Recent college graduate surnamed Li, 24, has been standing next to a stranger, staring into her eyes for over a minute. It’s completely silent except for the rhythmic music coming from the loudspeaker, but the air is filled with something else – expectation. People in this room have gathered today to talk about sex. Hand in hand, heart to heart.
Does this scenario represent China’s youth who was called out on Weibo just a few days ago for being the prudish generation?
The woman who organized the workshop is Zhao Jing, who is better known by her pen name San Mu (“three woods”) for being one of the pioneers in female sex education and exploration. She founded the online community “Yummy,” where women learn and discuss their bodies and sexual desires.
Today, she is also trying to cure what Chinese online media call the “asexual” post-90s generation. On August 13, 2018, a survey published by Netease owned sex toy brand TryFun went viral, claiming that nearly half of the people born in the 1990s have no sex life.
But the reality is more complex.
Careers over sex
On his blog, renowned Chinese sexologist Pan Suiming shows that according to his own research, the proportion of Chinese aged 18 to 25 who have never had sex has actually declined since 2000. He added that in 2015, only 10 percent of the post-90s generation was still virgins. Compared with previous generations, the post-90s generation seems to have more sex, not less, he concluded.
However, whether or not people have had sex does not necessarily tell much about the quality of their sex life.
A survey conducted by Yummy showed that nearly half of its female users of the platform are living in a sexless relationship, Zhao said.
But millions of Chinese aren’t even dating, a trend that worries the government.
According to China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs as quoted by a Global Times report from 2017, there are over 200 million single adults in China and the number is rising. Living in a big city appears to be encouraging a single lifestyle, as the lion’s share of those singles are confined to Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu.
The generation assumption that today’s singles are more open-mined and easygoing towards sexual experiences might be outdated. According to Zhao’s survey, 65 percent of young women on Yummy have never used a dating app and 20 percent have ever had a one-night stand. Love, sex and a relationship might not be a priority in the lives of those young women, who live independently.
Global Times met the 27-year-old lawyer surnamed Wei in a salad bar near her office after her trampoline class. Wei barely has time for dating. Even though 20-hour shifts are not unusual, she loves her job that comes with the privilege of her own office with a view over Guomao, CBD, Beijing. She prefers to invest her time and energy in her career, where the “pay-off” is under her control, rather than on “some guy.” Wei has never had a boyfriend before and although she had been using dating apps, she discovered it was hard to find a good match.
“Being in a committed relationship with someone less than compatible seems like too much work.”
While some women know what they want, they are often not confident enough and deeply confused how to express their intimate wants and needs when it comes to sex. This is where Zhao comes in to encourage them their self-confidence.
Sex life ‘redefined’
Her workshops and coachings help women to accept and explore their bodies, take control and make their own decisions. The workshops include classes about petting, how to find pleasure with different sex toys, and how to reach an orgasm. It shows women that it is okay to have a sex life through masturbation.
Zhao told Global Times that the term “sex life” should be redefined.
“Sex is not just about penetration, and its purpose is not only for making babies,” Zhao said. “China’s under-28-year-old want less conventional sex.”
Meanwhile, more and more young Chinese tend to put marriage on hold. Caixin Global reported on January 4 that the number of new marriage registrations decreased from 13.47 million in 2013 to 10.63 million in 2017.
For China, the celibacy boom adds to the demographic challenge the country will be facing in the upcoming years. China’s birth rate in 2018, as released by the National Statistical Bureau on Monday, has fallen to its lowest point in 60 years with 10.94 per thousand. Chinese have given birth to 15.23 million babies in 2018, two million less than in the previous year, while the society is aging rapidly. A third of the population is prospected to be over 60 in 2050, up from the nearly 18 percent in 2018. Experts regard the impact of the structural decline and changes in the population on China’s economy as immense.
But those young Chinese below the age of 25, who should experience the peak of their passion, lead a foxi or (Buddha-style) lifestyle, or become basement dwellers, so-called zhai, who prefer their books, smartphones and bed to real-life adventures. Making babies is not on their to-do list.
Twenty-one-year-old Lei Xiaodong, an Italian language student, describes himself as “not a social person,” who tends to be distant with people he has just met, which is not ideal personality for falling in love at first sight. Anyways, he prefers to focus on his personal development now rather than his sex life.
According to the survey by TryFun, over 50 percent of those aged 18 to 25 report having a nonexistent sex life. The number sharply decreases to about 20 percent for those aged 26 to 30, which coincides with the age most Chinese get married these days.
At Zhao’s sex workshop, the young woman surnamed Li finally breaks eye contact with her partner. Even though she’s curious to learn more about female pleasure, she thinks it’s normal for young people in an increasingly developed society to focus on sex and relationships later in life. While having a conventional sex life might not be the priority of her generation, they increasingly see their sexuality as a necessary part of their life “like eating and working.”