China Has a Problem With Bad Sex Advice. Can a New Exam Fix It?


Guo Yun finally found the courage to step into a sex shop last year to buy a dildo for her birthday. Before long, however, she retreated back to the streets of downtown Shanghai, confused and disappointed.

“It was one of the most elegant sex shops I’ve seen in the city, and I thought they’d have professional sales assistants as well,” says Guo. “But instead, they just kept promoting the most expensive products.”

The final straw came when the 26-year-old asked why the deluxe versions would suit her needs, and the staff replied: “With dildos, the bigger, the better.” “I’m no expert, but instinct told me that’s not right,” says Guo.

Guo’s experience reflects those of countless others in China who are throwing off decades of sexual conservatism and becoming more experimental in the bedroom, but are often receiving poor advice from vendors with little understanding of the products and services they’re selling.

Demand for sex toys has skyrocketed in recent years, with tech giants including Alibaba promising door-to-door dildo delivery at 30 minutes’ notice. China’s online market for sex products is predicted to exceed 60 billion yuan ($8.5 billion) by 2020, up 250% compared with 2017, according to consulting firm iiMedia.

But the boom is taking place in a society where sexual knowledgetends to be low. Sex education at most Chinese schools is extremely basic, and parents and teachers often oppose moves to provide students with more practical advice. Sexual content in the media and online, meanwhile, is strictly controlled.

The result has often been widespread confusion. Industry insiders tell Sixth Tone companies are regularly misleading customers, from beauty firms making fanciful claims about the benefits of their vaginal oils, to staff at “delay spray” producers not realizing their intercourse-prolonging products are different from anti-impotence drugs like Viagra.

Now, the government is stepping in. This past November, the China Health Care Association — a national-level industry organization backed by the Ministry of Health — launched a standardized training program for a newly identified profession: sex health counselor.

The new program defines sex health counselors as any professionals involved in aiding consumers with their sex lives, including intimate masseurs, sex coaches, and sex shop owners, as well as staff inside China’s vast family-planning regime. Its ultimate goal is to provide every “counselor” in the country — around 12 million people — with a thorough grounding in the birds and the bees.

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Sex toys are displayed at a sex shop in Shanghai, March 28, 2018. Fan Yiying

According to its organizers, the training scheme will bring order to the rapidly growing sex products market, as well as support the Chinese government’s wider push to boost the nation’s reproductive health.

“The next 10 years will be an important period for the development of China’s sexual and reproductive health industry,” says Zhao Jing, deputy secretary-general of reproductive health at the China Health Care Association. “Training professional specialists is urgent and essential.”

The program enrolled its first batch of around 200 students — a mix of reproductive health care workers, sex product vendors, and beauticians specializing in vaginal treatments — in late 2019.

Over 30 online classes, the participants received lectures on sexual values and minorities, pleasure skills, sexual disorders, and sexual and reproductive health, among other topics. In late December, they sat a test. Three-quarters passed.

Recruitment of a second batch of students kicked off Feb. 19, and Zhao says the association also plans to launch a more advanced course in June. The higher-level training will focus more on sexual techniques and will be targeted at beauticians.

“At present, there are many nonstandard practices in the domestic beauty industry, so we hope to invite experts to provide technical guidance … to better regulate the market,” says Zhao. “Over 35% of the junior certificate holders have already asked us how they can get the intermediate one.”

Yang Fan was among the first people to sign up for the entry-level course, which is currently voluntary. He has run a sex shop in the northwestern city of Xi’an since 2015, but he often feels out-of-his-depth when customers ask him how they can spice things up at home.

“I wish to provide them with more professional advice — especially women, because women here are still embarrassed to discuss sexual problems,” says Yang. “But the more professional I am, the more open they’ll be.”

According to Yang, the training program has inspired him to hold sharing sessions at his shop to promote his business and teach people what he’s learned. He hopes this strategy will win out over the aggressive tactics used by most of his competitors, who often pressure new visitors into buying pricey, multifunction dildos unsuited to their needs.

“They’re new to this, and they use high-end products and freak out,” says Yang. “Bad advice like this prevents people from coming back for more.”

He Miao, a worker at a Xi’an-based delay spray manufacturer, has also found the course beneficial. In the past, she received a lot of complaints from customers claiming the firm’s products didn’t work, but now she’s learned how to help people make better use of them, she says.

