Li Li has lost exact count of how many men she has bedded, but she knows the number is far above 100. "I don't keep statistics," says the former journalist, 27. But she isn't averse to kissing and telling. For the past couple of years, Li has kept a blog--written under the pen name Muzi Mei--that has chronicled everything from her penchant for orgies and Internet dating to her skepticism toward marriage when it means staying faithful to one man. This fall the Beijing resident posted a recording of her own lovemaking sounds that would make Paris Hilton blush. More than 50,000 people simultaneously tried to download the 25-minute podcast, crashing the host server. Despite government attempts to censor it, the sex diary is so popular that Li's pen name is intermittently the most searched keyword on China's top search engine. "I express my freedom through sex," says Li, unapologetically. "It's my life, and I can do what I want."
Freedom in the bedroom is a novel concept in China, where for decades communist minders dictated most aspects of people's private lives. Dressed in baggy Mao suits--hardly outfits to set the pulse racing--citizens of the People's Republic had to ask permission from local officials on everything from whom to marry to what kind of birth control to use. But these days many Chinese are walking on the wilder side. Sparked by the easing of government control over individual lifestyle choices and the spread of more permissive, Western attitudes toward sex, Chinese are copulating earlier, more often and with more partners than ever before. Today 70% of Beijing residents say they have had sexual relations before marriage, compared with just 15.5% in 1989, according to Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. A survey taken last January of seven major Chinese cities found that among those 14 to 20, the average age of first sexual experience was 17.4, while those 31 to 40 had lost their virginity much later, at 24.1 years old. Says Fu Zhen, 28, a teacher in Shanghai: "My parents' only entertainment came from revolutionary movies, so they were very conservative about sex. My generation, we see everything from everywhere, and we are hungry for new experiences." As if to underline the point, Fu has adopted the nickname Carrie--as in Bradshaw, of Sex and the City.
All this hanky-panky is spawning new industries. Lingerie boutiques are proliferating in the big cities, and last month's Sex Culture Festival in the southern city of Guangzhou attracted more than 50,000 people eager to procure the very latest in adult toys--70% of which are now manufactured in China. One of the most popular? The "erotic butterfly," specially designed for women.