Boys and girls between 14 and 20 in urban China have their first sexual experience at the average age of 17.4, nearly 9 years earlier than their grandparents when they were young, according to a survey published on Tuesday.
The survey of 2,252 respondents in seven Chinese cities shows that people between 51 and 60 years old first had sex at an average age of 26, those between 21 and 30 first had sex at 21.9 on average.
The result of this massive face-to-face survey is no surprise to Chinese sociologists.
"The opening-up of the Chinese society and early arrival of puberty in the young generation have contributed to this change in sexual behavior," said Prof. Zhou Xiaozheng, head of the Institute of Sociology of Renming University in Beijing.
Sex used to be taboo in the traditional Chinese society. But today, sex products are available to almost everyone in the cities, from internet or in DVDs. As the government defers the marriage age and promotes safe sex, teenagers have been growing up without guilt about their sexuality, Prof. Zhou said.
While scholars have received the survey results with calm, some in the public are doubtful of their accuracy. 26-year-old Tu Jun is a real estate dealer who gets to know many young couples hunting for apartments to live together.
"Cohabitation is nothing to hide for young people; it is quite common among college students," Tu said. "But the average age of 17.4 is too low because most people didn't (have sex) until they go to college."
The survey was conducted of 2,252 citizens aged from 14 to 60 in seven major Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi'an. The average age for all respondents to have sex is 22.9. The younger the respondents, the earlier they claimed they first had sex.
The survey also reveals Chinese attitudes toward premarital sex. All together, nearly one out of five respondents approved of it. More young citizens approve premarital sexual relationships, and more men than women said "there is nothing wrong with it."
The relaxation of views toward sex in China is likely to in the future affect traditional Chinese family structures and the society at large, predicted Zhou Xiaozheng. "It's hard to rule out sex as the main factor of high divorce rate in the capital city of Beijing, which reached 50 percent last year."