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China Asks If Group Sex Is A Threat To Public Order

In China, a lawmaker has proposed making group sex for gays illegal. It already is for heterosexuals. Thoughts the government's role in the bedroom (even if it's crowded).

So-called "barber shop girls" in Shenzhen
So-called "barber shop girls" in Shenzhen
Li Yinhe*

-OpEd-

BEIJING — During the current lianghui, the annual two-week legislative and advisory meetings held in China every March, one legislator proposed punishing homosexuals with the crime of "mob sexual immorality," something that until now has only applied to heterosexuals.

The crime of "mob sexual immorality" has evolved over time. Before China abolished the crime of "hooliganism" in 1997, all extra-marital sex was punished and treated as such. Since its nullification, the penal code no longer prohibits consensual sex outside of wedlock, with one exception: sexual behavior involving three or more people.

I am personally convinced that consenting sex between adults, no matter how many people it involves, is a constitutional right. There's no reason that such an act should be criminally punished because there is no victim among consenting parties.

Those who are vocally against promiscuity tend to argue that group sexcould harm public order and society's morals, even if there's no victim.

Monogamy is definitely a good custom, or it wouldn't be globally prevalent. But it's worth noting that Chinese tradition wasn't always monogamous, but instead a polygamous concubine system.

The extrapolated logic of regarding someone who eschews social norms as a criminal — and social custom as the victim — can cause serious problems. For instance, the majority of Chinese people get married while a small minority stay single. But we obviously can't take these single people to court and charge them with breaching social custom.

Certain people worry that once group sex is no longer a crime, more people will engage in it and the social ethos will deteriorate. Punishing people for having group sex is akin to penalizing extramarital sexual relations as hooliganism. During that period, a woman could be found guilty of "having seduced several men to have messy sexual relations with her." Clearly an absurdity.

In 1997, China proceeded with major changes by abolishing hooliganism as well as "counter-revolutionary crime." Has nullifying these two crimes boosted the number of hooligans and counter-revolutionaries? And should we reinstate these two penalties in accordance with the logic that these two crimes might increase?

Even if group sex happens does happen more, it won't affect public order for the simple reason that such activities are normally conducted privately, unseen and unknown except by the involved parties.

As a matter of fact, my research suggests there's a significant amount of group sex already in China. There are a number of partner-swapping websites where enrollment numbers are in the hundreds of thousands. These people enjoy themselves quietly while most Chinese people continue to choose monogamous relationships.

Even if China were to become like the Scandinavian countries where half of the population remains single, the world wouldn't be thrown into chaos. On the contrary, the good social order of Northern European countries offers a successful example of a permissive society.

The key lies in how we define our social atmosphere. It's pre-modern and outdated to define a a positive society as one where all citizens embrace wedlock and all sexuality is marital.

True societal corruption comes from crime that victimizes people: swindling, corruption, robbery, murder, rape, assault, drug dealing and gambling. So-called "mob sexual immorality" is an obsolete article of law and was a legal error to begin with. It makes absolutely no sense to expand its scope to punish consensual gay sex.

* Li Yinhe is a sociology researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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