Ask the Yangxifu: Does Dating Past (And More) Matter to Chinese Men?

Anonymous asks:

im from europe, i really like a chinese man, and he seems to like me, but i dont know if he will if he gets to know me better. we met in china at work, get along well, both in mid-twenties. but i am not a virgin. ive had many boyfriends before too.

im afraid if he gets to know me, he will think badly of me. ive heard chinese men cant accept a girl who isnt virgin. i really need advice — please help! and please dont use my name/email!


Thanks for the question.

Does sexual experience matter to a Chinese man? Yes and no.

Traditionally, Chinese would only tend to marry virgins. And, today, there are still Chinese men who expect their girlfriend to be a virgin. Still, as China opens, more Chinese choose to have premarital sex, and date a number of people before marriage.

But it’s one thing to have a sexual/dating history, and another to talk about it.

I think about my first Chinese boyfriend. After a month of being together, I told him about one of my ex-boyfriends in the US — I had been seriously mistreated by this ex-boyfriend, and thought that talking about it with my Chinese boyfriend would help heal the pain. Instead, it brought me pain — my Chinese boyfriend became so angry and didn’t want to hear it.

Why was he so angry? Because, in general, Chinese don’t want to know about their partner’s dating/sexual history.

Another point here is that foreign women, in general, get branded as jezebels that sleep around. It’s not a fair stereotype, but it exists. So, if you tell him about your past, it simply reinforces the “jezebel” image — and may make him cross you off the “potential wife” list in his mind. (Remember, Chinese men don’t date casually — they tend to date to marry.)

You’d do well to apply the current US military policy regarding gays — “don’t ask, don’t tell” — to your situation. He’s not likely to ask, because dating and sex are such highly personal topics in China. And you have no obligation to tell him that you’re not a virgin, or have had partners in the past. Believe me, he doesn’t want to know. And, if things get serious, he will probably never want to know.

So, don’t let your history get in the way of a good relationship. Just don’t tell him you’re a virgin, or you’ve had many boyfriends — leave it all in the past, and move forward.

Of course, that brings up the question — would he eventually figure it out? I don’t know, because I’m just a yangxifu. Better ask your doctor — or, better yet, Dr. Ruth. 😉

Do you have a question about dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.

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27 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Does Dating Past (And More) Matter to Chinese Men?”

  1. I would like to give the additional advice of asking him if he’d marry a woman who is not a virgin anymore.

    Or not. There are still (from my rural, pretty conservative China-perspective) very many men who would not marry “used goods.” Or at least, they would say so.
    Someone who dates a foreign woman might be expected not to be so strict about that, though, so the “don’t ask, don’t tell” is probably the better behavior.
    (This goes so far that a recent article suggested older Chinese men visited prostitutes because asking their wifes for sex when they are past-menopause and not so interested anymore would be too embarrassing…)
    But be prepared to get into hot water, at least emotionally, when things get really serious… serious being, in the Chinese context, moving towards marriage (sex is supposed to be a part of married life here, traditionally). Then, he might want to find out, or might expect being able to tell. At least, that seems to be something that Chinese women worry about. A lot.

    In children’s education (although schooling is starting to be changed), you – especially as a woman – are not even supposed to know how, well, things fit together… check out for how this worked, if I may suggest that. And then think about just how right Jocelyn’s point that people don’t traditionally talk about *that* is 😉

    1. Thanks so much for weighing in, Gerald — great comment!

      I have heard that not being a virgin can get some people in trouble in China, so your comments on that echoed my understanding. Though, certainly, for more unconventional Chinese men, the likelihood is that it may not be an issue at all.

      Also, I was fascinated by the link you provided — very eye-opening in many respects. Interesting to see how sex education was communicated in a society where people just don’t talk about it.

      One digression, though, if I may — when we visited the Mawangdui exhibit in Changsha, the coffin actually contained very detailed, written information about sex, sexual practices (really, surprisingly knowledgeable and detailed). Gerald, you would have found it fascinating (but then again, maybe you’ve already visited it, since you’re not far from Changsha). It’s certainly not representative of the closed, private attitude towards sex in China, but it is interesting to imagine that maybe people, in some circles, could share that information in other, perhaps more open, ways.

