Sexuality in Taiwan is a controversial topic which highlights the contrast between publicly sanctioned virtue (德道) and actual individual behaviour. As far as women are concerned, Taiwanese society tends to value female characteristics such as faithfulness, filial piety, innocence and submissiveness to men. Many women create a public persona that conforms to such standards, as it is assumed that following the accepted social norms will advance one’s prospects of a good marriage and career. However, the reality often contradicts abstract ideals, as the phenomenon of Taiwan‘s yuepao shows.
Yuepao is a neologism that describes a sexual relationship between two people who typically have met through social media or dating apps (徵友). The term yuepao (約炮; often also spelled 約砲), is the contraction of the words 約會 (meeting) and 放鞭炮 (to set off firecrackers). It can be roughly translated as “sex meeting”.
What is peculiar about the yuepao is that this trend spread on Taiwanese universities campuses, revealing a side of students’ lives which public opinion had ignored (or had chosen to ignore) for a long time. Numerous fan pages and groups sprang up on social media to meet the demand for this kind of meeting. The first one of such pages, called ‘Yuepao Shixin’ (約砲世新), was launched by a female student of Shixin University (世新大學) in 2014. Her aim was to break with tradition and end men’s sexual ‘hegemony’.
The yuepao phenomenon soon spread to other universities. According to Taiwanese media, in 2014 students of over 20 universities started their own yuepao pages, among them National Taiwan University, National Zhongzheng University, Furen University and Donghai University.
Last year, students of Zhengzhi University founded a group called “Gender Equality Workshop” (性別平等工作坊, abbr. GEW). Their slogans, such as “Yuepao is not a crime” (約砲無罪), called for sexual emancipation and self-determination. In May 2015 they stuck up posters on walls of the university campus. The posters portrayed naked men and women as well as couples having sex. Although GEW’s bold actions provoked public criticism, they also sparked a public debate on an issue that used to be taboo. According to Cheng Yunjia (程雲佳), president of GEW, people usually consider yuepao a dirty thing because of their “moral viewpoint”. However, he argues that if two adults agree to have a sexual relationship and their actions are not illegal, people should not judge them. “Every person is a unique individual”, he told Taiwanese tabloid Apple Daily, “as long as one does not commit sexual assault, society should respect [it]”.
According to a recent poll conducted by Apple Daily, over 20% of Taiwanese students have had sex meetings, double the number compared to 14 years ago. However, only roughly 50% of the interviewees used a condom. The poll reveals that 95.5% of the participants know the word yuepao, over a half have thought about doing it, and 23.4% have done it. Law faculties have the highest number of students who had sex meetings, while the lowest rates are among students of sciences and engineering.
Most people get in touch with potential sex partners on the internet. That is the case of Maya, a 26-year-old student who began contacting men on Wechat. When a guy asked her to see a picture of her, she posted one on which she was holding a plush giraffe. Though she was naked she showed neither her intimate parts nor her face. That is “a basic principle”, she said. She began chatting with several men on a daily basis, flirted with them, but nothing happened until one of them told her that he would visit Taichung. “I have no place to stay tonight”, he said, “can I stay at your place?” She had no feelings for him, but that day she suddenly felt that she needed someone to cuddle, so she agreed to host him. At first, she told him they could only hug, but afterwards she could not “stop” and they had sex. Since the guy had not used a condom, the next morning she went to buy morning-after pills. After her first experience, Maya began having sex meetings regularly. Overall she had 9 sex partners in 5 years. According to Maya, relationships between men and women are not as lofty as she had imagined, while sexual meetings are not as shameful as she had thought.
A-fei had his first yuepao experience when he was a 3rd-grade student. Afterwards he installed an app and had around 30 sex meetings. He usually tries to make an appointment as fast as possible, ideally he chats with a girl in the evening and they meet up the following day. If a girl doesn’t agree to meet him after chatting with him for more than a day, he will give up and try with another one. The success rate is quite high. According to him, people choose their partners only on the basis of the appearance. For men, height is a plus.
Alice, a girl interviewed by Apple Daily, had sex meetings despite being in a relationship. Her boyfriend had gone to study abroad, and after some time she needed sex, so she looked for a sex partner on the yuepao Facebook page of National Taiwan University. She received around 100 replies. After singling out three possible candidates, she chose one of them and went to have dinner with him. They dated a few times, she thought that they got along well, and one day they went to a hotel. After having sex, Alice felt “revitalized”. Satisfying her biological desire made her feel happy and she continued to go out with the same guy. to her he was just a sex partner. She needed a man, but she did not want to fall in love it so that it would be easy for her to part from him eventually. When her boyfriend returned to Taiwan, she stopped seeing her sex partner. “Although I think that sex and love are two different things”, she said, “if you love someone you won’t have a relationship with another person. You need to respect your boyfriend, otherwise it would be selfish”.