We Spoke to a Sexologist About China’s Bedroom Revolution

By That's Shanghai, September 19, 2019

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Throwback Thursday is when we trawl through the That's archives for a work of dazzling genius written at some point in our past. We then republish it. On a Thursday.

By Emma Chi

Li Yinhe is a sexologist in Shanghai. Here, she shares her thoughts on polygamy, homosexuality, pre-marital sex and China's “quiet sex revolution.”

From a physical perspective, Chinese men mostly worry about erectile dysfunction. Around 40-50% of men will face the problem and seek medical help. Mentally, we are troubled by divorce and extramarital affairs.

There is a long history of polygamy in Chinese culture, with men allowed to have wives and concubines. Monogamy has only been in China for 60 years. But I think men keeping mistresses in China today is really terrible. It’s due to the inequality between men and women.

The frequency of sexual intercourse between Chinese people is below the average of the world, although some surveys say it reaches the average level. For sure it’s not the highest in the world.

Sex has a culture of guilt in the West while it has a culture of shame in China. In Christian culture, sex is the original sin, so the sexual life of a couple is considered guilty, even if it’s for the purpose of conceiving offspring. In the Chinese mind, sex is not a sin but a way to carry on the family line. Yet we still feel shy or embarrassed when talking about sex.

The divergence of attitudes to sex between the East and the West intensified during the ‘60s to ‘70s. Westerners have had a more positive view towards sex ever since they went through the sexual revolution. But in China we advocate sex inhibition and hold a negative view.


Sex inhibition has its root in the neo-Confucianism of the Song and Ming Dynasty. According to this philosophy, if a girl was raped before marriage, she would commit suicide. Then the government would record the deed, and a stone arch would be erected in honor of her chastity. Such behavior exerted a deep and long-lasting influence on folk culture.

The All-China Women’s Federation recently did a survey asking rural women which was more important, chastity or life? Over 70% answered chastity.

China is now undergoing a quiet sex revolution. In the past, premarital sex was quite rare, and almost impossible in the Song Dynasty. In the 30 years after liberation, such behavior was also rare. One survey I did in the 1989 showed that the premarital sex rate was 15%, of which all couples were preparing for marriage. The situation nowadays is quite different; the rate in Shanghai has reached 60% within several decades. I’m amazed at the change.

In the future, premarital sex rate will continue to surge. The rate in northern European countries is from 95-99%. Cities like Shanghai will continue to see a sharp rise.

The average age Americans start having sex is 14.6 years old. Due to cultural differences and sex-inhibition for several decades, our first sexual experience in China is postponed to 17 to 18 years old. But that age will drop.

Many homosexual people consult me and ask me questions about social discrimination. It’s a serious problem that AIDS prevails among homosexuals and the number of AIDS patients soars.

A serious problem homosexuals are confronted with is marriage. Many Chinese gays and lesbians are forced to marry the opposite sex, some concealing their homosexual tendencies. I advise against this, as such marriages bring misery to both people. For example, wives of homosexual males lead a miserable life physically and mentally. Lack of love and sex traps them in self-degradation.

Once reaching adolescence, homosexual people realize they’re different from other people. They feel terrified and isolated. After reading my books, they’re relieved. Some excited people even express their gratitude with extravagant words like “You saved my life,” “I’ve found out the truth and regained my confidence,” and “I now understand my true self!”

This article first appeared in the June 2011 issue of That's Shanghai. To see more Throwback Thursday posts, click here.

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