A new survey indicates that Chinese society is growing more permissive about premarital sex.
In the survey in March, 71.4 per cent of respondents said they had sex before getting married, 43.1 per cent said they approve of premarital sex, and only 24.6 per cent voiced disapproval.
The findings stand in stark contrast with a 1989 survey in which only 15 per cent of respondents said they had premarital sex.
The recent survey was created by Insight China, a magazine affiliated with Qiushi, the Party theory magazine, and conducted by Tsinghua Media Survey Lab at Tsinghua University.
There were 1,013 respondents, 56 per cent of them men and 44 per cent women, from 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.
Almost 70 per cent of respondents were from 20 to 39 years old. Sixty-four per cent have received a college education. Their careers varied from professional manager, private company owner to civil servant and student.
In addition to the 71.4 per cent who said they had sex before marriage, 43.1 per cent said they approved of premarital sex. Only 24.6 per cent voiced disapproval.
Also, 33.7 per cent said that "sex is a basic need and has nothing to do with morality," and 27.7 per cent believed "two people can have sex with each other as long as they are truly in love, even before marriage."
The survey pointed to a disparity between the thinking of men and women, with 33.5 per cent of the female respondents disapproving of premarital sex, compared with only 17.8 per cent of males.
The survey was simultaneously conducted on Sina, a leading micro blog site. There, 19,578 netizens took participated, 79.4 per cent of whom identified themselves as male.
In the online survey, 86.5 per cent of respondents said they had premarital sex, 15.1 percentage points higher than in the print survey.
Li Yinhe, a sexologist who conducted the 1989 survey about premarital sex in China, said an increase in premarital sex was inevitable.
"First, the purpose of sex has changed. Giving birth is no longer the sole valid reason. Second, there is a strong desire for sex from adolescence, before people reach marriageable age, and adolescence tends to begin earlier nowadays," Li said. "Also, when the crime of 'hooliganism' was removed from the Criminal Law in 1997, sex out of wedlock went from being a crime to just a personal choice.
"Sexual desire doesn't have anything to do with morality, but sexual behavior does," Li said. "A married person who has sex outside the marriage without the spouse's approval violates the vow of loyalty."
However, Du Juan, a researcher at the Institute of Sexuality and Gender at Renmin University of China, doubted that the new survey's data on premarital sex represented the situation in Chinese society as a whole. "We shouldn't believe everything that statistics tells us."
But researchers at the institute have concluded from their own national surveys that "the sexual revolution in China has succeeded," she said.
On the other hand, abstinence is also a personal choice, Du said. "People need to follow their own will in choosing for or against abstinence. You don't choose abstinence or sex because it's fashionable."
Speaking on whether a more open-minded view of sex would affect the stability of relationships, Du said: "The development of a modern society has weakened many functions that were thought to be served only by marriages. Sex is absolutely not the only thing to blame when couples and families split up."