  2. There is definitely something, well, typically Chinese: there’s a lot of silence on many issues, traditionally and in modern times. And there’s also a lot of openness, sometimes suddenly…
    I can’t remember seeing comments on sex at the Mawangdui exhibition, but the eunuch’s grave I recently visited in Beijing had rather too much information. Or should I say, illustration… of how the eunuch was produced. Ouch…

    I wanted to suggest one more point, a main problem in intercultural communication:
    Never forget that what websites, people like us, whatever, talk about are impressions of what is the normal, the average – or maybe, the noteworthy, different-from-what-we-are-used-to – case(s); the person you are with, however, is an individual.

    So, learn, ask (and be careful about things which it’s better to be careful about) – and don’t forget to keep an open mind, especially when it concerns the person you are with.

    1. Thanks for weighing in again, Gerald! You make a fantastic point about how important it is to meet a person at an individual level. Indeed, advice is simply representative of the general/average tendencies. And, as I’ve found from talking w/ other foreign women in relationships with Chinese men, we often end up dating and marrying men who are a little less typical or average.

  3. it could be right to say “Chinese men tend to date to marry” about 10 years ago, but now time has changed, more and more chinese men date, maybe less than americans:),more than one woman before marriage.

    anyway, as a chinese man, i believe “don’t ask, don’t tell” is always a right answer to this question.

    1. Thanks for the comment, VicSion! It’s great to hear your perspective as a Chinese man — especially in terms of your feeling that things are changing, and Chinese men may be willing to date a little more than before (but, yes, probably less than Americans!).

  4. I agree with VicSion. It’s no problem to say the old chinese man who is dating is only for marriage.
    However, it’s quite different in 80’s and 90’s. They have grown up surrounded with new western culture: It’s cool to have sex in an early age; White people always is the gentleman, Western woman is easily to be hooked. Currently it’s very common to see lots of students in University are open to sex and have girl/boy friends and sex experiences.

    For the virgin stuff, I recommand the girl investigate her boyfriend’s dating history, especially that the some sex experiences. If he hooked any virgin before, I think that will be easy for him to get over it. Sorry I have to think in typical Chinese man’s way.

    Anyway it’s case by case, if he wants to have serious relationship with you, he must consider or already fight for the effection of western jezebels as well.

  5. It is more important in China for the girl to be a virgin than the guy (duh), though the thinking is becoming less rigid. With cohabitation before marriage rate on the rise, for example, guys have to be more realistic. LOL

    Yes, society has become more open in this aspect, but still guys would be more pleased if they are their girlfriends’ first. In general avoid those who are a stickler in these things if you happen to be not, and listen to Jocelyn, don’t talk about your past sexual history

    1. Thanks for the comment, PH! I have to second your point about guys needing to be realistic — you’ve got my vote on that, as a feminist (even if, sadly, there are still Chinese guys who might not agree!).

  6. I have students having sex … and I teach at a high school, my students all being fabulously wealthy Chinese kids. So yeah, times are changing. I wrote an article at eChinacities about sexual activity among young Chinese kids here if you’re interested.

    I don’t think a Chinese guy, especially someone who is mature and secure, will expect you to be a virgin. My husband knew I wasn’t a virgin, knew I’d had relationships (afterall, we married when I was almost 27, so I’m sure he expected that I had past experiences), he just doesn’t want to hear the details. If I occasionally mention exes he gets pretty quiet and doesn’t really want to continue the conversation, even if I’m bashing said exes, so I’ve tended to omit those exes from stories or refer to them as “friends” instead. He knows my basic history and I know his but we spare each other the nitty gritty. I don’t think you have to keep anything from your Chinese boyfriend, or purposefully withhold information, just don’t go on and on about exes.

  7. Hi there! I think it really depends on the guy. My boyfriend is Chinese and we started to talk about our relationships in the past right away.
    Although he looked kind of shocked when I told him I’d had 5 boyfriends before him but relaxed when I answered openly to any of his questions and made clear that they belong to the past.

