By Thu Ngo
This banner popped up in my News Feed today. A debate contest on Sex Rights with a provocative and daring slogan: “Sex Right? Speak Out! Scared of What?”
The contest seems to be another idea of iSEE – Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment, a local NGO dedicated to “a civilized, prosperous, and democratic society where everyone is treated equally and every humanity values is respected.”
In favour of freedom of expression and the rights of minority groups which in the society of Vietnam includes the youth, it is not a surprise when iSEE leads this new wave of Sex Revolution in Vietnam.
I called it a “new wave” because from my initial research, discussions on this topic have been around for a while as early as in 2007. However, as many other social issues, they were completely drowned and/or swept away by tons of news on politics and economy which are, of course, considered much more important than stories of a group of young people demanding to sleep around.
I have not had a chance to talk frankly about this topic with my friends or colleagues who I know, mostly accidentally, had premarital sex. Part of the reasons is my personality: I consider sex is something personal and that asking about that is nosy. But the bigger part that stopped me from asking them was I thought they would not be willing to open up.
It is the fact that having sex before or even without marriage has become something as natural as eating, drinking or watching movies in my community, something that everyone knows but refuses to speak out because everyone expects no one needs to ask. (In fact, there is at least one. Yes. It’s Me.) And yet, it is a common thing that conversations among strangers at a wedding party, more or less, involve the premarital sex story of the two main characters.
Of course! Four months already.
Just asked. Double checking.
Such conversation is not so strange now; and in fact, lately I have listened to this kind of talks quite frequently. A survey conducted among Vietnamese youth in 2007 found that young people had sex for the first time at around 19 years of age. Of 7,548 teenagers interviewed from 42 provinces and cities, 7.6 percent said they’d already had sex (ThanhNien News 2012).
The Internet or technology in general is often mentioned in forums on sex revolution in Vietnam and other Asian countries as one of the biggest suspects for the freedom. People blame it for introducing AVs, sexually provocative products and especially Western life style to young people. Experts, however, give a more balancing viewpoint when praising the Internet for popularising foreign-media sponsored programmes on sex education. Yet, while the abortion rate reduces, the rate of pre-marital sex increases. “It means that they fail to protect Oriental cultural values,” said Doctor Nguyen Huu Nguyen of the HCMC Development Institute.
So, again “Oriental cultural values” are referred as an ethical anchor to hopefully wake the young hot-blooded up from their desire. This reminds me of the shocking introduction of Richard Burger’s book entitled “Behind the Red Door: Sex in China”:
Every year, thousands of Chinese women pay for an operation to restore their hymens shortly before their wedding so that husbands can see blood on the sheets on their honeymoon night. Brides-to-be who cannot afford the 4,400 yuan operation (about $700) can walk into one of China’s 200,000 sex shops or go online to buy a cheap artificial hymen that seeps artificial blood when punctured. Although the percentage of Chinese women who engage in premarital sex has skyrocketed in urban areas from 15 percent in 1990 to more than 50 percent in 2010, conservative attitudes toward sex, even in big cities like Shanghai, remain largely intact. To most Chinese people, virginity matters, and husbands look forward to their wedding night when they can deflower their young virgin brides. For some husbands, the absence of blood on the sheets can be grounds for divorce.
An ironic feeling can be sensed though, at least for me. Is there a real sex revolution occurring in China or it is still a counter-cultural wave of the young (females) to resist social norms and the concept of ‘virginity’ that have been used to tie up them since the day the human society officially entered the age of patriarchal social system?
Yet, the slang ‘test’ in the conversation above also somehow reflects another side of the surprising acceptance to what used to be seen as ‘taboo’ in Vietnam: Subtle agreement of old generations. A lot of ladies ask their son’s girl friend to be pregnant (of course with their son) as a pre-requisite to get married. A popular philosophy to select a daughter in-law today is “Thà hư còn hơn hỏng” – literally translated, “spoilt is still better than dysfunctional.” So, mothers now prefer a girl who can give birth to their grandchild to one who values chastity. Perhaps, a modern life with a lot of pressure leading to high infertility rate among young couples scare those women (yes, women!) who always feel responsible to keep their husband’s family line.
But what happens to the girls who (unlucky?!) cannot get themselves pregnant with their boyfriends? Or simply, what if the couples break up after that? Will the girls be able to smoothly move on with new relationship and receiving no judgement from the society? I have no answer cuz (luckily) all of my friends so far have got married and seemed happy with their new stage of life, waiting for their babies which may be thought to be preemies (by some outdated rigid people). Up to now, I just feel somehow women are helping men make troubles for themselves and their peers 🙂