Monday 13 April 2020
The Soi Cowboy red light district in Bangkok is full of gogo bars and nightclubs. Photo: iStock

Views on sexuality, especially Asian sexual culture, continues to morph quickly. Just as homosexuality and transsexuality gain greater acceptance by the day, urban Asians have also become more open about sex as discourse on sexual health increases.

Single-partner relations aren’t going away anytime soon, but younger Asians are becoming more open to expanding their sexual boundaries. Sex on the first date isn’t encouraged across the board, but neither is it completely discouraged.

These changes come in part from how public discourse on sexuality both on and off the Internet is shaping the sexual practices and mindsets of today’s young adults. A prime example of such conversation can be seen on Twitter; its users frequently talk about what is and isn’t acceptable, sexual health, how consent works, and so on. Sex is rapidly leaving the realm of the taboo and verboten.

Then there is the proliferation of online dating platforms. Urban millennials and Gen Z’ers are getting it on through Tinder, Grindr, Bumble and every other variant thereof. Never has it been so easy for libidinous consenting adults to have sex whenever and however they please.

nisha ayub on asian sexual culture
Photo: Nisha Ayub defies gender norms in society. Photo: Instagram

The discourse surrounding Asian sexual culture

Conversation hasn’t completely opened up yet, though. Young adults who advocate less policing on sexuality are running against traditionalists as well as Asian parents’ reticence to discuss sexual matters with their children, resulting in higher incidents of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

This is where sex education comes in. After all, even though sex may not be a taboo subject anymore, we don’t want our children to dive in too early and quickly. Good sexual health and education is the only way to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies – not the outright repression or abstinence that traditionalists (and the Catholic Church) push for, which is nigh on impossible when handling wired-up, hormonal teenagers, and only results in more
bad decisions.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just about convincing Asian parents to move with the times and speak to their children about sexual health and good decisions. In certain places, fundamentalist community leaders are actively resisting implementing sexual education in schools, preferring instead to believe in the efficacy of an abstinence-centred approach. A Malaysian study in 2014 noted “serious concerns that sexuality education might increase premarital sexual behaviour among children and adolescents”.

ruby rose
Going against gender stereotypes with Ruby Rose. Photo: Instagram


In other words, the fear is that instead of curbing sexual behaviour, the teaching of sex education will only encourage it. A ridiculous proposition, of course, like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, considering that 945 babies were abandoned between 2010 and 2019, largely by unwed teenage girls, in public toilets and garbage areas in Malaysia. 64% of these babies were found dead.

The Malaysian study went on to note that such concerns “may decrease effectiveness by neglecting a considerable proportion of adolescents and young people who have already engaged in premarital relationships”, which has sadly proven to be true.

The way forward, it seems, is a winding one. That said, progress has come, and is continuing to do so. Conservative and traditional attitudes on sex may not change for awhile yet, but sticking one’s head in the sand won’t stop the wheel of the cultural revolution from turning.

This is an excerpt from Unreserved’s March 2020 issue from the article The Asian Sexual Revolution.