Sex pays for China’s budget hotels

RNW archive

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China’s budget hotels used to target small business travellers, but their clientele nowadays is a rather different one. Cheap hotel rooms have become the space where the Chinese can pursue sexual freedom. Sexologist Xiaoliang Zeng writes on budget hotels and sexual liberation in China.

The hotel I checked in to was recommended by a well-known travel website. But I regretted my choice as soon as I walked in.

It was by no means a cheap hotel. Yet my room was filled with the unpleasant odor of semen and disinfectant. The pinkish wall, dim light, and green carpet created a sexually suggestive ambiance. Why on earth would the website recommend such a hotel to me?

I picked up my phone and called my wife. All of a sudden, a loud moaning came through the wall. I hung up hurriedly, fearing she would hear this suspicious and embarrassing noise. I decided it would be wiser to check out. On the way to the front desk, I saw two half naked men with tattoos walking in with a sexy young woman.

Sex brings prosperity
The sexual revolution in China goes largely unnoticed and is rarely talked about, yet it’s in full swing. I walked out of the hotel, flabbergasted. Would budget hotels in China be so prosperous without the sexual revolution? Surely not.

A manager once told me that his hotels would be packed during the weekends. But, he added, not with business travelers, but with people who needed a place to spice up their sex life. Those who frequent budget hotels can be roughly divided into four categories, he told me.

Young unmarried couples unable to afford their own apartments, as housing prices have soared in the past few years. They live mostly in shared apartments or with their parents. High end hotels are too pricy, so they consummate their love in low-cost surroundings.

Budget hotels also accommodate extramarital affairs where meeting at home is not an option. Budget hotels don’t pry into the clients’ privacy and the anonymous setting may also offer an extra thrill and spice up the encounters.

One night stands often take place in budget hotels as well. People hook up on dating-sites for sex but are unwilling to bring strangers back home. There have been plenty of reports of online dating scammers, and ironically, budget hotels have become a safer place to date strangers.

The last category is sex workers for whom a budget hotel is a convenient place of business.

Condoms on tap
Despite the ongoing economic downturn, the budget hotel sector is booming. New hotels spring up like mushrooms. They give the Chinese space to express their sexual desires and budget hotels are working hard to cater to their needs. In addition to the usual facilities, they also offer condoms and sometimes lubricants. Offering condoms in hotel rooms used to be controversial – outraging conservatives who claimed this would promote prostitution, which remains illegal in China.

But condoms effectively curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, and the authorities seem to approved of this measure. HIV/AIDS prevention is a more pressing issue than the moral debate on prostitution.

Official tolerance 
The Chinese sexual revolution cannot take place without the tolerance of the authorities, which are beginning to give more respect to basic human rights and individual privacy. When a couple checks in at a hotel, they are no longer required to give proof of their marriage as they once were. Nowadays, the regime is giving its people more space to express their sexual desires and acknowledges that sexual rights are a part of basic human rights.