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UBC Study: East Asian Students Less Sexually Active


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VANCOUVER - East Asian high school students in this province are less likely to be sexually active, but those who are engage in riskier sexual behaviour, according to a new study from the University of B.C.

That’s partly because language and cultural barriers may prevent frank talk about sex between young people and their parents, suggest the authors of Sexual health and risk behaviour among East Asian adolescents in British Columbia, published this month in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality.

It’s become more common for adolescents to be sexually active — nearly half of all North American students between Grades nine and 10 report having sexual intercourse — but for adolescents of East Asian heritage living in B.C., the proportion drops to 10 per cent.

And seven out of those 10 reported high-risk behaviour, according to the study. One in four reported using drugs or alcohol, more than one third reported having had multiple partners in the last year, and more than half the girls surveyed had not used a condom.

Sexual health promotion strategies need to be more culturally appropriate, said Yuko Homma, a post-doctoral fellow in the School of Nursing at UBC and lead author of the study. The report uses 2008 data from the provincial Adolescent Health Survey and responses from nearly 30,000 students in Grades seven to 10 from China, Korea and Japan, the majority of whom are first-generation immigrants. Over half spoke their native language at home, which indicated to the authors they may have closer ties to more traditionally conservative cultures.

“In B.C., there is a growing population of East Asians, particularly Chinese and Koreans. East Asian student health impacts general Canadian health,” she said. “It’s important to investigate the population.”

Homma would like to see sex education provided in both English and the students’ first language.

“I hope it happens, because there are more and more East Asian students coming to British Columbia,” she said.

Kristen Gilbert, a senior educator at Options for Sexual Health agency, agreed education needs to start at home, but some students are “missing out on years of conversation, which would help them with safe decision-making when they are older.”

“I hate to make generalizations,” she said. “But it’s common for me to have Asian students in the class who are surprised by the information. Even basic reproductive biology.”

Independent Vancouver-based sex educator Saleema Noon said some Asian students are more reticent and reluctant to speak up. Others are not so shy.

“Many of them are just bursting with questions because they’re not learning it at home and don’t feel comfortable accessing the resources. They’ve got their questions ready and they want answers,” said Noon.

“I think it comes down to religion and culture ... Most of us didn’t learn much from our own parents, and we live in a culture that’s so much more sexually open than Asia.”

In an “ideal world,” educational material would be translated into several languages and sent home to parents too, she said. Although among some families, sex is still a taboo subject, it’s slowly changing.

“More and more I speak to parents who didn’t grow up with this information. I mean, they can’t even say penis. Yet they have the courage to come to an information session and say, ‘OK, how can I make sure my kids have what they need to know?’”

Sex education is part of the Health and Career Education curriculum and mandated by the B.C. Ministry of Education.

It’s up to schools to decide how to implement it, and “the curriculum does not differentiate teachings by culture for this topic,” said ministry spokesman Matt Silver.

Silver also pointed out that all B.C. curricula are under review, including the Health and Career Education components, although planning documents from the ministry do not mention sex education specifically

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