Vancouver Sun (07.17.2013)
A new study by the University of British Columbia (BC) School of Nursing found that language barriers might be putting the sexual health of some new Canadians at risk. According to Yuko Homma, a post-doctoral fellow and the study’s lead author, East Asian high school students in this province were less likely to be sexually active, but those who were active engaged in riskier sexual behavior. Study authors suggested that language and cultural barriers might be preventing parents from speaking frankly with their children about sex.
“In BC, there is a growing population of East Asians, particularly Chinese and Koreans. East Asian student health impacts general Canadian health,” said Homma. She would like to see more culturally appropriate sex education taught in both English and the students’ first language. The province’s Ministry of Education mandates sex education as part of its health and career education curriculum.
While research indicated that sexual activity had become more common among North American adolescents, only 10 percent of East Asian adolescents in BC reported having sexual intercourse. However, seven out of 10 sexually active East Asian youth reported high-risk behavior, according to the study. The report used 2008 data from the provincial Adolescent Health Survey and responses from nearly 30,000 students in grades 7–10 from China, Korea, and Japan. The majority of these students are first-generation immigrants. More than half of respondents spoke their native language at home, which researchers noted might indicate closer ties to more traditionally conservative cultures. “I hate to make generalizations,” said Kristen Gilbert, a senior educator at Options for Sexual Health agency, “but it’s common for me to have Asian students in the class who are surprised by the information, even basic reproductive biology.”
According to Saleema Noon, an independent Vancouver-based sex educator, “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.” She continued that, in an “ideal world,” schools would translate educational material into several languages and send it home to parents as well. Sex remained a taboo topic for many families, but Noon noted that attitudes were slowly changing.
The full study, “Sexual Health and Risk Behavior Among East Asian Adolescents in British Columbia,” was published online in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality (2013; doi:10.3138/cjhs.927).