Taboo subject takes its toll on women

Updated: 2012-03-08 08:26

By Yang Wanli and Jiang Xueqing and He Na (China Daily)

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Cultural changes

Peng Xiaohui, a professor of anthropology at East China Normal University in Shanghai, said sex has been a moral issue in China for 3,000 years. In the early days, men held a much higher social status and controlled the family property, they were the ones who made the rules, such as the requirement that women abstain from sex until marriage.

The New Culture Movement in early 20th century changed many traditional rules on chastity, while the rapid economic development that began in the 1980s opened up new sex-related business opportunities.

"Society on the surface seems more open and tolerant toward sex, but people's traditional views haven't really altered," Peng said.

Divorce lawyer Wang Xiuquan said the double standard displayed by many Chinese men is asking too much. "Some guys demand a virgin bride but will also make their girlfriend have an abortion. It's not fair," he said.

"I don't agree with the belief that women who have sex are no longer pure. A woman is pure as long as she has sex with the man she loves, rather than for money. This is enough to show her self-restraint and self-respect."

Tu Shiyou, a 38-year-old single woman from Hubei province, attracted the attention of Web users and the media in February when she launched Preserve Virginity, a website that promotes sexual abstinence to women under the age of 23.

Taboo subject takes its toll on women

Tu Shiyou, a 38-year-old single woman from Hubei province, runs Preserve Virginity, a website that promotes sexual abstinence to women under the age of 23. Provided to China Daily

In her introduction online she writes that she has a master's degree in journalism from Wuhan University and is celibate. She has even published a medical certificate to prove she is still a virgin.

The site has won Tu fans and critics in equal measure.

Shang Lei, 37, is one of the latter, and said he does not agree that being a virgin at her age is an honorable thing. "What is she trying to prove?" asked the freelance writer. "I can't believe she is healthy, mentally or physically."

He said he cared less about virginity than love, although he admitted he would still want to know why his girlfriend had already slept with another man.

"If the reason is nothing to do with bad moral quality, I can accept it," he said. "But still, a virgin would be better."

Early lessons

Analysis suggests that this hymen obsession runs counter to the otherwise liberal attitude now taken toward sex in China.

A survey of more than 6,000 people aged 18 to 61 across 100 cities by sociologists at People's University Beijing in 2010 found that one in three had had more than one sexual partner. When the same study was done in 2000, it was one in eight.

Peng, the anthropologist, said that teaching children about sexual equality from a very early age, like many other countries do, is essential to changing views on female chastity.

Education authorities in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, launched a pilot program last month to introduce sex education at kindergartens. It is the first time the subject has been taught in China to children under 6 years old.

As part of the program, Chengdu No 16 Kindergarten invited a professor of sexual health from the Netherlands to give lectures and spend five days training 30 teachers. Meanwhile, students are being given games and painting and singing lessons that promote sexual-health knowledge in a simple way. They will also get the basic facts on pregnancy and birth.

However, to tackle unfair stereotypes and expectations among adults, Peng said the government must look to narrowing the country's wealth gap.

"In a society where the middle class is the majority, such as in northern Europe , sex is more closely related to love than a woman's moral standard," he said. "At the moment, women in China still have a lower social standing, so they don't have a say."

Ma Chenguang in Anhui contributed to this story.

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