The boys would go to the basketball court and girls to the assembly hall. When the girls, about 100 in all, were all sitting uncomfortably, a nurse would talk for an hour about sex organs and reproduction. The session would conclude with a sanitary towel being displayed. No one asked questions and there was no discussion. This is what sex education amounted to for many Hongkongers 20 years ago. To a large extent, it is little different now. In a survey released two weeks ago by the Hong Kong Association of Sexuality Educators, Researchers and Therapists, students overwhelmingly said they expected more open and direct discussion about sex in school. In 2006, the Hong Kong Family Planning Association interviewed 2,331 students in Forms Three to Seven. Of those polled, 244 had had sexual experience, while 132 said they had first had sex under the age of 15. The association has conducted the survey every five years since 1991. The results reveal a clear and growing trend of teens having their first sexual experience before 15. Figures collected by the Department of Health show there were 326 lawful abortions last year involving girls under 18 who had never married. According to the Census and Statistics Department, there were 137 live births that year by girls in the same category. However, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups believes the actual number is much higher, as many girls would either have had illegal abortions or gone to Shenzhen for a termination. 'Young people nowadays just fall in love easily, and having sex is common,' said Au Yeung Hau-keung, a social worker for 10 years. 'We have had to deal with more cases relating to abortion in recent years. 'Using MSN or other online matching sites, some youngsters just meet for the purpose of having sex. They can be as young as 13 or 14,' Mr Au Yeung said. 'There is loads of information about sex around, but a responsible attitude towards sex is lacking.' One expert who agrees with this observation is Angela Ng Wing-ying, vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Association of Sexuality Educators, Researchers and Therapists. 'Being pregnant under the age of 14, exposing their bodies without reason, filming sexually explicit pictures and uploading them on the internet - all these are the results of a lack of proper sex education,' Dr Ng said. There is a comprehensive and detailed guide on sex education for schools to follow. It was drafted in 1986 and revised in 1997. However, after more than 10 years, it is just another publication gathering dust in school storerooms. The 91-page guide was written by university academics, education-institute representatives, doctors, principals, teachers and Education Department staff, and covers a variety of subjects including sexual abuse, homosexuality, and understanding and handling sexual urges. 'No one cares about it and no one follows it,' said Dr Ng, who contributed to the guide. Dr Ng, an experienced sex therapist, said many of the problems she had encountered, whether related to marriage or sexuality, resulted from a lack of proper sex education. She continues to lobby government officials, schools, teachers and students for a more modern sex-education curriculum that would allow open discussion of a wide range of topics. She finds the culture in schools is the biggest obstacle. 'School principals usually have the power to decide and control how sex education is conducted,' Dr Ng said. 'However, many principals are of a certain age and they feel sex is embarrassing and don't know how to deal with it. Some of them just assign biology teachers to handle the topic. 'The outcome is usually that teachers have no idea how to deal with sex education, and no one is responsible at the end.' Despite this, Dr Ng says, there are some schools that encourage teachers to conduct discussion groups on a variety of topics about sex with an open attitude or allow their students to conduct sex-education projects. 'I have to admit these cases are rare,' Dr Ng said. 'Most schools still stick with the model of having a flock of students sitting inside the assembly hall waiting for a sample of sanitary towel at the end.' However, the world is changing, even if Hong Kong schools aren't. With the rise of the internet, few students can be in any doubt about the mechanics of sex, even if they are ignorant of the issues surrounding it. Lee Lai-wan is an experienced social worker working in a single-sex secondary school. She says there are many channels for youngsters to get information about sex, but many are not mature enough to handle that information. 'More and more lower-form students are suffering not only from the pressure of study, but also pressure because of dating,' said Ms Lee. She says the queries she gets are no longer just about dating, sexual behaviour or abortion, but also about homosexuality. She says her school's policy is to talk about single-sex relationships and to educate students about gender identities. 'For many students it's no big deal, but parents are very confused,' she said. As a social worker for more than 10 years, Ms Lee says school administration plays a crucial role in sex education. 'If teachers are not ready to talk about these topics, it will be difficult for us to do anything,' she said. 'I know that some schools teach what sexual behaviour is but they will not mention contraception, as they are afraid that students will experiment. 'Teachers have to be more qualified and no more resistant to this subject. If they keep on only teaching part of it and do not allow their students to ask anything, it is not going to work.' Chan Lok-hin, 17, is a Form Five student at a Kowloon boys' school. Like many students, he found out that what is happening in the outside world is very different from what he is hearing in his sex-education classes. He says students always want more from their teachers, but teachers avoid their questions. 'Like the nude-pictures incident with Edison Chan - we wanted to know what our teachers thought and to discuss it with them, but they just avoided our questions,' he said. 'It seems to me that they are afraid of saying something wrong.' Lok-hin says he has never heard his teachers mention homosexuality. 'I don't know about homosexuality, but I would like to know more. I believe some classmates might be homosexual, but we just don't understand it.' Students always want to know about sex, but the present teacher training on sex education surely cannot satisfy the curiosity of students exposed to the internet. Many teachers find it difficult to conduct sex education without the necessary guidelines or proper training. Ms Ho, who teaches at a secondary school in the New Territories, says teaching the subject is not easy. 'In our school, lower-form students are sent to the assembly hall to learn about condoms and contraception. That's the end of the story,' said Ms Ho, who declined to give her first name. 'What our students are facing goes far beyond this.' Knowing that her senior students needed more information, she tried her own method in liberal studies classes. 'I once played a film on abortion, which I found on YouTube, in front of the class and then followed with a discussion about the responsibility of pregnancy.' Once the door was opened, more constructive discussion tended to follow, she said. Ms Ho said some students told her that the first time they saw female sex organs was during the Edison Chen nude-pictures scandal. 'Maybe this is an alternative sex education,' she said. However, Ms Lau, a teacher in a Kowloon religious school for boys, says sex is a topic only in religious class and not one for open discussion. 'A colleague once wanted to invite some experts to come to our school to talk about sex education,' said Ms Lau, who declined to give her full name. 'But the idea was dropped because our principal thought it might create the impression that our school is bad.' Ms Lau says her students' understanding about sex is rudimentary at best. Once, when she showed her pupils a movie, they were only interested in the love scenes. 'They kept on shouting and whistling. I thought of stopping the movie to talk with them about a proper attitude towards sex, but I was running out of time and I didn't really know the proper way to do it.' She ended up fast-forwarding the film instead. Dr Ng says experiences like those of Ms Lau show that sex education must be a compulsory subject in school. 'Now, the situation is you can either teach it or not. Once it becomes necessary for every school, there will be more resources for teachers to have proper training to handle it,' Dr Ng said. 'With a better understanding of sex education, teachers can help our students have a much better attitude towards sex.'