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The Frontlines of Sex-Ed

An interview with Founder Tong Li of New Kinsey, a landmark source for sex education in China

10·13·2015

The Frontlines of Sex-Ed

An interview with Founder Tong Li of New Kinsey, a landmark source for sex education in China

10·13·2015

kinsey

Tong Li, Founder of New Kinsey

TELL US ABOUT YOUR COMPANY, NEW KINSEY (新金赛).

I had this idea to start a sex education organization in the second year of my graduate program. At that time, my classmates and I were interning at a hospital, doing research into treatments for infertility. We saw so many cases of women getting pregnant unexpectedly and having multiple abortions, only to find that they couldn’t get pregnant when they actually wanted to have babies. If they had had better sex education, those personal crises could easily have been avoided. Then, we analyzed things like marketing and targeting crowds, thinking that it would be a viable project. Right now we are a small team of about 10 people.

YOUR WEIBO ACCOUNT, “A MONK STUDYING SEXOLOGY” (性学研究僧), IS OLDER AND MORE FAMOUS THAN YOUR COMPANY, ISN’T IT?

Yes, I started this account in 2012. The name is a pun; the Chinese character for “monk” ( 僧 sēng) sounds similar to the character for “student” ( 生 shēng). I gave myself this name because I found the life of a graduate student quite poor, just like monkhood. Also, I liked the paradox between a sexology major and a monk that abstains from all carnal pleasure. The account didn’t become popular until I made it a platform for offering advice on sex and relationships. At first I gave professional answers, and then I realized that professionalism alone could not reach a larger crowd. That’s how I evolved to my current style; of course we give professional advice, but also I want the message I deliver to be constructive, inspiring, and viral.

WHAT DO YOU THINK CHINA’S SEX EDUCATION LACKS MOST?

We are quite relieved that the generations born after the 1980s and 1990s are generally supportive of sex education. Earlier generations who were born in the 1950s and 1960s sometimes hold the view that sex education is obscene, but people who are now in their 20s and 30s have realized its necessity. The reason is that people of our generation never had any sex education, and they are suffering from it in various ways. However, there is great controversy as to how it should proceed. Right now, sex education in China is largely pushed through by professionals and experts, but the government has been quite vague on this subject. The influence of organizations like ours, after all, is quite feeble. Quite possibly, only one out of a thousand people that need sex education can eventually hear from us. We have to have the government’s endorsement to make fundamental changes in China.

WHO ARE THE PEOPLE YOU WANT TO REACH MOST?

I think it’s most urgent to provide sex education to adolescents. Currently, all of our lectures are given in universities, but by doing so we are making up for the education they should have had in puberty. I noticed that a large number of my Weibo followers are adolescents, aged 14 to 18. If they go through puberty without being educated in sex, then we have to work extra hard when they go to university. This is where the need becomes most urgent, and if we were given the chance, we would have helped these kids to grow in a more comprehensive way so that they wouldn’t run into trouble.

WHAT ARE THE OBSTACLES IN LECTURING TO ADOLESCENTS?

There are two insurmountable mountains: permission from the schools and the parents. They question our qualifications and the necessity of our lectures. Our team is highly professional and academically trained—our core members include two sexology M.A.s from Huazhong Normal University and one professor of adolescent sex education from Sichuan Normal University. We are pretty confident about our qualifications. However, we can still feel a general dubiousness [from society] toward anything related to sex.

WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS FROM PARENTS AND SCHOOLS?

Mainly, they think it’s too early. Some parents prefer to have their head in the sand than face the issue outright. However, children are curious about sex, whether you talk to them about it or not. Teenagers have access to information about sex; they can easily search for it on Baidu. However, to us, that’s the problem. About one percent of the sexual information circulating online is correct. For example, a lot of medical advice says that masturbation is harmful. This gives teenagers serious pressure and even causes psychological issues.

WHEN TEENAGERS ASK YOU QUESTIONS ON WEIBO, WHAT ARE THE THINGS THEY ARE MOST INTERESTED IN?

It’s quite easy to tell if an inquirer is a teenager or not because their questions are typical. Boys always have questions about masturbation and sexual impulses. They often tell me that they masturbated and describe the color of their sperm and ask me if they are healthy. They often worry if they are over- masturbating too. High school girls, though, most often ask questions about romantic feelings and gynecological hygiene. Most of their questions are like, “I like this boy, should I tell him?”


“The Frontlines of Sex-Ed” is a story from our newest issue, “Military”. To read the full interview, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.

Cover image is from New Kinsey Weibo