All they wanted to do was talk about sex.
The 16th annual conference of the Taiwan Association for Sexuality Education (TASE) saw leading experts in various sex-related fields descend on National Taiwan Normal University yesterday for what the association billed as the nation's first ever academic forum on sex education.
Faced with an alarming HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region and the fact that the nation has the highest birth rate in Asia among teenage girls -- statistics suggest a birth rate as high as 12 percent among girls aged 15 to 19 from 2000 to 2005 -- the nation must rethink its approach to sex education, experts urged, warning the government not to look to the US for guidance.
"Among experts on sex education, nobody supports [US President George W. Bush's] Administration's `Abstinence-0' approach to educating students on sex," said Edwin Yen (晏涵文), the founder of the association and dean of the university's College of Education, referring to the US approach which omits all information on birth control methods.
The US government under Bush, Yen said, is doling out fat subsidies to junior high and high schools focusing only on abstinence, while denying extra assistance to schools choosing to teach "safe sex" to their students.
That approach has failed miserably, not only in the US but in Africa, where US government aid is often contingent on governments there promoting abstinence over birth control to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS, he said.
No more effective is Taiwan's own approach, which leaves the subject of sex to untrained teachers and a half-baked curriculum, Yen said.
"Our education system faces a tremendous problem addressing this issue. Sex education is de-emphasized; it's taught by untrained teachers in classes that are optional," he said, adding that half of all students do not attend any classes on the subject.
The nation should follow the example of the Netherlands or Sweden, which instruct their students on birth control from a young age. With one of the lowest birth rates in the world among teenage girls, the Netherlands has proved its approach, a press release said.
Tsyr-Huey Mental Hospital director Wen Jung-kuang (文榮光), described by alliance members yesterday as a sex education pioneer, agreed with the Netherlands' approach, adding that he could only accept the abstinence approach "halfway."
Proper sex education, Wen said, must include information on birth control methods.
Yen termed such an approach "Abstinence-plus," or encouraging abstinence or faithfulness to a spouse, while also making available all information on birth control methods, especially the use of condoms, to students.
"If our youth die of AIDS because they didn't know about condoms and the dangers of sex, we're wasting taxpayers' money [on a useless approach to sex education]," Yen said.
Apparently, copious taxpayer funds have already been wasted as nearly 60 percent of teenage boys don't wear condoms during their first sexual encounter with a member of the opposite sex, the release said.
HIV/AIDS and sexual assault cases, meanwhile, have increased, and teenagers increasingly rely on abortion as their primary method of birth control, it said.
Taipei obstetrician Chen Wen-lung (陳文龍) yesterday displayed a slide show of where the soaring pregnancy rate too often leads teenage girls -- his clinic.
"It's a warm, caring place -- see how low the lounge looks like a dining room," Chen said.
He flipped through photographs of his clinic's lounge and consultation rooms to those of the abortion room, where an operation chair, complete with pink stirrups, spread wide, caught the harsh glint of a medical lamp.
"For every five pregnant girls [nationwide], only one actually gives birth," he said.
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