Chinese youth in urgent need of sexual knowledge

It was the third time Alex Yang had been forced to find somewhere else to sleep because his roommate wanted to spend the night with his girl friend in their dormitory room.

Having to squeeze himself into bed with another student in the next-door room, Yang was a little vexed. "But still, it is understandable and maybe someday I will need his 'co-operation'," he joked.

Sex without the bond of marriage, once regarded as immoral, is becoming more and more accepted by university students in spite of still-existing rules threatening the expulsion of students who dare to have sex.

A survey covering 541 local university students found that 13.4 per cent of male students and 4 per cent of female students thought there was nothing wrong in having sex. And when it comes to putting this belief into practice, even more are involved.

More open
A similar survey aimed at finding out the sexual attitudes of students and involving several universities in different cities of China was carried out over four years.

It found that on average, 7 per cent of all new students had had sexual experiences. By the time they were in their second year, the figure went up to 13 per cent and to 20 per cent for third year. Before they graduated, a quarter of the students had engaged in sexual activities.

Among the sexually experienced students, 22 per cent of the boys and 18 per cent of the girls said they had had six or more sexual partners over the years.

"Some students would do it in classroom after school when all the other students had left," said Yang, a senior student at a university in Pudong.

"Some would choose the grass in the campus woods. I have seen condoms there on my campus. The safest way is to rent a house outside and that has already become quite common now."

When the students who are most restricted in terms of sexual practice have become so open, those who have left the campus are even more avant-garde about it.

Xu Anqi, an expert on women's issues with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, has recently conducted a random survey among 500 single young people across 11 districts in Shanghai. She found that only 34.7 per cent still believe it is wrong to have sex before marriage.

Even the men surveyed have dropped the once deeply rooted belief about that a bride must still be a virgin. Only 21 per cent of the young men in Shanghai still held to that view. Some 29 per cent took a middle course while 50 per cent have given up the idea altogether.

Among those surveyed, those who said they had experienced kissing or hugging the opposite sex was 42 per cent with 30 per cent moving on to sex and 7 per cent living together.

"The real figures must be higher than that as some people might be too shy to reveal the real situation," Xu said.

Restrictions ease
A drastic change has taken place in terms of social tolerance regarding pre-marital sex.

A survey conducted in 1997 indicated that 40 per cent of couples didn't even hug or kiss their future spouses before their marriages.

"With widespread sexual knowledge and up-to-date information about birth control, the sexual restrictions and taboos long imposed on Chinese are loosening," Xu said.

Nowadays, men and women can easily book a room at a hotel or inn to have sex which was unimaginable in the past when a marriage certificate had to be shown before a couple could stay in one room. Couples who had forgotten to bring along their marriage certificates, they had to check into two rooms.

Although the relevant stipulation has never been lifted, people can easily get around it today. One can first order a room and the other can come in as the visitor.

"In the past the hotel or the inn would send staff to ask the visitor to leave after 11:00pm," said Lu Ning, manager of a local hotel.

As for the purchase of condoms, vending machines are now even found on campus.

"Yet during 1980s when I was young, very few places sold condoms," said Xu Longyun, a local woman in her 50s.

"The work unit gave condoms to those who already had one baby as a part of the family planning campaign. Drug stores set up special counters to give away condoms but most people were too shy to get close to that counter."

Nowadays people renting apartments to live on their own are much more common, which also provides convenience for those university students who want to co-habit with their lovers.

Mei Shudong, who graduated from university in 1989, said there was little possibility for students to rent apartment outside during his student years.

But now with more and more universities intent on expanding their enrollments, the role of the dormitory has become somewhat limited.

"Aided to the increasing openness towards sex, the procedures for those who want to move out of a dormitory are quite easy so long as you can offer a parent's consent in writing and that can be easily obtained from parents by saying that you want to concentrate more attention on study," said Luo Mingqiong, a graduate student.

The era when those who had sex before marriage could face severe punishment, including being locked in a bamboo cage and sunk into a river are gone.

Chinese people are marching towards sexual freedom rapidly. According to Li Yinhe, a well-known sociologist, the Chinese people will match the West in terms of sexual attitudes in no more than 20 years.

Social problems
"In this country, as people come to know their legal rights more clearly, it will be impossible for the government to repress sex in the way it has before," Xu said.

"More attention should be given to teaching the youth practical sexual and reproductive knowledge."

Most schools in China still lack such education, some worrying that after the students learn about sex they will be more likely to try it out.

Xu said that as society becomes more and more open in sexual matters, a lack of relevant education on the subject will result in certain social problems, such as an increase in the number of single mothers, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the forming of an unhealthy philosophy of love.



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