Premarital sex is fast becoming more acceptable on the mainland, with 71.4 per cent of respondents in a new survey saying that they had engaged in that.
Mainlanders' increasingly liberal view of sex is occurring against the backdrop of rapidly changing sexual mores and inadequate sex education for adolescents, according to a report by monthly magazine Insight China.
Sexologist Li Yinhe told the magazine, an affiliate of state-owned Qiushi magazine, that her studies showed that 40 per cent of mainlanders had premarital sex in 1994, and just 15 per cent did so in 1989.
'The change that has occurred in China usually takes 100 to 200 years in many countries,' the magazine quoted Li as saying.
'Mainlanders are increasingly seeing sex as being for pleasure rather than reproduction. Why can't singles pursue pleasure?'
Last month, Insight China and the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication conducted a joint survey on mainlanders' sex lives.
More than 1,000 people from across the nation took part in the survey. The researchers also polled nearly 20,000 internet users. About two-thirds of the respondents in both surveys were 20 to 39 years of age.
The findings underscored an evident relaxation of attitudes towards premarital sex from the conservative era in the 1970s and 1980s, when such behaviour was considered taboo.
Indeed, a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences report in 2007 found that more than half of 2,888 people in Shanghai and the provinces of Henan and Hunan had sex before they were married. According to Insight China's report, more than 43 per cent of respondents approved of premarital sex and argued that they could best select their partners through premarital sex.
About one-fifth of respondents did not mind the idea, and only a quarter considered it as 'unacceptable and immoral'.
A third regarded sex as a basic instinct that has nothing to do with morality, and more than 27 per cent said couples could have sex as long as they love each other. The report says the rising percentage of people having premarital sex is also due to the widening gap between puberty and the legal age for marriage: 22 for men and 20 for women.
But even though women's rising social status and economic independence have made them more open-minded about premarital sex, they remained inclined to be more conservative than men, sexologist Li told the South China Morning Post. For instance, 17.8 per cent of male respondents opposed premarital sex, compared with a third of the female respondents.
The report also highlighted the problem of inadequate sex education at home and at school.
More than half of the respondents said they did not get proper sex education. 50.7 per cent of respondents said they had unprotected sex when they lost their virginity.
About 9 per cent of them acquired knowledge about sex at school, while 1.5 per cent of them were told by their parents. Respondents said the internet was their top source for sex knowledge, followed by actual sex and reading books.
Zhang Chao, a high-school biology teacher, said that sex education had not been keeping pace with society's changing attitudes. 'It will take time to see results, as a comprehensive sex education framework has only just been rolled out,' he said.
The number of internet users on the mainland who participated in a recent survey on sex
This proportion of mainlanders had premarital sex in 1989, according to sexologist Li Yinhe
The percentage of the respondents who approved of premarital sex
The percentage of respondents who had unprotected sex when they lost their virginity