In Vietnam, since the beginning of the 1990s the HIV/AIDS epidemic has inspired a plethora of debates on sexuality and produced changes in education and in sex education, preventive education in particular. Indeed education is the only response available and indeed the cheapest one in poor and developing countries to prevent the spread of the HIV virus, in spite of the many efforts made to give wider access to anti-retroviral medicines. Straightforward as they may seem, these changes in education came up against a host of cultural, moral and social obstacles.
Sexual taboos are linked to the Confucian culture of sexual division, which means a division of female and male bodies. The sexual division there is complicated by a hierarchy of age, which is a second obstacle to easy communication between the young and the old. At school and out of school, sex education is a sensitive matter. The subject raises awkwardness inconvenient between teacher and pupils and the situation in a coeducational school represents a site for social discomfiture because it presents a difficult situation for people to manage and still preserve their social 'face'.
Many people think that the opening up of the country to the world, the transformation of the content disseminated by mass media and access to the Internet has automatically produced a wide wave of social change and sexual emancipation. Nowadays, it is assumed that early sexual relations are tending to increase, as a higher abortion rate can be observed in young girls younger than eighteen.
We will try to show how sex education is carried out at school and also out of school, taking due note of the taboos families and teachers have to deal with. We will analyse the role of the foreign NGOs in the production of a new sex education and HIV/AIDS prevention materials as well as examining their innovations and the limitations placed on them by extant conceptions of the body and of educational methods. And finally we will analyse the reactions of the civil society (mass organizations and