Feature Articles

Challenges and issues young people face today with reference to the situation of 10 years ago

Ref Number: IPPF040720

  • Date25 Aug 2004
  • Category A Word from Friends
  • TargetsN/A
  • AuthorIris Yip -- Famplus2 member
  • Topic Sexuality Education

My name is Iris Yip, a youth volunteer from the sexuality education volunteer team of the Hong Kong FPA. It's my pleasure to share with you my opinion about challenges and issues Hong Kong youth are facing today when compared with those a decade ago.

With the adoption of the Program of Action (PoA) during the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994, it was recognized that the need on reproductive health for young people must be addressed, and “countries should protect and promote the rights of adolescents to reproductive health education, so as to improve the well being of young people” (United Nations 1995).

As a youth myself, I feel that the needs and rights of sexual and reproductive health are not fully addressed in the society of Hong Kong.

The Youth Sexuality Study 2001 conducted by Hong Kong FPA indicated that the number of young people engaged in sexual activity had greatly increased over the last decade. On the knowledge level about sexuality, however, young people showed poor knowledge about contraception & HIV/AIDS. The data shows that there is a pressing demand for the local agencies and government to promote comprehensive sexuality education in schools (and through media) to accommodate changes in youths in matters concerning their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors towards sexuality.

But many Hong Kong youth including myself feel that we are ill informed with respect to young people’s sexual and reproductive health.

The Education Department of the Hong Kong Government first issued “Guidelines on Sex Education in Secondary Schools” in 1986 to provide some guiding principles in school sexuality education. Ten years later in 1997, the “Guidelines” were revised and updated again so that they now cover pre-primary to senior secondary levels in ways that correspond to the development stages of youth. It is hoped that the revised “Guidelines” would assist all schools to develop sound sexuality education policies and programs.

However, the “Guidelines” are not mandatory, sexuality education is not a formal subject but merely covered by cross-curriculum such as “Ethics” or “Social Studies”. Very often it is up to the school to decide how much time should be allocated to sexuality education and what kind of contents should be covered. Some of the schools are more active and willing to invite NGOs such as Hong Kong FPA to deliver sexuality education programs for students. However, there are still many schools that do not recognize the importance of sexuality education.

What’s more, there are schools that often focus on the physiological aspects when delivering sexuality education and seldom touch on life skills such as communications or decision-making skills. Some controversial contents like homosexuality, contraceptive use or sexual pleasure are often excluded. Instead, abstinence before marriage was emphasized to youth. Personally, I think this abstinence-approach in school curriculum is not very effective to help young people, especially those who are sexually active, as they don’t have the chance to learn about the necessary knowledge and skills to exercise responsibility regarding their own sexual behaviours, such as condom use.   

The feeling of inadequacy in discussing sexuality exists not only among teachers but also parents. For many Chinese parents who are conservative about sex, instead of affirming the child's sexuality, parents convey the message that sexuality is harmful or shameful. They also cling to the notion of “childhood innocence” and not able to provide timely or accurate sexual information. There are also myths that early implementation of sexuality education or teaching contraceptives would encourage sexual activities or even promiscuity among young people.

Apart from negative parental attitudes towards sexuality, one of the problems in many Hong Kong families is insufficient parent-child communication. Many parents have long working hours, and there’s not much time for family members to share time together. As a result, many young people are not used to share their needs and concerns with their parents. If they encounter any problem related to sexual and reproductive health, they may feel unwilling to seek help from parents or other family members.  

Because of teachers’ and parents’ unwillingness to discuss sexuality, young people often turn to their peers and the mass media to seek for sexual information. The recent Youth Sexuality Study conducted by Hong Kong FPA reveals that peers and the mass media are the major source of sexual knowledge among young people (FPAHK, 2001). Indeed, explicit sexual materials can easily be accessed through different channels like newspaper, Internet, television programs and so on.

Hong Kong young people are easily influenced by the mixed message delivered by the media. One of the concerns that we should pay attention to is the recent trend of the portrayal of BODY IMAGE by the media. Hong Kong advertisements, movies, magazines, and other popular sources of entertainment are very keen to impose unrealistic standards of beauty, which affects how young people develop their own self-concept and self-image. Many teenage girls often have negative body images and worried about their skin, body weight and also size of their breasts. The influence of the mass media about gender stereotyping is also affecting young people. Ladies exhibiting traditionally labeled as masculine are named as ‘tomboys’, while young men choosing behaviours labeled feminine are called ‘sissies’. Also, the sexual needs and desires of women are often placed to be secondary to those of men, and it is often the men to date women rather than the other way round. All these media messages surely affect our young people’s dating and intimacy behaviours.

Talking about gender stereotyping, despite Hong Kong is a modern city; it is still under the influence of the traditional Chinese cultural rules and norms. Gender role stereotypes or unequal power relations are still being reinforced during socialization processes including the family, school education, and the mass media.

Many parents and teachers are unaware of their different treatments to the two sexes, considering that allowing a child to engage in activities associated with the other gender will cause the child to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. Furthermore, peer pressure might reinforce the norms of behaviours and make adolescents to display ‘appropriate’ behaviours to gain approval or recognition among peers. Young people may feel the peer pressure to display ‘appropriate’ behaviours to prove their masculinity or femininity. Hence, there is a need to promote gender equality not just to young people but also adults. 

Lastly, I would like to talk about youth sexual health services in Hong Kong. Apart from the Youth Health Care Centres of Hong Kong FPA, I don’t think there are many youth health clinics providing services tailored to the adolescent sexual and reproductive health needs.

Young people’s perceptions of services will affect their decision to use them. Our common concerns are confidentiality, the convenience of youth health care clinic hours and locations, and also service providers' attitudes towards adolescent sexuality. I hope more youths can be invited during the planning and delivery of youth services to make sure all these clinics are youth-friendly.

All in all, to help young people to become a responsible sexual person, the schools, parents and various communities in the society should joint hands to cultivate an environment that recognizes the needs of youth sexual and reproductive health needs and rights, along with the provision of comprehensive sexuality education and youth-friendly sexual health services that truly respond to the needs of young people.


Note:  Article in ""A word from friends"" is a personal account of the author's point of view. It does not represent the standpoint of The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong.