At the International Conference on Sexuality in Kunming, China, HIV/AIDS activist Humphrey Wou attended a panel on sex education, hoping to learn about the textbooks used to teach Chinese students about sex. He remembered one presenter reading aloud from a book that had been widely used in high school classrooms in the city of Hangzhou for years: “Masturbation will lead to mental disorders and homosexuality,” he said.
Wou, who had been in the region for months providing rapid HIV testing to gay men, was not surprised. In a country where sex and sexuality remain taboo topics of discussion, such misinformation remains common. In fact, out of ninety Chinese science, psychology, and sex-education textbooks surveyed by the Gay and Lesbian Campus Association, a Guangzhou-based student advocacy group, 80 percent characterized homosexuality as psychologically aberrant. Although homosexuality was removed from the official list of mental disorders in 2001, LGBT people in China have few legal protections against discrimination and still face widespread social disapproval and harassment.