1.1 billion Chinese sure have a lot learn, sex survey shows

November 19, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

SHANGHAI, China -- Judging from Liu Dalin's groundbreakin survey on the procreative habits of his 1.1 billion compatriots, most Chinese know very little about sex.

Mr. Liu is a gentle, scholarly man whose 844-page "Sexual Behavior in Modern China: A Nationwide Survey on 20,000 Subjects" may have broken the ice, initiating a franker approach to a subject never discussed publicly here.

In a country where the state has never been generous to academics, the sociologist and his friends went hat in hand to government offices and state-owned companies for funds for his two-year survey.

The response was amazing. Forty Shanghai companies contributed $100 to $200 each, City Hall kicked in $400 and the Beijing government added $600, a figure more important as symbolic approval than financial significance.

Mr. Liu's survey, already dubbed "China's Kinsey Report," was an instant hit when published in October. China is officially so prudish that it's sometimes said that until a few years ago, a woman's sex education was limited to advice to "lie back and think of Marx."

In a study studded with 200 erotic figurines, Mr. Liu, 55, acknowledged he was flabbergasted when his 3,360-copy first edition quickly sold out. Publishers are preparing a 10,000-copy second edition.

"It means the government's attitude is changing, perhaps because people want to know more about sex," he said. "People want to be educated scientifically, not to pick up their knowledge from sleazy magazines and porno films.

"For me, the most shocking aspect of the survey was the ignorance. We found one in three married women have never had an orgasm. They didn't even know what it meant until we simplified the question to 'Do you feel any pleasure?' "

Mr. Liu said the survey found that because of the absence of foreplay, many wives found sex bothersome and painful. If sex occurred, it was restricted to less than a minute.

The survey also found that 25 percent of the men and 20 percent of the women reported having intercourse before marriage -- a revelation that evaporated the government-promoted legend of a China where premarital sex had been eliminated by the love for socialism.

If the survey destroyed the old myth of Chinese chastity, it did confirm the proverbial modesty of Chinese couples. According to its statistics, only 13 percent of married couples ever have made love naked.

At the same time, however, Mr. Liu's study found that Chinese couples were perhaps more imaginative than official prudery would suggest.

"One of my biggest surprises was that more than 50 percent of couples questioned frequently change their positions and methods when making love," he said.

These findings are decorously and statistically illustrated in a book that has become a triumph for the liberal sexologist.

Mr. Liu did have to shelve a chapter involving survey responses from 200 homosexuals. Until recently China officially considered homosexuality a mental illness. In September, Mr. Liu said, 88 gays were arrested in a northeastern town and three of them committed suicide.

Most of the gays he interviewed had been jailed. "Our worst problem was to make them admit their sexual preference, " Mr. Liu said.

One of the statistics he is proud of concerns a campus study in which 99 percent of male and female students said they did not trust their teachers on sexual matters.

The study found that teachers often turned in students who had come to them with sexual problems. In one case, a couple at Shanghai Medical University was expelled only days before graduation after a professor betrayed their confidence that the woman was pregnant.

"Sex education and teachers' attitudes in China are behind the times and the needs of our young people," Mr. Liu said. "Our government has controlled and suppressed sexual behavior far too much. Nobody in China, whether in the old times or today, ever has been able to suppress sexual freedom, not even our government."

Mr. Liu said he is planning a follow-up study comparing sexual behavior in China'a imperial days, when promiscuity was a privilege of the mandarins, and today, when Western influence and an open-door policy are wiping out old sexual prejudices and state controls.

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