The Department of Health has said it removed from its website a controversial sex education leaflet that caused an outcry on Wednesday, citing “outdated content.”

The leaflet was criticised for advising people to avoid premarital sex, to “not dress too sexily,” and to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases by “not being promiscuous.” They also claimed that the leaflet’s images suggested it was the responsibility of women to reject sexual advances.

department of health
Sex Education material. Photo: Department of Health

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, the department said that the leaflet was published by its Central Health Education Unit (CHEU) in 2000. It was uploaded only to the website, and no paper copies were distributed.

“Earlier the CHEU reviewed the content on its website, and discovered that this ‘sex education’ exhibition was among health education materials produced a relatively long time ago,” said the department. “[The CHEU] believed that it contained outdated content, and is planning to edit its website gradually and remove outdated information.”

“In response to public concern at this ‘sex education’ exhibition, the department has immediately followed up and removed the relevant content.”

The Chinese language-only leaflet, titled “The Meaning of Love,” provides adolescents with advice on responsibilities surrounding sex, the risks of pregnancy and contraceptive options.

Sex as a threat

Miki So, a volunteer with sex education platform Sticky Rice Love, told HKFP that the leaflet had selectively communicated elements of sex education that portrayed sex as a threat.

“The content in the leaflet is not entirely wrong, and we don’t deny that sex has some negative effects,” said So. “But if it exaggerates the content… such as telling girls not to dress revealingly, or not to go out alone, then these are simply outdated opinions.”

See also: HKFP’s Guide to Sexual Health in Hong Kong

“Perhaps the person who wrote the leaflet did not study sex education enough before publishing it.”

Sticky Rice Love is a youth-led sex education platform that hosts a forum for sex-related questions, as well as workshops in schools and universities. So said that she would rather emphasise consent, mutual understanding, and sex education knowledge in her educational materials.

“Why does sex education only emphasise teaching girls to say no, and not the importance of saying yes and consent?” Photo: Sticky Rice Love infographic.

“These are much more important debates than whether or not to have premarital sex,” she told HKFP.

She also said that the leaflet’s advice on sexually-transmitted diseases was somewhat misleading: “Compared with someone who has many sex partners but uses a condom every time, someone who only has one partner but doesn’t use protection has a higher possibility of catching a disease.”

So added that there was a misconception in society that sex education encouraged young people to have sexual relations too early, or that it would increase the risks of accidental pregnancy.

“But sex education is something that is needed in life: from birth, to understanding our sex, our sexuality, love, marriage and pregnancy… all of this is included in sex education.”

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.