1993 / 2月
Hsieh Shu-fen /photos courtesy of drawings by Tsai Chih-pen /tr. by Peter Eberly
A few years ago a children's sex education book translated by the Yuan-Liou Publishing Co. called Where Do I Come From? didn't sell as well as expected because it described how sex feels and was considered "unsuitable for children."
Yet in the short period of time since late last year, the Chinese translation of The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex, put out by Living Psychology Publishers, has sold nearly 100,000 copies.
It's not only the book world--a fad for sex-related topics has swept television, magazines, newspapers and the rest of the mass media in Taiwan lately.
What's going on?
The business affairs department at Living Psychology Publishers is in a tizzy. The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex, which was originally expected to sell around 10,000 copies, has gone through five printings in less than three months, and they still can't keep up with demand. Editor-in-Chief Doris Kuei-Hwa Wang says the success has caught them by surprise and they've had to keep rushing back to reprint.
They're not the only ones amazed. In Taiwan, sex is still generally considered a highly secretive, personal matter. Books on it are always stashed in a corner of the store or shelved in the family, women's or health sections. Very few stand out boldly on their own and have the word "sex" emblazoned right on the cover.
The Kinsey Report, which claims to be an "encyclopedia on sex," runs counter to all that. Not only is it displayed on the stand in the most conspicuous part of the store, it's also touted in huge shopwindow displays on busy streets, and many of the actions and ideas it discusses, measured by current standards, can only be termed rather rare and avant-garde.
Sex is a topic that naturally draws people's attention. The books of the U.S. Kinsey Foundation, which was founded in 1947 and prides itself on studying the topic with scientific methods, have never lacked for fame and controversy. What's more, the Chinese edition was published just in time for the prime wedding season on Taiwan, and quite a few people have treated it as required reading for "marriage credits." These are just two of the factors that have made it a hit. Wang Jui-chi, executive secretary of the Hsing Ling Medical Foundation, attributes the book's success to its "meeting the public demand for sex information."
The Kinsey Report, one parent found, contains detailed, inclusive information on sexual relations and on sexual problems that may arise in the course of mental and physical development along with common knowledge on health and sanitation. "But what made me happiest was that the chapters on "The Reaction of Parents to Their Children's Sexual Behavior' and 'Pointers for Parents' showed me the approach to take in dealing with my kids' question on sex," she says.
Based on a similar demand, the mass media have been swept recently by a wave of sex-related topics and discussion. In the three years they have been on air, the features "Sex Forum" and "Sex Aptitude Test" on the popular television program "Women, Women" have covered an increasingly broad range of topics, from menstruation, masturbation and nocturnal emissions to sex organ size and anal intercourse, becoming one of the program's main attractions.
The author Ku Ling and pop music writer Liang Hung-chih have each made cassette recordings of talks on love and sex. Even the special issue on women put out recently by Global Views Monthly followed the popular trend by devoting a special section to sex. In books, the examples are too numerous to detail.
"Popular, open or relaxed and entertaining methods of packaging can relieve some of the sensitivity and embarrassment the topic is apt to cause," says Li Tzu-yao, a professor at the College of Medicine at National Taiwan University, who often discusses sex on television and in the press. He believes that packaging is the main reason audiences are willing to accept sex information from the media.
The magazines put out by Living Psychology Publishing since Doris Wang took over have been noted for their serious content and respectable image and for not giving people "any wrong ideas. "In publishing The Kinsey Report, the company invited a number of local experts and scholars who are trying to promote sex education to recommend the book and stress its expertise and authoritativeness. It really spent a lot of effort on packaging.
"It has a clean and healthy feel, without any hint of lewdness," a reader says, buying a copy in a bookstore.
On television and radio, experts are often invited to sit down with members of the general public and discuss sex-related topics in an easygoing question-and-answer format.
Ku Ling is a prime example. He's so good at talking about the sexes, he often appears on radio or TV programs and has been invited to lecture so often that he simply made tapes for wider circulation. To date he's recorded talks about love, affection, sex, extramarital affairs and marriage and expects to put out eight in all. You can see how strong the market demand is.
Why are a hundred flowers blooming all of a sudden? Can it really be true that Chinese people in the past were ignorant of sex?
Actually, considering the fact that the Chinese are the most populous people on earth, it would be absurd to say they don't know anything about sex. Although the author and date of composition of the Su-nu ching, or Classic of the Pure Maiden, an ancient manual of techniques of the boudoir, are unknown, a line in a poem by Chang Heng written during the Eastern Han (A.D.25 to 220) goes "The Pure Maiden is my teacher/Tien Lao instructed the Yellow Emperor," indicating that the book dates back to that period or earlier.
Even the classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber, which exalts "pure love," is not free of sexual innuendo.
The female protagonist Lin Tai-yu is capping the lines of an impromptu poem and inadvertently lets slip the titles of two books considered risque at the time, The Peony Pavilion and Romance of the Western Chamber. The next day she is called over and scolded by her cousin Hsueh Pao-chai. But if her cousin had never seen these "dirty books," how could she have taken her to task about them?
"Clearly, it wasn't that they didn't know about it. It's just that, under the conservative weight of tradition, sex was a forbidden topic that no one dared discuss in the open," Ku Ling says. Even if information is more open these days, sex-related topics are still shunned and avoided by the Chinese, he believes.
