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  • (File: AAP Image/Julian Smith) (AAP)Source: AAP
University academics claim poor sexual health knowledge among some members of the international student community as well as limited English language skills and cultural barriers could be contributing to the incidence of unwanted pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases.
Marcia de los Santos - SBS Radio Spanish

23 Apr 2015 - 9:57 PM  UPDATED 30 Apr 2015 - 7:48 AM


Universities believe there is room for improvement when it comes to universities’ sexual health programs that target overseas students.

“We could probably do better within the University, coordinating and combining our overall health promotion message and refining them to the different groups,” said Director of Health Services at the University of NSW, Doctor Bill Kefalas.

He told SBS Radio that many international students from culturally conservative countries arrive in Australia with insufficient sexual health education and end up contracting venereal diseases.

“They come to a society where sex is more openly talked about. Quite a few have their first sexual relation almost certainly not known by their parents. And we've seen quite a few cases at the clinic when they’ve contracted STDs after their first sexual encounter”.


Dr Limin Mao is the Senior Research Fellow at the University of New South Wales Centre for Social Research in Health and told SBS there's been an increase in the number of STD cases.



Doctor Kefalas says he’s worried about the rate of unwanted pregnancies and the difficulties health providers experience when trying to find information on the number of abortions in the international student community.

“Lots of students, basically pay for it out of their own pockets so that there is no record of it being done through the insurer. Such students are even reluctant to come to the clinic at the University because they have a belief that it will be recorded on the University record, even though we run like a normal general practise and all of our information is obviously very strictly confidential and private and it's not disclosed to the university,” he said.


University of Adelaide’s Head of General Practice, Professor Nigel Stocks believes many female Asian students have trouble understanding how health services and sexual health programs work in Australia.

“These students reported that they had limited sexual health education in their home countries and that they did not understand the quality of the services that were available for them here in Australia and in particular their ability to go to a general practitioner or a health service to obtain contraceptive advise and/or contraception”.

Doctor Bill Kefalas identified female international students from China as being the most challenging group for Australian universities’ sexual health programs.

“The other issue with a lot of the Asian students is the fact that it’s a very cultural family orientated thing, especially students coming from high status families, especially females. They are very strict about the fact that they are virgins. In that group there has been hardly any education about sex because of that expectation that it wouldn’t be happening”, he said.

Chinese born international student Zhang Jan agrees.

Jan is not her real name, as she does not want to be identified for fear of being shamed or ridiculed.

She told SBS Radio she arrived in Sydney when she was just 20 years old to complete a Master’s Degree in Finance at the University of New South Wales. It was her first overseas trip and her first experience living away from home.

But in less than a month of living in Australia, Jan met a guy, lost her virginity and eventually moved in with him.

She says in her experience, accessing accurate information about sexual health and relationships in China can be challenging for young people, especially if they come from families where sex is considered taboo.

 “I never get any real proper education about such things, never. Teachers are very shy to tell you stuff like that as well.  So I guess a lot of young girls, they sometimes tend to try to please their boyfriends. So when they meet a guy who’s not responsible, the girls get pregnant or get harmed in some way. Things like that happen, partially because we don’t have any proper sex education. So suddenly we’re thrown into a different country where there’s no family or friends to ask for help, and we meet a guy who shows that he wants to take care of us, so if they want to ask for something in return, a lot of girls would say yes”, she said.