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Sex, coming from an Asian

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APRIL 11, 2023

Every culture has its own approach to sex and sexuality. Depending on the level of patriarchy embedded in said culture’s values, the topic is discussed more or less. The fetishization of Asian women goes back centuries, and continues to be perpetuated, only becoming more advanced as time goes on. 

Most of us have heard of foot binding in China, an outdated practice in which a young girl would bind her feet — since smaller feet were seen as more desirable. This was the narrative I was familiar with from a very young age, and something that made me question if that’s the reason I also have small feet — possibly a residual effect of the women who came before me. Later, I learned that the actual reason women bound their feet was because it made them walk in a swaying motion, which was considered sexually arousing. This kind of walking would later be known as Lotus Gait. 

Another practice common in Ancient China was polygamy. Despite extramarital relations being discouraged, men found a way around it by having concubines, better known as “lower-tier wives.” These were women who weren’t socially connected to their husbands and whose primary purpose was to serve them sexually. It was also believed that they were used as vessels for producing male heirs to maintain the family lineage. 

Even though it feels like we’ve moved past practices like these, they really just became more subtle. 

A question I’ll get every now and then from strangers is, “Where are you from?” I know from the way they say it that they aren’t asking because of their genuine curiosity, but because they have a preconceived idea of what each kind of Asian is like — they want to know which one I am. I’ll answer and say that I’m from California, which will elicit a subtle, surprised reaction. Then, I’ll follow up by saying that I was adopted from China, and their face will soften and a look that says “I knew it” appears. From that moment on, they have decided what kind of person I am. 

When it comes to dating, the kinds of people who ask me this question ask with an ulterior motive in mind. Sometimes they won’t ask me outright, but instead ask questions that tiptoe around it, such as if I like boba or if I know any good local Asian restaurants. They might even ask me whether I like anime, and, depending on my answer, it will either play into or contradict the stereotypical Asian they’ve built in their mind. 

There are a few stereotypes that Asian women are often associated with. The first is the quiet and subservient woman. The second is “the geisha,” or the sensual and erotic woman. The third is the “dragon lady,” often characterized as being cold, deceitful and enjoying manipulation. And finally, there’s the hardworking woman whose only priority is her work. Each persona works to discriminate against Asian women in some way and can be translated into how each acts during sex. 

The quiet and submissive type is willing to do just about anything so long as someone else is in charge. They are easily controlled and fulfill the infantilization fantasy that so many men dream of. Conversely, with the “dragon lady” stereotype, the roles are reversed. The men take on the submissive role and the women are the ones in control, using their bodies or external objects to maintain this control. Those that fall under the “geisha girl” stereotype are seen as sensual and mysterious, more of an exotic species with a special sexuality that is just waiting to be discovered. I’ve come to realize that men crave this because it makes them feel like they have something that no one else does. 

So, when I’m on a dating app and some guy asks that question of “Where are you from?”, these are the things that go through my mind. Is he asking because he’s actually curious about my family history or does he want to know whether I’d be okay with being dominated? Is he interested in me because we have the same music taste or did he swipe right because I was Asian and he thinks I’d be into cosplaying his favorite anime? 

The difficulty with these stereotypes is that I find myself fitting into certain aspects of them, despite wanting desperately to defy them. During sex, I feel most comfortable letting the other person take control because being told what to do is familiar to me. Throughout my whole life, I’ve followed orders from my parents, my teachers and my bosses, and instead of it being something that I want to fight against, it has become something that makes life easier. Instead of appearing inexperienced and not knowing what to ask for, I can just agree to do whatever they want. 

There are so many parts of being Asian that I feel disconnected from — the culture, the history, the language — but I’ve found a complex and unexpected relationship with some of their stereotypes. I don’t support the perpetuation of these stereotypes nor the idea that women can be neatly sorted into boxes of categories based on their race, but, in my case, some of these categories are true. 

The difference is that they ring true because of who I am, not because of where I’m from. 

Maisie French writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

APRIL 11, 2023