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Play safe with a 'sex agreement'

A large number of Chinese are getting into a relationship that they call "living apart together" (LAT) - living the life of a married couple with prior agreement to separate if one partner so desires and to control their sexual behaviour.

india Updated: Feb 27, 2006 10:38 IST

Sex is gradually losing its status as a taboo subject in China, heralding major changes in people's attitudes toward sex. A large number of Chinese are getting into a relationship that they call "living apart together" (LAT) - living the life of a married couple with prior agreement to separate if one partner so desires and to control their sexual behaviour.

Han Lin, a married woman, had a "sex agreement" with her husband prior to their marriage when both were cohabiting. The pact says neither of them is obliged to have sex with the other and if one of them refuses, the other would not force the issue.

Both are free to have new partners and if either has had sex with a new partner and is willing to live with that person, the two would stop cohabiting.

"Our marriage has not ended this agreement," said Han, adding that quite a few couples, married and unmarried, have signed similar agreements.

To some experts, such developments represent a sexual revolution in China.

While there are differing views of the degree of such a "revolution", academic experts agree that since China began to open itself up to the world in the late 1970s and early 1980s, sex has gradually lost its status as a taboo subject.

Prior to the late 1970s and during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) in particular, young lovers could only show intimacy to each other in public by grasping each other's hand. At that time, men and women were denounced as living a profligate life if they were involved in sexual scandals.

Those who had premarital sex risked being fired by their work units if their affairs were exposed. Hospitals did not have clinics for treating sexual problems or sexually transmitted diseases.

Embraces between men and women in foreign movies were among the few "sexy" images available to the Chinese public. During the Cultural Revolution, no mass media referred to sex and people were deprived of access to sexual knowledge.

In 1980, two events helped to promote the changing attitude toward sex. One was the promulgation of the new marriage law.

According to the law, divorce is granted in two cases: first, where mutual affection no longer exists and, second, when mediation fails. As a result, people began to enjoy the freedom to divorce and mutual affection (including sexual harmony) began to be considered an important factor in marriage.

The other important issue was that in 1980 China adopted its "family planning and one child" policy. As a result, sex for reproductive purposes became less important and "recreational" sex more significant.

According to Professor Pan Shuiming, an expert on sexology at Renmin University of China, under the family planning policy contraception and abortion are widely practiced legally, and more couples have begun to seek a happier sex life.

Li Yinhe, an expert on sexology and researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out that it was the separation of sex from the task of reproduction that has stimulated the changing attitude towards sex.

Li notes that some women acknowledge now that they have begun to enjoy more rights in sex and even have the same freedom as men. Virginity is no longer considered as important as a girl's life.

At the same time, the state is relaxing its control over love, sex and marriage.

In accordance with the Provisional Regulations on Marriage Registration, promulgated by the ministry of civil affairs in 2003, permission from one's work unit or neighbourhood committee is no longer necessary to get a divorce, and a premarital medical examination is optional.

A survey of university students last year found that 62 percent think premarital sex is acceptable as long as it occurs between true lovers; 85 percent think it's not obligatory for sex partners to marry if they do not wish to; 60 percent are tolerant of homosexuality; while 62 percent believe that the stress on virginity is a restriction on human nature.

Experts indicate that it is economic development that has promoted the changing attitude towards sex. If people are still struggling for survival, it's impossible for them to pay so much attention to sex.

Nowadays sex seems to have become almost commonplace in Chinese life. Passionate kisses on the street are no longer only seen in movies or on TV but in reality as well. Boys will not be slapped in the face if they call girls "sexy".

First Published: Feb 27, 2006 10:38 IST