“Before, I thought only sprays could help men last longer, but now I can share with my customers that a combination of products and techniques works better,” says He. “It’s just like if you were sick — buying medicine by yourself and taking it under a doctor’s guidance will produce different results.”

For others, the course’s main attraction is the chance to gain an officially recognized qualification. Zhang Bimin, 28, is a sex coach who teaches women how to pleasure themselves via online tutorials on social media app WeChat. She says it’s important the government recognizes her profession.

“After the relevant department issued the certificates to us, I felt more confident in my work,” says Zhang, who’s based in the southern megacity of Shenzhen.

Cheng Jingjing, a Shanghai-based stay-at-home mom, took the online classes while also studying to become a certified psychological counselor, listening to the lectures while cooking or at the beauty salon. She feels the certificate will help her build a career advising clients on sexual health online.

“I figured people are more comfortable talking about sex online,” says Cheng. “And having a certificate will make me look more professional and trustworthy.”

The course helped Cheng on a personal level, too. She says the LGBT and BDSM classes were particularly eye-opening. “I also learned a lot about men’s confusion and anxiety about sex, which has improved my relationship with my husband,” she adds.

Cheng hopes to use the knowledge she’s gained to help her friends and relatives, many of whom stopped having sex after they had children. Yet this is proving to be an uphill battle.

“They complain about their husbands and shout at their children … mainly due to their unsatisfying sex lives,” says Cheng. “But unfortunately, every time I start a conversation (about this), they just avoid talking about it.”

For Yang, the main obstacle to sharing his newfound knowledge with the public is, ironically, the government. After posting videos about sex culture and products on a few popular online platforms, his accounts were blocked — a fact he blames on the authorities’ strict rules against so-called vulgar content.

“Due to a lack of publicity, many people don’t know these toys can play a role in improving their sex lives, making their marriages more harmonious,” says Yang. “We’re posting positive content online and should have been supported by the government.”

Like most of the certificate holders who spoke with Sixth Tone, however, Yang believes the training program should eventually be made mandatory. This is the only way, they feel, that the public will come to accept sex health counseling as a profession.

“It’s the same as psychology,” says He, the delay spray worker. “At first, people were opposed to it, feeling that those who see a therapist are neurotic. But then they saw psychologists were licensed and the industry seemed regulated, and they understood it’s normal to have psychological problems and seek professional help.

“One day, people will feel the same about sex health counseling,” He adds.


This article was published on Sixth Tone. 

How China’s Post-90s Think About Love


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This year’s inofficial Chinese Valentine’s Day has brought about love-related online surveys and discussions, bringing new insights into how China’s younger generations think about love: the Post-90s generation holds other views than expected.

In Chinese, the pronunciation of ‘520’ sounds like “wo ai ni”, which means “I love you”. That’s why netizens in China have chosen 5/20, May 20th, as their unofficial Internet Valentine’s Day. This May, “Sweet520#” ( #甜蜜520#) became a number one hot topic on Sina Weibo.

As the 5/20 ‘Valentine’s Day’ has been getting more popular over the years, Shanghai’s Fudan University released a report on Internet and Contemporary Undergraduates this month, showing that Post-90s university students in China are calm, rational, practical and trustworthy when it comes to love and relationships. The survey revealed that the Post-90s generation sees more value in their partner’s comprehensive qualities and capabilities than in their family background or appearance.

Coincidently, another new survey on outlooks on love, conducted by Renren.com, obtained similar conclusions. Amongst the 2,573 Post-90s university students that participated in the multiple-choice survey, a whopping 87.1% and 81.1% listed ‘personality’ and ‘having things in common’ as the most important factors in a relationship, followed by ‘appearance and figure'(58.2%). Economic condition and educational background, surprisingly, only accounted for 32.3% and 23.9% respectively.

“The Post-90s generation is mature and pragmatic in terms of love”

The aforementioned surveys triggered discussions on Sina Weibo on May 20. CNR (China National Radio) invited users to take part in the discussion on its public Weibo account. Results displayed that roughly 80% of Weibo users hold the idea that the Post-90s generation is mature and pragmatic in terms of love, as they focus more on personality and moral quality.

Weibo user ‘Big Blue’ said: “Every generation has its own distinct outlook on love. The post-60s generation emphasizes family background; post-70s generation values moral quality; the post 1980s generation wouldn’t get married without a house, while the Post-90s generation pay more attention to personality and things in common. This is a sign of social progress and development.”

