A silent place

My parents never had ‘the talk’ with me.

To be honest, this idea never hit me until last week. I was having lunch with a couple friends and someone brought up the new Netflix series Sex Education.

“You have to watch it,” said my friend, “it’s SO good.”

At first, I thought the series would be something like the Masters of Sex — adult-oriented and erotic... overly erotic. But instead, it was a high school teenage sex tutorial. Watching Otis Milburn getting paid by his peers for sexual consultations, I felt both weird and jealous.

Growing up in mainland China, I never received any sort of education about sex. Yes, my mom and Grade 6 science teacher did explain the origin of humans — but that’s it. In terms of things like healthy relationships, birth control methods, the LGBTQ+ community, HIV prevention, consent — there wasn’t a single word.

A silent place — this is the place I grew up.

In China, sex before marriage, especially in high school and college, is still highly stigmatized. Dating in most Chinese secondary schools is forbidden. The slogan, 禁止早恋 [“Early romantic relationships are forbidden”], is written on every bulletin board at school, watching the young boys and girls passing by. Under these circumstances, students who engaged in sexual intercourse during high school might face punishment from the school administration. If you are a girl, you are also at a high risk of being harshly slut-shamed by your peers who stand on “the moral high ground.”

The direct result of this absence of sex education and a sex-friendly environment is the incredibly high amount of teenage abortions. According to a report published by China’s National Health and Family Commission, more than half of induced abortions in China are on women under the age of 25.

I was lucky enough to receive a full course load of sex education during my high school years in Canada. After my graduation, I went back home for the summer. And when unpacking my backpack, my mom found a condom at the bottom of my bag.

I will never forget the awkwardness in the air in that moment.

I remember her quickly putting my backpack away and starting to unpack again. By the end of the day, she called me into the room alone.

“It’s nice for you to know how to protect yourself, but I hope you never use that until you grow up.”

Eighteen-year-old me stood in front of my mother, and she had no clue how to answer.