Culture //

Two worlds collide

Koko Kong discusses the difficulties of embracing sex positivity as a Chinese international student

As an international student, the culture shock related to sex manifested itself clearly and intensely in everything that happened during Radical Sex and Consent Week. I simply didn’t want to take off the festival’s signature shirt, even when the scheduled events had finished. A week or so on, I fondly remember my friend from China decorating vulva cookies for Funch. We literally googled the meaning of the word “vulva” as we were doing it. I remember attending the “Gender and Sex Discrimination on campus” panel laden with dozens of questions about all the terminology, but not enough courage to ask them, fearing I’d appear either ignorant or discriminatory. Suffice to say, the event caused me to genuinely admit my illiteracy concerning intersex people.

It would be unimaginable for a Chinese University to offer colourful vulva cookies. It’s also inconceivable that any public institution would highlight the importance of mutual consent when talking about casual sex in China. There’s no need to consent to anything. Casual sex just shouldn’t happen in the first place.

The more you attempt to be integrated into a different society, the more culture shock you are doomed to encounter. Consequently, when moving to Australia from China, I was confronted by an identity crisis of sorts.

I came from a sex negative country where casual sex is considered shameful and unacceptable. But after arriving in Sydney, I noticed that girls could be drunk in bars and having sex with strangers, without immediately being called a “bitch” (or, at least, it was more accepted). Casual sex is and can be a normal part of a spicy Saturday night, provided mutual consent is not compromised.

This contradiction between China and Sydney certainly makes my life harder. I’m currently 18, at the point where my values towards family, relationships, love and sex have started to form. Inside my mind, the conservative tradition which accompanied me for 19 years clashes with the progressive culture that I’m immersed in everyday. It makes it impossible for me to figure out where I stand.

There is a curious attitude among Chinese girls I know when talking about casual sex. “I won’t blame people for hooking up with strangers, but I will never commit things like that!” It is clear that there are two distinct arguments involved in the testimony. One to demonstrate you, as someone who has the privilege to study in Australia, have a more civilised mind to respect different values. Another to clarify that you, as someone who has high moral standards, would never have anything to do with such scandalous life choices. I shouldn’t say I sense hypocrisy in these statements, but that I’m doubtful. I think: when you are drunk and dancing the night away and seeing people around you going insane, haven’t you wondered what it would be like to accept the value of a sex positive culture? Haven’t you ever been tempted by a culture where you don’t have to apologise for your carnal desires?

The “Sex and Culture” panel at Radical Sex and Consent Week dealt with these issues well, bringing light to the fact that this is a mutual problem. Some people are stuck in awkward situations themselves when communicating about sex with someone from a conservative culture. Moreover, as the world becomes more and more globalised, there’s a higher possibility that people from different cultural background are having sex. Audience members primarily raised questions about how to build trust for the purpose of ensuring people from conservative backgrounds are able to feel safe and comfortable to discuss matters concerning sex. The panelists responded by raising the issues of imposing bias on people from other cultures. For instance, it is not appropriate to assume someone wearing a scarf is not interested in casual sex. In short, the way to deal with cultural difference is to be empathetic and not to assert anything in advance.

There are also many domestic students that are also hesitant and confused about sex. Sex positivity can often transform into coercive hypersexuality, where rape and sexual harassment become main concerns. Australian liberal culture assumes that casual sex is normal, but it is definitely not for everyone raised under that culture. After all, there are surely white girls naturally appalled by the idea of making love only out of physical desire and Asian girls who don’t equate sex with a relationship.

That’s the reason why I found “Sex and Gender” panel beneficial and inspiring. It offers two basic principles useful when stuck in conflicting situations. They are “enlighten yourself” and “stick to your heart”. “Enlighten yourself” means to objectively recognise different sex attitudes from different cultural backgrounds without being influenced by bias. “Stick to your heart” encourages you to remember that if one culture tells you to turn left and another one tells you to turn right, you are free and no culture can bind you.