The history of sex in China beginning from the erotic literature of the ancient dynasties to the conservative communist revolution is a fascinating one. Sex was not a taboo subject in ancient China like it is today and there is religious literature that documents the importance of sex to health and vitality. STDs and HIV is a growing problem in modern China and homosexuality is frowned upon. What can the history of sex in China tell us about these beliefs and realities in modern-day China?
The History of Sex in China – From Sacred to Taboo
The Taoists believed that sex was the way to achieve good health and immortality. Yang referred to the male gender while yin referred to the female gender. In order for men and women to give each other their yin and yang essences, sex was very important and the different sexual positions had different purposes. The taoists believed that men should ejaculate as little as possible to maintain a high level of jing, or sexual energy, as semen was believed to be rich in jing.
Homosexuality was considered unhealthy because it was believed that a man would receive too much yang essence if he engaged in sex with another man but it was not forbidden. Lesbianism was more common because women were said to have an unlimited amount of yin essence. Women also played an important role in sexual relations and sex was not seen as beneficial unless the woman also received pleasure. Ancient texts like the Book of Changes, or I Ching, are full of sexual imagery. The I Ching is an important work in the history of sex in China and it contains detailed descriptions of sexual organs and behaviors. The hexagrams it contains are said to symbolize the genitals and its message is that sexual union is harmonious and life-giving.
In the early history of sex in China , when Taoism was the common doctrine, women were on equal footing with men. That began to change when Confucianism took over and women became inferior to men. Confucianism is inherently sexist and men were seen as the gender in control. Sex was seen only as a means of procreating and frowned upon if engaged in for the sake of pleasure. Husbands and wives only had physical contact behind closed doors. The Taoist philosophy later made a comeback but eventually intertwined with Confucianism and Buddhism.
Issues Surrounding Sex in Modern-Day China
In the history of sex in China homosexuality wasn’t encouraged but it wasn’t prohibited either. After the People’s Republic of China was formed, homosexuals had to go underground because they were persecuted. In modern-day China, homosexuality is slowly becoming accepted and recently, sodomy was decriminalized. Furthermore, the government no longer classifies homosexuality as a mental illness.
The rapidly rising rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are alarming. People are surprisingly ignorant about how STDs are transmitted and the government’s initial stance was that HIV was a Western disease. By 2000 an unsafe blood supply led to a boom in HIV so the government had to stop being in denial and start taking action. Because there is a stigma attached to homosexuality, there is not much information out there about safe sex and condoms are not accepted in mainstream Chinese culture.
In conclusion, the history of sex in China is fascinating because of all of the ancient philosophies and ideas surrounding sex. It is interesting to chronicle China ‘s transformation from a non-sexist society that embraced sex to one that banned any deviation from the norm and took on sexist ideologies.
Slowly things are starting to change and the acceptance of homosexuality and openness about sex is growing. With those changes, hopefully China ‘s people can receive better sex education to prevent the spread of disease and work towards a more just and equal society.
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