Balancing Taboos & Awareness through China’s Guangzhou Sex Festival

China is famous for so many things, for some as the most populous country next to India, for the shopping enthusiasts who without a second thought will tag a dissatisfied product as ‘made in China’, and since 2020 as the country that gave birth to the Corona pandemic. But did you know that China, which is considered the world’s second-most-restrictive censorship country, banning pornography, celebrates a festival that promotes sex? Yes, indeed.

China before the early 2000s

7 decades earlier, China bagged the title of being the most populous country in the world. Right from regulating internet viewership to blocking any foreign influential media, and apps, the Chinese government even controlled the sexual behavior of an individual in China. To such an extent that to get a promotion or to do well in one’s career, one had to be sexually well-behaved. Any ads that promoted precautionary measures were banned. Sex merely became a political tool to control people. Slowly with the advent of the new reforms, sex once again became the personal sphere of one’s life. Yet with the country’s evolving and slightly accepting attitude, it was found that one-third of the people did not receive any sex education in school, as per the survey conducted by Durex. People believed that masturbation leads to losing one’s good qi (energy) and can be life-threatening for the male. In 1989, the condom was something that was considered against social norms because it was perceived as a ‘sex tool’ rather than a thing used to avoid pregnancy. The abortion rate became very high, with around 13 million abortions every year. Chinese women used to abort because they considered it a form of contraception.

The Festival

With the hope of making people more aware of healthy sex, the first Chinese Sex Culture Festival was organized in Guangzhou, aka, the city of flowers, in 2003. This festival is usually celebrated during the month of October and November. The annual five-day festival is dedicated to promoting sexual science, ethics, and civilization, spreading knowledge, and improving sexual health. The festival revolves around themes such as ‘healthy sex, happy families’, and ‘healthy and harmonious sex’. It features activities like exhibitions, seminars, quizzes, and trade fairs that sell adult appliances, Chinese medicinal products, S&M products, and many more. Recent times have shown the emergence and business boom of the beauty industry and tech equipment related to reproduction like IUDs, birth control, massage equipment, etc, in these types of events. From nurse costumes, ox penises to shark Viagra, aphrodisiacs in the shape of deer antlers, real-life-sized dolls were displayed. Anything that can tap the three Ps, i.e., make a person pregnant, potent, or popular could be sold there. For further entertainment, visitors can enjoy human art photography, art sculptures, shows like ‘Private Yoga’ and bikini, qipao fashion shows. 

The Problem

The crowd mainly comprises men- lads from their twenties, middle-aged and old, the latter being the majority. Young couples and women visit the festival out of curiosity and to explore. People with lower incomes, especially migrant workers flock to the place because otherwise they are deprived of any relationships when they move to cities.

Due to gender imbalance, over 24 million men in China face everlasting bachelorhood and are tagged as ‘bare branches’. They are poor and unemployed, have mental health issues, and pass their time drinking and fishing. Unmarried men are often mocked and social evils like rape and incest are practiced privately. Shortage of sperm donors is an issue in China because they consider it to be a very private thing not to be shared.


The sex toy industry in China has been booming, becoming a billion-dollar industry by 2010. Yet it remains fully unregulated by the Chinese government. The materials used for making the sex toys are neither tested nor any kind of standardization that needs to be met is maintained because the government is too shy to take up this matter. 


Despite this, the Guangdong Family Planning Bureau encourages the working lower class to use such risky products because otherwise, these sex-deprived individuals would give rise to serious problems such as AIDS. If the visitors of the festival were given the option to choose either watching a very common local underwear model fashion parade or a graphical display of symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases, visitors would choose the former. Even the most adult products are shown strictly adhering to health and heterosexuality. Most of the stalls cater to majorly to only the socially accepted sexualities.


China as a country has evolved throughout the years. From being an authoritarian nation and following age-old beliefs, it is now slowly moving towards accepting modern ideologies. The Guangzhou Sex Festival has equally contributed to breaking certain myths related to sex, along with the government’s effort to promote sex education. However, the purpose can be debated: if it is truly aimed at liberating people from the myths and misinformation that have been prevailing or if it is just a means to satisfy the sex-deprived crowd.


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