Detraditionalisation and attitudes to sex outside marriage in China

Cult Health Sex. 2011 May;13(5):497-511. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2011.563866.


China has undergone massive socio-economic change over the past 30 years. In parallel, there have been huge changes in social and sexual mores. Until the end of the Mao era strict norms prevailed, with sex outside marriage widely regarded as immoral and unacceptable. Detraditionalisation theory describes the abandonment or reconfiguration of the socio-cultural traditions and has been explored widely in Western settings. This study aimed to explore its relevance for China through exploring attitudes towards premarital sex, extramarital sex, same-sex relations and sex work. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 212 men and women aged 18 to 39 in urban and rural areas of three provinces: Zhejiang, Guizhou and Yunnan. Analysis identified emerging themes. Results show varying degrees of acceptance of the four sexual behaviours, with premarital sex seen as common, homosexuality still regarded as unacceptable by the majority but considerable acceptance of commercial sex work as part of male business transactions and social life. China appears to be on a pathway of detraditionalisation with specific Chinese features. This study suggests that the concept of detraditionalisation applies well to non-Western contexts, but the path it takes is culture-specific and relatively unpredictable.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • China
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Culture*
  • Extramarital Relations / psychology*
  • Female
  • Homosexuality / psychology
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Prejudice
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sex Work / psychology
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Sexuality / psychology
  • Social Class
  • Young Adult