Dr Sex: Between the sheets

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Ysabelle Sung Bale pays a visit to Petula Ho for a dose of forthright views on hanky panky

Dr Sex is Hong Kong’s modern day Aphrodite. The author, radio host and sexpert – real name Dr Petula Ho – has been a big name in the city for years due to her frank and controversial views on people’s pastimes under the covers. Students have listened in rapt admiration to her polemics on Love, Marriage and Sex in Modern China. Those tuning into the radio have heard her emphasise the importance of rejecting derogatory terminology such as ‘leftover girls’. Most recently she was seen challenging dating guru Willie Booker on air: “So where can women find good sex in Hong Kong?” and her journal articles trumpet acutely relevant topics such as Masturbation in Contemporary Shanghai. She is fiercely aggressive in her arguments, grabbing you by the balls – but she also knows how to have plenty of fun too.
“Multiple sexual relationships, especially in marriage, is an important point of discussion for me,” Ho, unmarried, tells us. “It’s very selfish behaviour. But the world has always been like this.” And then she adds: “Nobody is living how you expect them to.”
Ho’s new book, Sex and Desire in Hong Kong, is co-authored with University of Toronto professor Tsang Ta Kat and compiles 15 years of arduous research into the sex lives of Hongkongers. It’s being published in English and Chinese and sweeps a vast range of topics, from extra-marital sex to experimentation. It is provocative – sometimes naughtily so. “It’s about transgressions and questioning social boundaries,” according to the author.
A former Christian in her youth, Dr Ho broke free of religion when she came to understand her close friend, Time Out cover star Anthony Wong, who recently ‘came out’ on stage. “Like all Christians, I trivialised sex,” she says. “Anthony’s description was that we lived in different worlds. When he first told me [he was gay] I didn’t understand because, 30 years ago, the word gay wasn’t as popular as it is now. But times have changed. It’s a good story about the history of homosexuality in Hong Kong.”
Another man also came out to Ho around that time. This time, she admits, she was ‘devastated’. It was her then-boyfriend, a fellow Christian. “We were very naive about sex,” she says. But, 30 years on, Dr Ho – and Hong Kong women – are all the wiser. However, she knows there are still strong reservations about experimentation. “I want to be a part of the sexual experimentation movement,” she reveals. “But people will think you are encouraging immoral involvement and promiscuity. They would never understand that you can change your sexual identity. If you are heterosexual, you should stay heterosexual…”
Controversial as ever, Dr Ho, who co-hosted a relationship show on Metro Broadcast for 13 years before leaving last June, labels marriage a ‘social institution’. “After a while, your marriage will disengage,” she says. “That happy triangle of love, sex and marriage will disappear.” This, Ho points out, is when you should start ‘seeking pleasure outside marital boundaries’. “When you enter a relationship, you should assume your partner is already having multiple sexual relations,” she claims. “Because if you don’t, then you will feel like your world is falling down when you find out.” Suppressing basic desires, especially for girls, can initiate depression, she adds. “Women here have a very difficult life because of their puritanical values plus ideas of Confucianism in traditional Chinese culture,” she says. “But you must listen to your desires. Otherwise you will not survive.”
Dr Ho hopes her new book will reveal the sexuality issues at hand in Hong Kong, as well as showing people how to harness their own erotic energy. “I want people to discover ways to craft a space for themselves through sexual experimentation, exploration and expression,” she says, before concluding: “That’s my understanding of sex.” Probably far better than ours, we’d say…

Sex and Desire in Hong Kong is published in September by HK University Press, priced $324.

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