One of the more curious aspects of Chinese sexuality from a Western perspective is the importance that society places on virginity prior to marriage. Many young Chinese guys will proudly assert their own virginity well into their late 20’s and even their 30’s. Women in China have been traditionally under tremendous pressure to go to their wedding bed untouched by another.
In fact the demand for virgin brides is so strong that there is a booming industry in fake hymens and for the rich there’s also hymen reconstructive surgery. Fake hymens are cheap, and come in two guises – ridiculously cheap Chinese products, which are generally considered to be dangerous and unhygienic but at 100-300 RMB each they allow poorer girls the opportunity to “fake it” for their partners. Sadly the locally made variations have been known to cause infections and even permanent damage to the unfortunate user. They are also reputed to look realistic but to smell like a chemical works.
The recommended low budget option for fake hymens are Japanese products which start at 500 RMB but are considered to be much safer all round. The forgery is also much less likely to be detected by the partner given that there’s supposed to be an added realism to the whole post-coital mess.
Hymen reconstructive surgery on the other hand is likely to provide a truly authentic experience for the over-demanding male, but it does cost $25,000 USD in China so it’s an option that’s not open to all. In fact this ludicrous operation would cost the average Chinese worker 10 years salary!
The demand for virgins is so high that there’s a roaring underground trade for girls willing to surrender their virginity for cash – or as in one well reported case this year for an iPad. (Note: This is definitely a better deal for girls than guys, as one young man here sold a kidney for an iPad this year. Please do not try this at home.)
Despite all this, the times they are a changing. In a recent survey of city dwelling Chinese nearly 60% of unmarried men and women admitted they’d had pre-marital sex and 75% of Chinese thought that an active sex life was essential to mental and physical wellbeing. I’m not entirely convinced by these figures given my own experience with Chinese people and it is possible that they are lying to those conducting these surveys. (Interestingly this phenomenon of lying to social researchers is not new, Margaret Meade the famous social researcher released a text based on interviewing Samoans about their sexual habits and drew some outrageous conclusions which were accepted as fact for a long time. When somebody went to Samoa to recreate this research they discovered that the locals had been so embarrassed by her intrusion into their sex lives – they’d just made up what they thought she’d wanted to hear.)
I am however prepared to believe that in Tier 1 cities where there is a stronger Western influence that sexual morality is slowly changing and that some (though by no means all) younger Chinese are placing less importance on virginity.
What is true is that in a culture where virginity is so highly prized, foreign men (in particular) find it rather shocking as to how easy it is to persuade someone to surrender their virginity. In traditional Chinese relationships, girls don’t date a lot of boys before they get married. In fact often they date only one guy and marry him. So while a Chinese girl generally won’t put out on a first date, it is quite normal for her to offer up the goods on a second. That’s because she associates sex with commitment, and she’s looking to “seal the deal” for marriage by offering up her most prized possession. Sadly many foreigners don’t understand this, and it has led to many a foreign guy thinking that he’s an amazing individual blessed with studly powers.
The really foolish foreign guy then goes bragging about his exploits. This can either lead to an enormous kicking by outraged and offended locals – which happens more often than most people know, or in the case of one Shanghai blogger in can result in a city wide witch hunt demanding your immediate expulsion from China.
As with all things in China, nothing about the demand for virginity is particularly clear to an outsider but it should certainly be respected if nothing more. I like to think it should be encouraged as well particularly given that China now leads the world in one area of sex that the rest of us don’t want to match – antibiotic resistant syphilis.