China's sexual mores are changing. Pre-marital sex is becoming acceptable. One-night rooms are becoming popular.
In China, the first time a man and woman are likely to kiss is at age 23, according to Pan Sui-ming, director of the Institute of Sexuality and Gender at Renmin University, who says that "Chinese are still some of the most conservative people in the world."
But exposure to the West and gadgets like cellphones apart from the Internet itself is bringing the two sexes ever closer.
Pan himself says a survey completed by the university in 2007 found that roughly two-thirds of people contacted believe premarital sex is now "acceptable." In addition, increasing wealth for the middle class has led to new attitudes, healthier diets and higher standards of living that have pushed children to earlier puberty. Chinese girls are now entering puberty at 11 years old, almost two full years earlier than in the past.
The popularity of one-night rooms and the overall acceptance of their existence (a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said they were a police issue) could point to changing sexual mores, feels Peter Coughlin.
"When I was young there wasn't really dating," said Sun Zhi Lan, a 51-year-old mother of a 25-year-old girl who is dating a foreigner. "No one held hands or kissed before marriage. We could choose our own partners but most couples were introduced by their parents."
Today, Wang Cong, 24, said young Chinese are getting married later - in their late 20s or early 30s - and it is far more likely for them to have had more than one romantic interest along the way. Wang said young people now express their love more freely by holding hands in the park or kissing on a crowded bus. He said students even dare to have one-night stands or make friends with people on the Internet.
"Sex is no longer a humiliating word," Wang said. "Boys and girls can talk about this when they are together. The divorce rate is climbing up. However, although the youth get more open, most of them still think it over before they have sex."
Still more and more emboldened to experiment for themselves. News agency AP put out a story quoting an incident:
At the Pepper bar in Beijing, a 20-year-old manager who did not give her name said without hesitation that young women's attitudes toward sex is casual. Her friends often show up and pick up men.
Cai Junjie, a strapping 23-year-old golf coach who calls himself Tank, saw no reason for a long mating ritual before sex.
"If two people want to be together, time isn't an issue,'' he said, still avoiding the word "sex'' when talking to a stranger.
Chu Yanyang, an unemployed 21-year-old, said she once went to a bar known as "One-Night Stand,'' just to see if it lived up to its reputation. It did.
"They'll ... write their phone number on a little slip of paper. And if you drink a beer with him, then he'll give you the slip of paper,'' she said. "That way, you can get in touch if you want to hook up another day, or some people might even just leave together then and get a hotel room.''
Maintaining a relationship can be too much work, Chu added. "If when we eat I always put food on your plate for you and one day I don't, then you might get mad and fuss at me. These little fights are really hard,'' she said. "So you might have a one-night stand. It's just so much easier.''
And, as is the case with permissiveness in general, there is an obverse side too. A hotline for pregnant teens, which was launched in 2005 in Shanghai, handled 11,000 calls its first year - 47 percent of which involved girls having their first abortion, 35 percent having their second and 18 percent having had three or more, according to research by the Washington Post.
China Daily reported that Beijing officially registered 973 new HIV/AIDS cases in the first 10 months of 2007, up 53.71 percent from the previous year. To combat this risky behavior Chinese authorities have implemented sexual education classes in the schools. The problem, however, is that teachers assigned to instruct these courses are often of the older generation and are uncomfortable publicly approaching such a subject.
"When it comes to the class for sex and puberty, the teacher always asks us to review the book without any guidance. When some classmates want to raise questions, the teacher's face turns red," Yao Liang, a middle school student, told China.org.
"Some schools say they have sex education classes but how many of them actually have them, I am not sure," said a former middle school teacher who currently works at an educational newspaper for senior high school students.
Clearly hard work ahead for the authorities.