thousand-year-old book.

Li Yinhe, China’s foremost sexologist, agrees with me. In a recent blog post, she wrote:

In my point of view, this is a huge step backward. As the Chinese Minstry of Education and people in sex ed circles is pulling together and pushing forward an appropriate sex ed curricula, preparing to teach children about sex using scientific knowledge and promoting the correct attitude about sex, [Yunnan officials and Focus on the Family] are suddenly promoting an anti-sex, ascetic abstinence program. This will become a milestone for China’s step backward in terms of sexual values and sex education. It’s a huge victory for American sexual conservatives, and a huge loss for people everywhere who are open-minded about sex.

Amen. Not to mention that letting these guys in (and giving them official government acceptance, what were you thinking, Yunnan?) paves the way for other Christian fundamentalists, like this asshole and these bigger assholes.

Of course, people are free to do (and believe) whatever they want when it comes to sex. However, in China as everywhere, children should be taught about their bodies and their options based on the latest science, not based on the way some people interpret one book that’s meaningful for one particular religion. Especially given that probably 99% of the kids in Yunnan have never read the Bible and don’t know much about Christianity generally.

I know the government wants “help with controlling population growth and managing the society’s rapidly shifting values,” but abstinence-only education isn’t going to help with the population growth issue. In fact, it’s probably going to hurt (especially since Focus on the Family is pro-life). And I’m fairly sure this is not the direction the government wants China’s values “shifting” towards.

I do realize my opinion isn’t the only one out there, though ((It is, however, the correct one.)). What do you think about this?

(Also tangentially related: this post on OkCupid’s statistical analysis blog is fascinating for many reasons, but scroll down to the end to check out what they learned about the correlation between religion and writing ability. The short version is that they found religious people to be better writers when they were half-assed about their religious beliefs, and they found atheists who were very committed to their atheism to be better writers than fundamentalists from any religion. Agnostics are next. Protestant fundamentalists like our friends at Focus on the Family, sadly, rank dead last. Color me shocked.)

0 thoughts on “Abstinence Education and Christian Fundamentalism in China”

  1. This is an interesting question. When I read the Washington Post article, at first Ithought it was fun. Then I realize how much controversy it could generate.


  2. While I agree that this isn’t at all a step forward in sex education, it can’t be concluded that this will pave the way for Christianity to enter any more than it has already. Even if it did I don’t see that being an entirely bad thing. It certainly wouldn’t attract the assholes you mention. Christianity, in recent years, has done much more good worldwide than bad. Just as I assume you wouldn’t judge Islam by what a few extremists have done, I would like to think you wouldn’t do the same with Christianity.


  3. No biggie, teens are extremely promiscuous in developed Asian countries like Japan/Korea, yet still maintain a low STD/pregnancy rate. China will probably follow in those steps. Why deny people one of life’s greatest pleasures?


  4. to shuaige:
    Judging by those two articles and the move the Yunnan government has made, things are not going to get better. It’s pretty obvious kids don’t know much about their bodies or safe sex now in China, as there is a complete lack of competent sex education. What’s so bad about teaching kids to use condoms and showing a few nasty videos of what STDs or even abortions can do to your body?
    Hopefully this “abstinence-ed” thing won’t last long.


  5. I’m not sure this turn of events quite as grim as the author suggest.

    I don’t think Focus on the Family would try to make the argument that abstinence is for life. There’s no reason sex-ed classes can’t accompany a curriculum which encourages kids to wait until marriage, or at least until they’re in a seriously committed relationship.

    Also, its a great idea to teach kids about having and creating a healthy family. Those are fundamental years, and a solid curriculum which encourages abstinence might, in the long run, help to resolve many of the infidelity problems which destroy the lives of countless Chinese families.


  6. Focus on the Family is a poisonous organization and it is sad that the government in Yunnan thinks they can benefit by working with them. I suspect, however, that FoF will be severely disappointed if they think this means they can make inroads into China as far as missionary activities go (overt or covert). In the end the government is using them as a tool and nothing more.


  7. I guess I don’t see, based on the article, any really compelling reasons to jump to the assumption that Focus on Family is a ‘poisonous’ organization.


  8. @Starestraight, there is strong statistical evidence that abstinence education (abstinence before marriage), at least from what I understand in the U.S., doesn’t work in terms of either reducing premarital sex or curbing unplanned pregnancies and STDs.


  9. @ Starestraight:

    I don’t mean to say that this article necessarily indicates that Focus on the Family is poisonous, even if one disagrees with abstinence-only education. I just mean they (and their founder) have a history in the US of pursuing backward and small-minded ideas.


  10. Other than bible thumpers I think most would agree that abstinence education doesn’t work.

    The introduction of Christianity to china (or any country for that matter) will simply create more reasons for people to fight against one and another. The fact that Christianity is less violent than Islam (even that is debatable, Rwanda and Bosnia comes to mind) doesn’t make Christianity a peaceful religion.


  11. I think an introduced religion can only find rapport with a society on common ground it shares with the prevailing winds of the locality’s culture. Whether its violent or non violent reflects the context its based in, not necessarily the ideology itself. It’ll be interesting to see how Christianity pans out in China anyway.


  12. Lolz I would not say Christianity is less violent than Islam. People speaking for both religions have done a lot of bad things over the course of history, Christians possibly more so.

    Unru, you raise an interesting point. Even when Christianity was introduced to Europe it had to find common ground with local traditions, including things like Christmas (originally a mid-winter festival, according to where you read), easter eggs (symbol of fertility or rebirth of the earth) Christmas trees, etc etc. So maybe for Christianity to work in China it would need to evolve to suit local beliefs and ideas.


  13. I find that when I talk to people raised outside of America, are under the perception that all Christians would fight, justify, kill, etc…catholic doctrine. When in fact Christians who depend solely on the Bible as their guide, would not fight, justify, or kill for catholic doctrine. Perhaps some individual reading of the Bible without the governing practices of vein rudiments and religious traditions is our own responsibility individually. Maybe then you’ll find a true majority opinion on the issue of abstinence both scientifically, and spiritually….


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