Yuepao, or, Impotence of Desire

This unfinished fieldnote was originally written in 2016 as a continuation of an earlier research interest of mine: how dating apps work in China but it was never published. And as my first fieldwork in 2014 (initial findings can be found in the essay “Stranger Stranger or Lonely Lonely?”) really just shows, dating apps are rarely about casual sex for most people – it’s many things, but mostly social, and not necessarily the enduring social. The casualness was not in sex but the ephemeral social connection. But then when I actually go into the issue of casual sex, dating app gradually phases out of the picture. The following text is not a sociological rumination but entirely expressionistic abstraction from the countless conversations I had with Chinese men and women on the topic of sex and love in 2016.

Chinese men are sexually impotent. These are by no means issues of premature ejaculations, dysfunctional erections, or abnormal penis size. It is rather the insecurity deeply embedded in the often contrived social and sexual performance of (in)confidence. Maybe even most Chinese men are sexually impotent – a weirdly exaggerating statement maybe. But there is certainly an element of ethnographic truth in my statement. Maybe it is due to a different social convention of love, maybe it’s just a universal misconception of it emerging in the past 30 years.  It is essentially “instrumentalised love”, and sex in pursuing a relationship or the act of having sex.

A man told a female friend of his that he could last “exactly” (he said the word “exact” during the interview) 17 minutes. But to arrive at such an exact number, you would need to start the stopwatch before you penetrate and press again when you ejaculate. That is not even conceivable for me – how do you enjoy sex without suspending all other matters at hand? I thought sex requires uttermost concentration? The point is, why would you do such a thing? And then quote the number to his female friend (not the girl he had sex with while counting), a second girl for her opinion on his performance? It seems that the basic underlying assumption about modern love and sex (sex is built on love and sex is therefore a climax of an emotional intensity) has already been dismissed cynically. I am not building a moral high ground here but I am not sure if “objectifying the act of sex” should be considered as an empowered stance to the point that the phrase ‘making love’ is no longer making sense. The problem is not how many sexual partners you have at the same time, or how casual sex has become; it is rather how love is completely out of picture. Some are frustrated because they are incapable of loving, which is not a “sexual” frustration. Like how Chinese phrase “yuepao” goes: “date for a cannon/shot” (a euphemism for sex). Love is forbidden, avoided and even when encountered, suppressed.

Another woman who regularly dates guys from the internet for casual sex is actually a very “obedient” daughter in “real life” (her own words). Real Life refers to how she presents herself to her colleagues and parents. She goes home before midnight every single night but dates 2 or 3 different guys every week. To maintain her image for her parents as well as those who are not in the know, she never stays overnight at hotels so she only pays at an hourly rate and goes home on time afterwards. She works at a bank so whenever she has a date she leaves work early to go to a hotel but tells her parents that she will be working overtime, which is totally normal for bank employees. She then falls in love with a boy much younger than her after several dates, not in the monogamous and exclusive sense but in the sense she thinks of him more often than other guys. She proceeds to date more random guys to distract her from the preoccupation with the young boy. In other words, love interest and the fact that she often thinks of him and talks about him in front of her only colleague in-the-know makes her feel insecure and this insecurity or fear for love leads to more casual sex.

The male impotence is not simply insecurities about sexual performance but the assumption of how to attract girls (i.e. the process of forging an emotional relationship, before “getting laid”) is often based on the model of (cross checked and verified therefore repeatable) techniques. Of course, this happens in all cultures- rituals to prepare for sex. To send flowers, send repetitive mundane messages to express care, wait outside her workplace and walk her home, deliver food to her place, appear without prior notice; all of them can be romantic but also borderline harassment depending on the perspective. It seems to me it is either bombardments of performances of “care” or quite the opposite of it: indifference and even embarrassment after the act of sex. Yuepao has become so “professional”- sex is merely sex, you supposed to cut off immediately after the act of sex. Sexual desire is now a need to be fulfilled in the act of sex and that fulfilment is the conclusion whereas in the last generation (who grew up in the danwei system) sex is an FINAL affirmation of an established relationship. I am merely suggesting an inversion: sex is now often treated the conclusion rather than the start of a new love relationship.

Some women are therefore tired of the “contradictory desires” (as an informant puts it) for sex and longing to be loved. Yuepao is a temporary contract, under which a sexual performance is promised but love interests are not encouraged and at times even actively avoided. On the other hand, women are bored of yuepao, the instrumentalising of “care” and even heterosexual men in general. They want company but the company of the opposite sex usually results in sex. Some even experimented with homosexuality, not necessarily for sex but the emotional need. I am not sure if feminism has become common knowledge but certainly independence, economic independence from men is what most women strive for. The family, especially in the traditional sense, has already collapsed since the moment of getting married. There is indeed a backdoor sexual revolution in the sense that some people are having way more sex and in all sorts of fashions. But more people are frustrated about relationship and sex – even more men and women have given up the thoughts/hopes of having sex with another person and building an intimate relationship altogether.