24 February 2019
A study about the sexual attitudes of young people in Hong Kong has revealed some interesting things. Photo: Bloomberg
A study about the sexual attitudes of young people in Hong Kong has revealed some interesting things. Photo: Bloomberg

Sexual freedom and why it matters to our youth

According to a recent study which discussed the sexual attitudes of young people aged between 15 and 27 in Hong Kong over the past 20 years, teenagers in our city, contrary to popular belief, appeared to be getting increasingly conservative toward sex and relationships.

For example, as far as male teenagers are concerned, the percentage of respondents that were receptive to polyamory was down from 55 percent in 1996 to 35 percent in 2016. For female teens, the percentage was down from 60 percent to 20 percent during the same period of time.

As far as the degree of acceptance of someone having multiple sex partners is concerned, the percentage has remained pretty steady for both sexes over the past two decades, with the figure for young males standing at 25 percent and young females at 10 percent.

Also steady is the percentage on acceptance levels for patronization of prostitutes, with the figure for male teens remaining at 25 percent and female teens 10 percent.

And rather coincidentally, the percentage of young men who showed acceptance of patronizing prostitutes (25 percent) also corresponded to the percentage of Hong Kong males that have actually patronized sex workers at least once during their lifetime.

In other words, in the eyes of our teenagers, having multiple sex partners and patronizing prostitutes are equally bad in moral terms.

However, the study recorded a continued decline in the percentage among local young females that accepted others becoming a sex worker.

In the meantime, the percentage of teens that accepted premarital sex and de facto relationships has also remained quite stable over the past 20 years.

As to premarital sex, 60 percent of young males and nearly 50 percent of females said they accepted it. Meanwhile, 80 percent of males and 70 percent of females said they were okay with de facto relationships.

The trend in the sexual attitudes among our teenagers pretty much corresponds to that in the West, and the acceptance of premarital sex has become part of the mainstream values.

As George Orwell has put it in his classic novel 1984, “sex” is in fact a kind of subversive behavior that is beyond the control of any totalitarian regime.

Interestingly, the study also indicated that teenagers in Hong Kong appear to be getting increasingly monogamous over the past 20 years. The percentage of young males that accepted infidelity was down from 20 percent to 10 percent, while in the case of young females it was down from 10 percent to just 4 percent.

As Catherine Hakim, a British sociologist specializing in the study of women’s issues, has pointed out, as far as gender relations such as those between married couples or lovers are concerned, men are often in a state of “sexual deprivation”, whereas women often tend to use their own “erotic capital” (i.e. their body) to gain leverage over their husbands or boyfriends.

And the fact that men are constantly caught in a state of sexual deprivation explains why so many men are having affairs or patronizing prostitutes.

Recently, a number of young activists in our city have been denied their right to stand for elections, and many more young protesters have been arrested by the police. Meanwhile, even some religious leaders have been facing troubles.

As society has been witnessing massive regression in basically all aspects of civil rights, such as political freedom, freedom of expression and religious freedom, in recent years, perhaps sexual freedom is now the only form of freedom our young people can still hold on to.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 8

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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