Sexology and sexologists in China
While the public were passionate about nude art and erotic literature, and the government was busy with the campaign against obscene publications, an academic circle that studied sexuality and sexual culture emerged in China.
China hasn't always been a favorable place for the development of sexology. Before the establishment of China Sexology Association in 1994, its organizing committee spent eight years laying the groundwork. The committee was once even investigated by the police as an illegal organization.
In 1986, the Commercial Press published a translated version of Psychology of Sex by Havelock Ellis, a renowned British sexologist. In a book review, Fei Xiaotong, vice president of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, explained the necessity of scientific research on sexuality.
In 1988, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and the National Population and Family Planning Commission jointly announced that they were to launch sex education in schools. Sex education was officially included in middle school curricula from then on.
Every student in China now takes a physiology class in the third year of junior middle school. Teachers still separate girls from boys when they talk about the reproductive organs but words that Chinese people had been too embarrassed to say out loud, such as menstruation, masturbation and puppy-love, could finally be learnt in school.
The fight for same-sex marriage legalization
Although the Chinese society is increasingly open to mainstream sexual culture, its recognition of subcultures such as homosexuality, S&M (sadomasochism) and sex work still has a long way to go. As a pioneer in subculture research in China, Li Yinhe could not agree more.
When Li and her late husband Wang Xiaobo, a famous writer, were investigating their book Subculture of Homosexuality, they received most of their materials through the post. In those days, gays tend to keep themselves to themselves. By defining homosexuality as a sexual subculture, the book challenged traditional ethics and morality in China.
In 2003, Li proposed the legalization of same-sex marriages, while 30 years ago even two people of the same sex living together would have caused huge trouble. Chinese society is now more tolerant to same sex cohabitation, although not by that much.
In 1991, police in Anhui's Chaohu city arrested a lesbian couple who were living together. When the police found that there were no regulations applicable to the case, they asked for the advice of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS).
On November 6, 1991, Chaohu police receive an official reply from the MPS:
Currently there are no laws or regulations applicable on gay issues. Therefore, in principle, you should drop the case. Also it's not appropriate rule the case as a crime of indecent assault, or impose a public security penalty.
The MPS reply was the first judicial ruling on gay issues in China and set a legal precedent in gay cases.
At the annual session of National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislative body, in March 2003, Li Yinhe submitted her proposal to legalize same-sex marriage via a participating member, and startled the country. Li told the press at that time she would keep on submitting such proposals till the day it's passed, and she has kept her word.
Nowadays, sexologists have started research on other subcultures including S&M, sex workers and so on.
The 2008 debate on abstinence education
With the development of the Internet, more and more Chinese, especially the young, have begun to advocate sexual permissiveness and sexual freedom.
In October 2004, a foreign company published a survey on sexuality, which suggested that the Chinese had more sexual partners on average than the Americans or the French. The report was questioned by many Chinese sexologists including Pan Suiming.
But Pan's own investigations showed that between 2000 and 2006, there was a dramatic increase in the numbers of sex partners people had, premarital and extramarital sexual activities. For example, in 2006, 25 percent of the people surveyed said they had had more than two sex partners, compared with 16 percent in 2000; in 2006 43.5 percent said they had had premarital sex, compared with 32.9 percent in 2000.
In the face of the increase in one night stands, premarital and extramarital sex, some Chinese university students began to move in the opposite direction.
In 2005, seven female students from two colleges in Chengdu, Sichuan signed a pact to remain virgins until they married. The pact was posted online and was soon joined by several hundred female college students across the country.
On April 8, 2008, an article titled "No sex before marriage course on university curriculum" appeared on the front page of all major websites. Zhejiang University had instituted an optional course that aimed to persuade students to preserve their virginity before marriage.
This led to a stormy discussion on the Internet and the university course received a surprising amount of support from anonymous netizens. Meanwhile sexologists began to look once more at China's sex education.
Based on his comparison between sex education methods in China and the US, Deng Mingyu noted that conservative sex education and abstinence education can only lead to adverse consequences. In his opinion, government, the society and schools should work on developing an integrated sex education system. The young should be taught to realize that sexual behavior is a personal choice and that one needs to take responsibility for one's choices. They should also learn to take others' interests into consideration while satisfying their own needs.
(China.org.cn, December 19, 2008)