Sex and the City – Women’s Sex in China (Liveblog)
Event: Lecture by Dr. Yuxin Pei on Masturbation/Sex in China
Date: May 21, 2015
Place: Leiden University, the Netherlands
“In China, we don’t have sexual rights”
Today Yuxin Pei will talk about how to articulate women’s sex in China. “We don’t talk about sexual rights in China,” Dr. Pei says: “We don’t have them.” Pei explains how sex in China is considered part of a healthy lifestyle, together with sleeping and eating. When talking about sex, people therefore often refer to it as “sexual health” or “sexual needs”. Sex, especially for men, is seen as a natural part of life. Many women, however, say they do not need sex. Their excuse is that they are still a virgin, or that they are single, and that sex is therefore not a part of their lives. In Chinese traditional thought, still hugely influencing modern-day society, there are many misconceptions about women and sex. Women are not supposed to have sex when they are pregnant, for example, or when they are raising young kids and are tired. For couples who have been married for a long time, sex becomes taboo.
“One drop of semen equals ten drops of blood”
Masturbation is one of Pei’s research subject – a topic many Chinese people do not know much about. Pei therefore set up a “Masturbation Research Group” on Sina Weibo to get a discussion going on how people think about masturbation. “People asked me if it was an April Fools joke,” Pei says: “But it was very serious.” Pei wanted to research how people in China talk about masturbation. The video that was made for this, where people were asked if they had ever masturbated, received over 10 million views on Youku. Pei’s Weibo group now has over 30.000 followers, and due to the great interest in the subject, Pei organizes a monthly workshop on masturbation, where people from the age of 18 to 68 talk about sex.
Dr. Pei discovered many deeply ingrained misconceptions on masturbation. “Only men can do it”, “too much masturbation will give you small penis”, “one drop of semen equals ten drops of blood”, “I might not have normal sex again after masturbating”, or “women who masturbate are no good” – just a few examples of existing ideas on masturbation.
“Talking about masturbation opens the door to so many other topics,” Pei says: “Research on masturbation led us to conceptions about femininity, masculinity, gender, body image and even self-development.”
“What’s normal for men, is ‘dirty’ for women”
Masturbation was not Pei’s original focus of study. Pei Yuxin did her PhD at the University of Hong Kong over ten years ago, using Shanghai as her research field. “I talked to dozens of women from the 1970s about their sex lives,” she says: “and masturbation already came up during the second interview I did.” Pei was fascinated with the topic, as it brought up so many other issues concerning women and sex: while many sexual acts, including masturbation, are considered ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ for men, they are considered ‘dirty’ for women. Oral sex is another example, Pei says, as women will give it to men, but will not accept it.
“Women really liked to talk about their experiences to me”, Pei says. She discovered that many women had experienced ‘cyber sex’ [having sex through camera online], as they felt ‘clean’ doing it – since they did not consider it “real sex”.
“Sexuality is empowering”
Pei Yuxin sees sex as female empowerment. Power and sex are intertwined in multiple ways, according to Pei.
In one chapter of her book she pays attention to the topic of women having affairs with foreign men, especially Western ones. “It’s not about the green card,” Pei says: “It’s cultural capital.” Many women told Dr. Pei that having a Western boyfriend is like having a private English teacher. It is a status symbol and improves their ability to compete on the Shanghai job market.
“Some women speak of their boyfriends as if they are picking restaurants,” Pei says: “Right now, it is said that a good boyfriend should have a car, a house and a dog.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a group of female writers called “the Beauty Writers” (美女作家) became popular in China, one of them being Wei Hui, who wrote “Shanghai Baby”. These writers, who were young and beautiful, openly wrote about sex and relationships. Writing about their sexuality made them influential – the first powerful generation that put sexuality in Chinese literature. “What they did with their books then, is done online now,” Pei says: “Like famous blogger Muzi Mei (木子美), who published her sexual diary online.” The internet has made it possible for people to discuss sexual experiences and sexuality from behind their computer screens.
There is a long way to go for sexual rights in China: “There’s no act on marital rape or sexual harassment yet,” Pei says. The empowerment of women is one of the motors driving Pei’s research. Creating awareness on sexual issues and understanding the relation between sexuality and self-development will further the sexual liberation of Chinese women.
(This liveblog is now closed.)