    I don’t believe hiding information from your partner can be beneficial, I’m more the ‘this is who I am’ kind of person and my boyfriend took it well. By not hiding the truth I got to know that he’s actually pretty open-minded and I’m happy to discuss any issue with him. If he turned out complaining or getting jealous I’m not sure I would’ve kept dating him.

    1. Dear Jessica,

      That’s a really fascinating article — thanks for sharing it! It must have been interesting to observe in school. On a similar note, when my husband was in grad school in Shanghai, they had a family come to their psychology clinic b/c the daughter (in high school) was pregnant. So these issues are starting to come out.

      Dear Chazza,

      Thanks for sharing! Your point about things depending on your man is important — that personal differences exist. My husband knows about my past, but I didn’t really share until we were really stable and secure in our relationship. So, by then, it wasn’t really a “deal-breaker”. We never hid anything; just waited for the right time. I suppose everyone needs to determine what the right time is for them.

      I’d say my husband is a little like Jessica’s — he’d rather not hear about it, even though he knows. 😉

  8. My Chinese husband and I were very open with each other about our dating histories from early on in our relationship. I can’t imagine being close to someone and not sharing these kinds of details. It’s a big part of who were are today.

    Besides if there was something in my past that would make him want to break up with me, I think it’s better to get that thing out on the table early on and if it means we break up then at least it happens early. Imagine if this info came to light years into a marriage and he wanted to get divorced over it.

    But that’s just me. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment Melanie. It’s good to know that such openness worked so well for you. There is indeed something to be said for putting it all out there, before things get too serious.

  9. I was just reminded of *the* example of how much dating past can matter to Chinese men (though it won’t apply much to the situation of foreign women…): Somebody just had to remind me of the “fact” that Chinese men might not even consider dating a girl who had dated a foreigner before…

    1. Thanks for commenting again, Gerald! Interesting. I knew many Chinese men were annoyed by the whole “yellow fever” phenomenon, but I didn’t realize they would care if their woman dated a foreigner before.

  10. I think it has to do with a combination of stereotypes:
    – Chinese men will only marry virgins (in a recent online poll, 80% said so – of course, 80% also said that, if their girlfriend wanted sex…)
    – Westerners are all so casual about sex
    Hence a woman who has been with a Westerner cannot be good, for that reason alone. (Of course, one could also add other things, but those aren’t for the public, in my opinion – which might say something about how casual my attitude is 😉

  11. What an interesting post and comments! I just stumbled upon this by accident, and my God I’m glad I did. Now I havn’t dated a Chinese guy before (although I wouldn’t rule that out as a possibility!), so I’m probably not really fit to comment here, but there are two things I’d like to say.
    a) The impression I get from my own experience and reading these responses is this: You can correctly map out cultural tread, as in “80% of Chinese men want a virgin” or whatever, but at the end of the day, everyone is an individual and has come to there own conclusions about sex and morality. So, I guess keep the cultural stuff as context, but don’t let it define your expectations of your boyfriend as an individual.
    b) I don’t think it’s healthy to talk about your ex’s excessively in relationships in general. Trust me…I was in a thankfully shot lived relationship with a guy who continuously bashed his ex-girlfriend, and (sadly, longer) one another with a guy that told me waay more than I ever wanted to know about his past sex life. I think it’s just a good idea to take the “I know stuff happened, but please spare me the details” stance in relationships generally. Yet, you have to be realistic and understanding of your partners background, and this of course cuts both ways. He should also be understanding of your European background and what that entails as well.
    My advice? Well, you could open the floor by talking to him about what his opinions are on relationships in general than, once your in a comfy place, work from there. But, first and foremost….what are your feelings on the matter? Are you comfy with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” arrangement, or do you want the openness? Start with these questions first than work outwards!
    Good Luck!

    1. We did indeed — I just went over to your site and read your post, which is fantastic. Very well written, great story. As I said in my comment on your site, I really look forward to meeting you in person sometime in China, it seems we really have a lot to share.

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