People in their twenties or thirties probably still remember back in junior high school when the health education teacher--blushing rosy red -- came to the part about male and female physical characteristics in chapters 14 and 15! With our conservative, traditional habits, sex was long considered a shameful, unmentionable topic in Taiwan,
Children frequently didn't understand what was happening to them during puberty but were afraid to ask. "When a classmate of mine who matured early had her first period, we thought she was going to die," a magazine editor recalls.
A random survey conducted by Living Psychology magazine on Kinsey Report buyers found that the age group with the largest number was 21 to 25, followed by 26 to 30.
But even though society is becoming more open, when concerned parents or teachers look into school sex education materials, they often can't help feeling discouraged. "In elementary school," a parent says," the only time sex is mentioned is in the fifth-grade health textbook, and that's only about boys' and girls' physical differences.
The seventh-grade health book has a related curriculum, but the main focus is still on biological characteristics. It doesn't talk about the egg and the sperm getting together until the second semester. "The book says, 'The father's sperm and the mother's egg join in the fallopian tubes to form an embryo. This is called fertilization, and a new life begins.' But how does the sperm get there? How do you explain that?" the parent says, adding that that's the question that gives her a headache.
Besides the inadequacy of formal sex education channels, another negative factor that mustn't be neglected is the destructive force of "miseducation." "The sexual titillation and mistaken notions that society is full of nowadays are troubling," says April Huang, who works at a women's group called the Awakening Foundation. Examples she cites are the ads for "strip shows" and "meat markets" posted all over the city, the ready availability of X-rated movies to anyone who goes into a video rental store, blatant advertisements in magazines and newspapers for virility potions and "special services" and comic books with children and teenagers as leading characters that are rife with sex and violence.
Fan Kuo-yung, a professor at the Central Police Academy, found in a survey that more than 70 percent of third-year junior high students have read comic books featuring sex and violence.
"Schoolkids can't buy condoms, but they can get hold of nude photo collections of Japanese pop stars. Sex education films are prohibited, but we can't stamp out X-rated videos and cable TV," Ku Ling, who once taught junior high school, says sarcastically.
Wang Jui-chi, who gives 10 sex education lectures a month to teenagers at schools and other places, feels that students are deeply confused by mistaken notions about sex, judging from the questions they ask. "The problem that boys worry about most is actually the size of their penis!" she says. The exaggerated sizes they've seen in porno movies have given them an Inferiority complex and made them feel they "lack virility." In addition, their use of terms such as impotence and premature ejaculation shows that the seductive ads in the newspapers for aphrodisiacs and sexual stimulants have been deeply planted in their minds.
"Women often end up victims of these mistaken ideas," says April Huang, citing the fact that many young women lack even most basic knowledge about protecting themselves from pregnancy. According to the Ministry of the Interior, the pregnancy rate among unmarried, pre-adult females on Taiwan is 1.6 percent, much higher than that in neighboring Asian countries, such as South Korea(1.1 percent), Singapore (0.9 percent) and Japan (0.4 percent). As for married pre-adult females, data at the Taiwan Provincial Family Planning Institute shows that the fertility rate exceeds 70 percent. In total, pre-adult mothers give birth to about 15,000 babies a year.
The gap between traditional information and present needs and the gradual relaxing of media yardsticks in recent years have led to the "sex-talk" wave. But the topic is still a highly sensitive one in Taiwan, eliciting polarized views, and treating it in the media is like magnifying it through a telescope and apt to draw criticisms of lewdness if not carefully done. Learning how to approach it properly is a major test for the media.
The sex education program "In the Beginning," made by local public television in 1987, couldn't and up to pressure from self-appointed defenders of public morality and died an untimely death.
Three years ago, the Taiwan Television news program "Hotline" purchased a Danish animated sex education film for children, but cut out the pictures of sexual activity and showed just two segments--"The Beauty of Life" and "Oh! So That's How It Is!"--omitting "The First Time" and "AIDS Prevention" as not suitable for public broadcast.
Not long ago, the program "Women, Women" came under a storm of condemnation and viewer backlash for using the terms "backyard flower" and "anal intercourse."
When Psychology Today magazine excerpted some chapters from the Kinsey Report, some school principals called to protest: "If you didn't talk about it, they wouldn't think about it. When you talk about it, it makes them think about it, and then they want to do it!" Doris Wang can only console herself with the knowledge that Dr. Kinsey was criticized when he began engaging in sex research as performing "the work of the devil."
These sort of problems, Ku Ling believes, are due to the fact that we're just beginning to open up and still can't treat the topic with calm and balance. "After a while, we should be able to talk about sex as frankly as politics or economics. Seen from another angle, open discussion and the provision of adequate information are naturally one way to break through ignorance and superstition, and information channels will be even more open in the foreseeable future. However, the scope of sex education isn't limited to information. Concepts like mutual respect and equal treatment of the sexes will always depend for their inculcation more on the family, school and society as a whole than the media marketplace, won't they?
Children and teenagers are often misled by the misinformation conveyed by prono videos and off-color comics.
Modern-day people need correct attitudes and thinking to deal with the burgeoning sex trade.
Can the media sever as a substitute for formal educational channels in providing correct information on sex?