Sex, please, we're young and Chinese
By HANNAH BEECH (Time)
Updated: 2006-01-19 16:32
Li Li has lost exact count of how many men she has bedded, but she knows the
number is far above 100.
"I don't keep
statistics," says the former journalist, 27. But she isn't averse to kissing and
telling. For the past couple of years, Li has kept a blog written under the pen
name Muzi Mei that has chronicled everything from her penchant for orgies and
Internet dating to her skepticism toward marriage when it means staying faithful
to one man.
ROLE MODEL: Blogger Li Li
reclines at a Beijing club [Time]
This fall the Beijing resident posted a recording of her own lovemaking
sounds that would make Paris Hilton blush. More than 50,000 people
simultaneously tried to download the 25-minute podcast, crashing the host
Despite government attempts to censor it, the sex diary is so popular that
Li's pen name is intermittently the most searched keyword on China's top search
engine. "I express my freedom through sex," says Li, unapologetically. "It's my
life, and I can do what I want."
Freedom in the bedroom is a novel concept in China. Dressed in baggy Mao
suits hardly outfits to set the pulse racing citizens of the People's Republic
had to ask permission from local officials on everything from whom to marry to
what kind of birth control to use.
But these days many Chinese are walking on the wilder side. Sparked by the
easing of government control over individual lifestyle choices and the spread of
more permissive, Western attitudes toward sex, Chinese are copulating earlier,
more often and with more partners than ever before.
Today 70% of Beijing residents say they have had sexual relations before
marriage, compared with just 15.5% in 1989, according to Li Yinhe, a sociologist
at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
A survey taken last January of seven major Chinese cities found that among
those 14 to 20, the average age of first sexual experience was 17.4, while those
31 to 40 had lost their virginity much later, at 24.1 years old. Says Fu Zhen,
28, a teacher in Shanghai: "My parents' only entertainment came from
revolutionary movies, so they were very conservative about sex. My generation,
we see everything from everywhere, and we are hungry for new experiences." As if
to underline the point, Fu has adopted the nickname Carrie's in Bradshaw, of Sex
and the City.
All this hanky-panky is spawning new industries. Lingerie boutiques are
proliferating in the big cities, and last November's Sex Culture Festival in the
southern city of Guangzhou attracted more than 50,000 people eager to procure
the very latest in adult toys. One of the most popular? The "erotic butterfly,"
specially designed for women.
But China's sexual revolution has also brought unpleasant side effects.
Although sex education is supposedly mandatory in Chinese middle schools, "many
older teachers are too embarrassed, so they tear out the pages about sex from
the textbooks," says Hu Peicheng, secretary-general of the China Sexology
Association in Beijing.
With little knowledge of birth control, an increasing number of unmarried
women are getting pregnant in a culture in which single motherhood is still
taboo. A survey by Shanghai medical researcher Yan Fengting found that 65% of
urban women undergoing abortions in 2004 were single, compared with just 25% in
1999. Rates of sexually transmitted diseases are skyrocketing too, with HIV
infections growing most quickly among Chinese 15 to 24 years old.
Brothels barely disguised as beauty salons crowd the streets of China's big
cities, while certain suburbs are known as "concubine villages" because of their
high concentration of mistresses.
Those extra temptations which China largely eradicated after taking power in
1949 have wreaked havoc on marriages, with 1.6 million Chinese couples divorcing
in 2004, a 21% rise from the year before, according to the Ministry of Civil
"Before in society, we had a sense of right and wrong," says the China
Sexology Association's Hu. "Now, we can do whatever we want. But do we have any
moral standards left?"
Younger Chinese aren't too concerned. A poll by a Beijing magazine found that
one-third of Chinese under the age of 26 had no problem with extramarital
In a country where there's little political autonomy for
young people, at least there's plenty of free love. "Maybe in the past, everyone
was obedient and listened to the old grannies who lectured on who you could have
sex with and in what position," says blogger Li. "But we don't have time to
listen. We're too busy having sex."