Sex Roles [sers] pp534-sers-375986 July 16, 2002 11:45 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 46, Nos. 3/4, February 2002 (
Attitudes to Marriage and Sexual Behaviors: A Survey
of Gender and Culture Differences in China
and United Kingdom
Louise T. Higgins,
and Chun Hui Sun
This paper reports a survey carried out among 505 university students in China and 338
students in the United Kingdom. The survey included questions on attitudes toward mate-
selection preferences, marriage, and sexual behavior. The ﬁndings show that traditional values
in mate-selection preferences persist more in China than in the United Kingdom and indicate
that, despite a profound social revolution over the last two decades, a relatively conservative
sexual culture still exists in China today. Traditional morality and attitudes prevail especially
among women. Gender and culture differences are discussed.
KEY WORDS: China; marriage; sexual behavior; gender; culture.
The turn of the twenty-ﬁrst century ﬁnds The
People’s Republic of China in revolution. Starting
with the “Open-Door” policy to the outside world
in the late 1970s and the consequent economic re-
forms, this revolution has dramatically changed the
life of the Chinese people, as China rushes toward
modernization. One area in which Chinese people’s
attitudes are changing is marriage and sexual behav-
ior. This is related to greater individual freedom and
choice; greater tolerance toward sexual activities; and
an increasingly equal relationship between men and
women (Bullough & Ruan, 1994; Long & Liu, 1992;
Pan, 1993; Vincent, 1991).
Psychology Department, Chester College of Higher Education,
Chester, United Kingdom.
Psychology Department, University of Southern California,
Psychology Department, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, Peo-
ple’s Republic of China.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Psychology De-
partment, Chester College of Higher Education, Parkgate Road,
Chester CH1 4BJ, United Kingdom.
The Traditional View
For thousands of years, all over the world, pas-
sionate love has been the subject of songs, stories,
dances, and art. However, those who held power in
most countries often viewed love and sexual desire as
a potential threat to the social, political, or religious
order. In order to suppress the volatile and disrup-
tive effects of passion, rules were set up to regulate
marriage, reproduction, inheritance, and the place
of women. For example, in the West, Christianity
preached that sex for any purpose other than pro-
creation was a mortal sin, and many classical stories
of lovers who broke the rules (e.g. Romeo and Juliet)
had a sad ending.
In the East, Confucian philosophy similarly
preached the suppression of passionate love. Mar-
riage was seen as a family business and was arranged
by the parents in accordance with the social hierarchy.
As Hsu (cited in Bond, 1991) pointed out
the dictates of ﬁlial piety bind the son to the au-
thority of the father, demanding loyalty and obedi-
ence in repayment for care and protection. The sex
drive pulls sons away from the exclusive bond of
their parents ...and ...an acknowledgment of sex-
uality undermines the power structure of the family.
2002 Plenum Publishing Corporation