Sex and the single-minded

September 15, 1995

Boys will be boys is an expression that has no place in the corridors of Hong Kong's establishments of higher education, as roguish behaviour is a concept that remains largely alien to its morally irreproachable students. The phrase "boys will be angels" and "girls will be saints" would be far more appropriate.

Lecturers from overseas are often stunned by the unwavering commitment shown by local undergraduates to their studies, and their apparent repugnance for moral laxity. One British lecturer from the department of education at Hong Kong University talked with exasperation about the Victorian values of first year students at the start of the academic year. "We threw a small party to get to know the new intake and a group of first-year students from my department recited an anthem they had been working on. It went something like: 'We are studying education, we won't give in to temptation.' I could not believe what I was hearing."

Choi Po-king, lecturer in education at the Chinese University says: "University students in Hong Kong are very conventional and conservative kinds of young people," she said. "I think it has a lot to do with family expectations - when you go to university you are not just working for yourself but for your whole family's honour."

According to a study carried out by Chung Chi College in 1991, most undergraduates frown at premarital sex, with 46 per cent of boys and 43 per cent of girls saying they expect to marry a virgin. Four years on, attitudes remain largely unchanged.

Chester, 21, studies Chinese language, literature and politics at HKU. She is unattached and does not approve of "experimental dating" before marriage, She winces at the mention of pre-marital sex. "Some of my friends change their boyfriends each semester but I don't respect this kind of dating. There is no loyalty," she said. "I put a lot of stress on loyalty. If you are not right for each other, you shouldn't start the relationship in the first place."

Chester is predictably unimpressed by couples who cohabit before marriage. "I have to ask - is it really necessary? And if students share a mixed-sex flat, I would remind them to be disciplined."

Ernest, 22, studies environmental science at HKU. He is not dating but is surrounded by friends in relationships plagued by angst. "They have stable relationships but they feel insecure and keep asking 'Is this one my partner forever?' My friends have the attitude that dating should ultimately lead to marriage."

For a young Christian, Ernest is in many ways liberal in his views of sex before marriage and accepts the concept of pre-marital sex "on the condition that the partner will become a wife or husband". He says he does not generally discuss sex with his friends but suspects a handful of his non-Christian ones have lost their virginity.

Sally Yau, 24, studies law at HKU and is convinced that many of her friends in serious relationships would live with their partners before marriage if it were financially viable and their parents were supportive.

"When you are in the first year of university, sex is not done but in the final year, if you are in a stable relationship, it is more acceptable," she said. "I had a room-mate who would put signals outside my room to say not to come in. She had a very close boyfriend."

Edward, 21, studies engineering at HKU and lives in halls of residence. Like most of his friends, he is in a stable relationship, and has been dating a girl who lives along his corridor for the past six months. He regards his relationship as "quite serious" but resents the pressure young people are under to either "date seriously or not at all".

He said: "I don't know how to be casual. I cannot keep a relationship going without the ultimate goal of marriage. I couldn't afford the stress that my friends would give me if I had a casual relationship every two or three months."

Peer pressure troubles Edward. "There is too much emphasis on loyalty," he said. "I cannot depend on my first feelings towards a girl - they are unreliable.

"My deepest desire is to fall in love but I'm not sure I will know it when I do. Ideally, I would reach the age of or 28 and then meet a woman who would make an acceptable wife. But in the meantime I cannot stand the pressure of dating a lot of women, otherwise I would."

That said, Edward does not believe in sex before marriage. "Rationally I disapprove," he said. "If you don't act rationally, anything is possible."

Karen Ho is a law student. She grew up in Canada and moved to Hong Kong to complete her education. She is acutely conscious of the conservative vein running through the dormitories of her university and regrets the lack of open discussion on sex among her peers. "You might know a friend is having sex but she won't expressly tell you. I think nowadays friends should talk about sex more - especially teenagers. They are concerned about Aids and getting pregnant and have a lot of questions to ask but they are too shy to ask them."

But when asked directly about her personal views on sex before marriage, Karen blends well with her Hong Kong colleagues. "I need a steady relationship in my life - I cannot be with John today, Jim tomorrow and Sean the next day. I would feel cheap," she said.

Mitchell Wong, 24, is studying law at HKU. He has split his academic life between Hong Kong and the US and says his views have been moulded by both cultures. "People here have fewer partners than in the States - university in Hong Kong is more career-oriented," he said. Wong does not believe in flings, and says his friends all share his disapproval of casual sex.

He believes young men in Hong Kong put less pressure on their girlfriends to have sex, which would suggest that his peers in the territory regard women with more respect than young men in the west. Wong laughs at such a suggestion. "I don't know - I would definitely question that," he said.

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