BEIJING -- China on Sunday launched a national sex education campaign aimed at breaking traditional taboos and getting more people to seek treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and infertility.
Just seven percent of women and slightly more than eight percent of men seek immediate medical help for sexual problems, while more than a third of people never seek help, said one of the campaign's advisors.
"These numbers are shocking," Xia Enlan, head of the obstetrics and gynaecology department of the Capital University of Sciences' Fuxing Hospital, told a news conference.
"The numbers who get medical attention for sexual problems are extremely small," she added. "This delays treatment for some very serious diseases."
The campaign, called "The sunshine project to care for gender health", will feature posters, competitions and sponsorship of an international sex toy fair in Beijing, organisers said, in a bid to breach "painful topics" of sex.
It will be fronted by Hong Kong starlet Yvonne Yung and her husband Will Liu, who will be the campaign's "image ambassadors".
"Sexual health is an important part of family life and good for helping build a harmonious society," said Cui Yandi of the China Woman and Child Development Centre, one of the programme's main sponsors.
China reported a one-fifth rise in syphilis last year, with a total of 257,474 cases, according to the Health Ministry, though gonorrhea cases dropped by a tenth.
HIV/AIDS in China is also now mainly sexually transmitted. In the past, most infections were caused by intravenous drug use.
By the end of 2007, China had an estimated 700,000 people infected with HIV, up from an earlier estimate of 650,000.
While the government has rolled out a television campaign to promote condom use, a major move for a country where talking about sex is problematic for many people, Xia said traditional shyness about discussing sex remains a huge issue.
"It's taboo. The influence of feudalistic thinking has been around for many years. People are not very open," she told Reuters.
"People need to talk about it now that the economy has been growing so fast and we're becoming more and more open," Xia said.
"The traditional way of thinking has not been broken," she added. "We need more publicity, and to talk about these issues in the open. That's why we need this campaign."