“Economic base determines the superstructure”

Another Post-90s Weibo user called ‘Match-ups’ said: “We pay more attention to spiritual life rather than material life as the majority of Post-90s are highly educated. Plus, personality and common language play important roles in marriage anyways.” However, about 20% of Weibo users believe that a successful marriage is more than matching personalities. As a popular saying goes: “Economic base determines the superstructure.”

User ‘Ling’ expressed the importance of economic circumstances: “I’m Post-90s and I’m willing to face the reality – it’s better to be practical as the societal competition is fierce. Money is important. Everything else is empty.”

China’s Post-90s generation is generally labeled as ‘free-spirited’ and ‘capricious’. These new surveys and discussions on social networking sites have showed another side: a mature attitude towards relationships and marriage. As the Post-90s are reaching the appropriate age for marriage, they tend to think more about their future like an adult, instead of being childish and self-willed.

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This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

Chinese Relationship Guru to Women: Put Motherhood On Hold


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Do not get pregnant too soon – that is the message of China’s most popular relationship advisor to women on Weibo. The post became an instant hit, igniting online discussions of becoming a mom directly after marriage.

Chinese best-selling author Lu Qi (陆琪), also known as one of the most popular relationship advisors on Sina Weibo, advises Chinese women on his Weibo account not to have children too quickly after getting married. The post resonated with millions of female Weibo users since it was published on May 10.

In the post, titled “Do Not Become a Mother Too Young” (不要太早当妈), Lu Qi writes about how a young girl from rural China had to give up her dream of studying at the China Academy of Art because she got pregnant. She could have become an artist and live the life of her dreams, but instead, she got married young and had a child at 18 years old. She remained in the small rural town with its narrow-minded community, raising the baby instead of going to university. Lu also illustrates how the dreams of a myriad of other young Chinese women were crushed after being forced by their husbands and parents to have kids.

“So many places to explore, so many dreams to pursue.”

Lu Qi shared his thoughts with his 21 million followers on Weibo: “I always believe that it’s irresponsible for a woman to have a child unprepared, no matter whether it’s an accident or persuasion. A mother’s love is a woman’s nature, and some people make use of this ‘nature’ to limit and change women – and they usually get what they want, which is horrible.”

Lu Qi adds that he hopes that all girls will understand that motherhood is not about carrying on the family line, or something that parents or husband urge you to do, and also not something that happens by accident. Having and raising a child will change your life for good. Once you are a mother, you have to be responsible and are limited to do what you can do with your life. There are so many places to explore in the world and so many dreams to pursue – why not achieve these goals when you are still young and then having a child when you and your husband are both ready?

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Relationship guru Lu Qi’s Weibo post ‘do not become a mother too young’ has been viewed over 66 million times.

The hashtag #不要太早当妈# (‘do not become a mother too young’) has been viewed over 66 million times on Weibo in the past few days. An ongoing poll shows that 78% Weibo users support the idea of waiting a while before having babies.

Weibo user ‘Small Fox’ cannot agree more with Lu Qi. She replied on his post: “I would have preferred having babies later in life, but my husband and parents-in-law pushed me very hard to become pregnant as soon as possible. I really regretted my decision as all the efforts I’ve made on my career were in vain. I’m not even sure if I’m able to go back to work after my kid goes to kindergarten, and I don’t know what I can do.”

“I feel like I’m not living for myself.”

“I believe I have the right to say something here, as I’ve already had two kids at age 24,” Weibo user ‘Xiaoshan Niuniu’ writes. She confesses that she would have rather waited a while to have kids if she could choose again: “I feel like I’m not living for myself since I gave birth to my kids. It makes me so sad, especially when my husband leaves the kids alone with me so that he can go out and have fun with his friends. Both husband and wife need to shoulder the responsibility for bringing up the children. However, the society holds the view that the wife is supposed to take care of both the kids and the husband. We also have our own goals and dreams!”

In Chinese culture, women are expected to devote themselves to raising the children and looking after the husband regardless how successful or ambitious they are before tying the knot. In the recent decade, Chinese women increasingly fight for their rights. Female netizens express that it means a lot to them that male icon, Lu Qi, supports them in propagating his message to women: pursue your dreams, working hard for your career, and only become a mother when the time is right.

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This article was published on What’s on Weibo.