Group sex: a moral battleground

By Hu Qingyun Source:Global Times Published: 2014-2-9 20:13:01


Despite dramatic changes in Chinese people's attitudes toward sex over the last few decades, some areas still remain taboo, and have become a battleground of social attitudes.

This is starkly highlighted by the fact that sexual activities involving more than two people can still be punished according to the country's criminal law, as evidenced by a recent case in which a married father in his 30s was sentenced to five months in jail for organizing an orgy involving eight men in the Xuhui district of Shanghai on January 17.

The defendant, whose name was not revealed, posted messages in an online chat group on September 2, 2013, seeking gay men to participate in an orgy, according to the Xuhui District People's Court.

The defendant was found guilty of the crime of "group licentiousness," which can receive up to five years in prison based on the Criminal Law. The other seven men received administrative punishments.

The man was just the latest of a string of people prosecuted for the crime since 2010.

After the man's conviction, famed sociologist Li Yinhe wrote a blog post calling for the abolishment of the crime, and said consensual sexual relations between adults are their own private affairs.

"These offenders are adults and the sex happened in a private place and was consensual. They should have the freedom to decide their sexual lives. The moral issue should not be judged by criminal law," Li wrote.

Controversial law

The crime of group licentiousness applies to anyone over 16 years old who organizes or frequently participates in group sex with three or more people, regardless of gender.

The first conviction for group licentiousness was handed down to Ma Yaohai, 53, an associate professor from Nanjing in Jiangsu Province, in May 2010. He received a sentence of three and half years in prison and another 21 people involved in the case were given sentences of up to 2.5 years.

In another case in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, two men were also sentenced to six months in prison for having group sex with the ex-wife and girlfriend of one of the men, reported on January 17.   

Qu Xinjiu, a criminal law professor with the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times that the unclear interpretation is one of the reasons why the crime is so controversial.

"The sentencing for such a crime depends on how severe the damage to society is. However, the degree of damage is difficult to judge," Qiu said, adding that more open regions in China tend to give more lenient punishments to group sex offenders. 

After Ma's conviction, a survey conducted by showed that over 54 percent out of 113,558 respondents agreed with Li's view that Ma should have had the right to choose his lifestyle.

Qu echoed Li and other Net users, saying that voluntary group sex in private locations should not be considered a crime, but that promoting such activities to other people in society should be criminalized.

"The principle of the Criminal Law is to maintain social order. Group sex, for personal reasons, can be regarded as morally inappropriate to those who feel it is offensive, but it does not affect social order," Qu said.

Licentious history

It was not the first time Li has called for the crime of group licentiousness to be scrapped. Li submitted a proposal via deputies to the National People's Congress and members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in March 2010.

Li argued that the crime was outdated and has rarely been put into use.

The charge of group licentiousness was written into the law in 1997, when the then criminal law was modified. But over the following decade it was not used to sentence any offenders.

The crime was considered one of the replacements for the crime of hooliganism, which was removed in the 1997 criminal law amendment. In addition to activities such as vandalism, hooliganism criminalized anyone who had premarital sex or engaged in sexual activities in groups of three or more people, or even for dancing with people of the opposite sex.

Chi Zhiqiang, a film star in the 1980s, was charged with hooliganism and sentenced to four years in prison in 1984, for activities ranging from having consensual sex with a divorced woman to dancing face to face with a group of women and men.

Han Yusheng, a criminal law professor with the Renmin University of China, said that there are no victims in cases involving group sex, so they are rarely reported to the authorities.

"Group sex is not a common practice and offenders often keep it secret. Unless someone tips off the police then it is hard for authorities to identify," Han said, adding that just because a crime is rarely used, this isn't sufficient justification to abolish it.

Battle rages on 

Li has argued on her blog that removing the crime of group licentiousness would not promote this lifestyle within society.

"The abolishment of the crime would be a social improvement," Li said, adding that the fact that the men in Shanghai received a more lenient punishment than Ma and his co-offenders provided new hope for those hoping the crime would be annulled.

In contrast to Li's optimism, Qu said that the crime will not be entirely removed in the short term, as Chinese society still has a strong focus on moral concerns. He did, however, suggest that group sex should be removed from the crime.

Han disagreed with Li and Qu, saying that the law had justification. "The principle of legislation is to protect the ethics and morals of the majority. The majority of the public in present-day China still may not be able to accept such activities," he added.

Posted in: Society

blog comments powered by Disqus