Everywhere in Beijing, bus stops and magazine stands have advertised the June issue of Cosmo, with a purple-clad Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker on the front cover. As I’m unfamiliar with the international magazine industry as it relates to China, I was eager to obtain a copy and see for myself what this hefty, 362 page issue contained. I flipped past the beauty, the fashion and the countless ads all the way to the end, and I was left feeling a bit unsatisfied. Something important was missing, and it didn’t take long to realize what it was. Where was the sex?
After all, this was Cosmopolitan, well-known since 1886 for catering to families and, later in the 1970s, specifically targeting a women audience with sexually liberating content. In the U.S., women (and men) grab it off the racks to learn all about 100 hottest sex tips, ways to make your partner happy in bed, as well as useful information on sexual health. It’s bold, but it offers a good resource for young women who might shyly refrain from asking a doctor their questions, even though an annual checkup is often recommended. So why is this opportunity absent from Cosmo’s pages for women in China?
In July 2009, Chinese government cracked down on websites relating to sexual health, allowing only “government-sanctioned medical institutions to provide sex-related content on websites.” These regulations were part of a broader mission to rid the Chinese internet of pornography. So it makes sense that popular magazines would also lack any mention of the “s” word to Beijing’s young readers. However, in a quickly changing cultural outlook on sex, described in previous ChinaHush posts, women might soon need another resource that they can feel comfortable researching independently.
Especially in many Chinese families, where the focus stays on school and family, discussing matters of sex can be completely embarrassing for women and teens. According to a 2009 survey, in the Beijing Evening Daily, nearly a fourth of the women surveyed said they wouldn’t feel comfortable telling a gynecologist about their problems, a dangerous statistic with the growing number of syphilis infections each year.
Men have their For Him Magazine, a British publication adopted for China’s readers that pictures scantily-clad women on the cover, but not in such a risqué way that it attracts attention from the government. The editors told the Asia Times Online in 2007 that they had to self-censor, but still managed to print content that discussed subjects that would make traditional Chinese’ eyes pop. These topics, however, mostly aim to provide a thrill for male readers, as many call the mag a “toned-downed version of Playboy.”
While there is no numbers on how many men grab FHM each year, it might be safe to say that as sex becomes less taboo, and pornography becomes non-existent, publications like these will become increasingly popular. When that happens, it is increasingly more important for women to have access to materials that will give them the emotional and physical confidence, knowledge, and empowerment that every girl deserves.