In the survey in March, 71.4 percent of respondents said they had sex before getting married, 43.1 percent said they approve of premarital sex, and only 24.6 percent voiced disapproval.
The findings contradict a 1989 survey in which only 15 percent of respondents said they had premarital sex.
The recent survey was created by Insight China, a magazine affiliated with Qiushi, the Party theory magazine, and conducted by Tsinghua Media Survey Lab at Tsinghua University, China Daily reported.
The survey includes 1,013 respondents, 56 percent of them men and 44 percent women, from 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.
Almost 70 percent of respondents were from 20 to 39 years old. Sixty-four percent have received a college education. Their careers varied from professional manager, private company owner to civil servant and student.
In addition to the 71.4 percent who said they had sex before marriage, 43.1 percent said they approved of premarital sex. Only 24.6 percent voiced disapproval.
Also, 33.7 percent said that “sex is a basic need and has nothing to do with morality,” and 27.7 percent believed “two people can have sex with each other as long as they are truly in love, even before marriage.”
The survey pointed to a disparity between the thinking of men and women, with 33.5 percent of the female respondents disapproving of premarital sex, compared with only 17.8 percent of males.
The survey was simultaneously conducted on Sina, a leading micro blog site. There, 19,578 netizens took participated, 79.4 percent of whom identified themselves as male.
In the online survey, 86.5 percent of respondents said they had premarital sex, 15.1 percentage points higher than in the print survey.
Li Yinhe, a sexologist who conducted the 1989 survey about premarital sex in China, said an increase in premarital sex was inevitable.
“First, the purpose of sex has changed. Giving birth is no longer the sole valid reason. Second, there is a strong desire for sex from adolescence, before people reach marriageable age, and adolescence tends to begin earlier nowadays Yinhe said.
“Also, when the crime of ‘hooliganism’ was removed from the Criminal Law in 1997, sex out of wedlock went from being a crime to just a personal choice.
“Sexual desire doesn’t have anything to do with morality, but sexual behaviour does.
“A married person who has sex outside the marriage without the spouse’s approval violates the vow of loyalty,” Yinhe added.
However, Du Juan, a researcher at the Institute of Sexuality and Gender at Renmin University of China, doubted that the new survey’s data on premarital sex represented the situation in Chinese society as a whole.
“We shouldn’t believe everything that statistics tells us,” Juan noted.
But researchers at the institute have concluded from their own national surveys that “the sexual revolution in China has succeeded,” she said.
On the other hand, abstinence is also a personal choice, Du said.
“People need to follow their own will in choosing for or against abstinence. You don’t choose abstinence or sex because it’s fashionable.”
Speaking on whether a more open-minded view of sex would affect the stability of relationships, Du said: “The development of a modern society has weakened many functions that were thought to be served only by marriages. Sex is absolutely not the only thing to blame when couples and families split up.”