China has seen a recent increase in cases of HIV, especially among gay college students.
About 14,200 cases were diagnosed in the first 10 months of this year among 15 to 24 year olds, according to Wu Zunyou, the director of the National Centre for Aids/STD Control and Prevention.
That is a 10 per cent increase over the same period last year.
Of those, 2,662 cases were students. Eighty-two percent of those were through gay sex, Wu said.
Still, the majority of HIV transmissions (66.6 percent) are through heterosexual sexual activity.
Why are college students so vulnerable to HIV transmission? A lot of this has to do with the Chinese educational system. Many Chinese high schools forbid their students from dating. In China, high school lasts all day, from early morning to late in the evening, so students don’t really have the time to get away from campus to go on a date. On the weekends, family time and other obligations keep them busy. For many young people, college is the first time they’ll have the freedom and opportunity to have a romantic or sexual relationship.
Unfortunately, these college students are often clueless when it comes to sex. Most schools in China don’t offer sex education, and many parents don’t do a great job of teaching their kids about it either. China, overall, is a lot more conservative than most Western countries when it comes to talking about sex. Pornography is illegal and the internet is heavily censored by the government, so it’s difficult to get information about human sexuality from sources beside word-of-mouth.
Condom use is low in China, despite government restrictions on reproduction (i.e. the new Two-Child Policy). A 2012 survey found that 30 percent of unmarried Chinese youths had not used a condom in their most recent sexual encounter. And a 2015 survey found that 43 percent of young female sex workers did not regularly use condoms. The government didn’t lift a national ban on condom advertisements until 2014.
If China wants to combat the rise of HIV, it will have to overcome a lot of cultural squeamishness about sexuality, and it will have to do it fast.