IES: Vietnam


North Vietnamese: 2+, 2, 2+, 3+,-,-;-,-) 





Featured: Vietnamese; Hmong



Vietnamese (Annamese)


Jacobus X ([1893] 1898, I:p21)[1] stated that the hymen in Annamite girls is often wanting at age ten, while before it is seen to be intact. An explanation might be that “[…] the little Annamite girls are deflowered, after ten years of age, by little boys with whom the play, and repeat together the lessons which their parents have unconsciously taught them, on account of the forced promiscuity of the family in a little thatched house […]”. In the villages around Saigon [now Ho Chi Mihn City], prepuberal (ages 7, or 8, to 15, apparently in contrast to “boys”, ages 15-25) boy prostitutes, Nays (“basket”, basket carriers), take care of the homosexual urges of foreigners during the day (ibid., p108-11, 137, 171); the practice of choice is said to be fellatio. Nays were said to be nonexistent, or exceptional, in Cambodia (p214, 210-1)[2]. Matignon (1883:p161)[3]: “In Hanoi, it is not uncommon to be stopped on the main promenade at night […] by little boys, who speak French- and what kind of French, dear God- “M’r cap’tain! Come with me- me titi really piggy!” is the invitation”. As Proschan[4] footnotes, “The English word boy was taken over into French and even Vietnamese as the word for male domestic servant regardless of his age (in the same way the term was once applied to African Americans of any age). Most were between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five but could be younger or much older”.


Among the Sedang (Vietnam), according to Devereux[5], “lovemaking short of actual intercourse is permissible and routine during childhood and adolescence”. Vietnamese childrearing practices have been characterised by permissiveness, freedom, and sensuality[6]. The tie between mother and child is less important than in American families, and the Vietnamese mother delegates childcare to the extended family, especially older female siblings. In contrast to the Western Oedipal culture, Vietnam is a sibling-oriented culture. After early permissiveness, the child enters the years of latency at school age. Cultural obligation devolves upon the child, accompanied by sexual segregation and repression.

Dr. Nguyen (2000) writes[7]: “In contrast to what is popularly portrayed in American movies and television shows, in Vietnamese culture there is no tradition of a coming-of-age “birds and the bees” talk between parents and their children. Because explicit discussions about sex are taboo even within close-knit Vietnamese families, most Vietnamese adults learned about sex when they were growing up from peers and not from their parents, school, or the media. For this reason, parents who are less acculturated may be more resistant to public school-based sexual education”.

Rydstrøm (2002:p4-5)[8] notes for local Vietnamese:


“The fact that a son is bound up with significant symbolic meaning, is inseparable from a local recognition of a boy’s body in biological terms, that is to say, his genitals (i.e. the Phallus). In Thinh Tri, the body of a little boy is generally a matter of common interest and concern. For example, a little boy is usually fondly called a thang cu, which means ‘penis boy’ (lit. male penis). The genitals of small Thinh Tri boys receive a great deal of attention by being commented on, joked about, or even grasped. The local ways in which boys’ genitals are paid attention to are in sharp contrast to the fact that girls’ genitals do not receive any special attention[9]. The widespread concern in Thinh Tri with respect to boys’ genitals is related to the symbolism of blood, which does not mean the same with regard to females and males. Despite blood being acknowledged as a ‘vital life force’ (khi huyet) of both the female and male body, it is basically perceived of as a female energy. Its complementary male vital life force is ‘semen’ (khi), which is said to be the substance of male energy. This energy is thought to guarantee the continuation of the blood of a male’s patrilineage […]”.


Pastoetter (2001)[10] (read in full: IES):


Vietnam never produced sex education books like the Indian Kama Sutra or the Chinese and Japanese pillow books. Most young people get married without the least elementary knowledge […]”.(read in full: IES)


Indeed, in a 1998 study[11] it was found that


“[m]others rarely told their daughters about menstruation so many young women were terrified the first time they menstruated.  Because of the restricted education most girls received at the time, they were in a constant state of fear.  Some people thought that it was possible to get pregnant from kissing or from swimming in lakes and ponds with men, since sperm could swim into a woman.  Interviews with men show that families played no role in the sex education of men and that everything they knew was through friends or older acquaintances (Interview No. 1, male, born 1960).  Unequipped with the necessary knowledge about sexual relations, love and sexuality, girls were often confused and worried as they entered into their first love relationship.  One woman told of breaking up with her first boyfriend because when they were together he wanted to open her blouse”.



Also: Hmong






Further reading:


§         Premarital sex in Vietnam: Is the current concern with adolescent reproductive health warranted? Policy Research Division Working Paper no. 163. New York: Population Council []

§         Mensch, Barbara S., Wesley H. Clark, & Dang Nguyen Anh (2003) Adolescents in Vietnam: Looking beyond reproductive health, Studies in Family Planning 34,4:249–62 []

§         Is focus on premarital sex in Vietnam warranted? Population Briefs 10,2 (2004):5 []

§         IoS/La Trobe University (2001) HIV/AIDS-Related Knowledge, Attitudes And Behaviours, And The Sexual Health Of Secondary Students In Ha Noi: Results Of A Pilot Study []

§         "The largest and most comprehensive survey of young people ever conducted in Viet Nam was launched in Hanoi today [26 August 2005]. Drawing on the responses of 7,584 young people aged between 14 and 25 years, the results provide new and extensive information on the social life, attitudes and aspirations of young Vietnamese people today.". Chapter 4, Friendships, Dating, Sexuality and Reproductive Health: All:




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2005



[1] Jacobus X ([1893] 1898) L’Amour aux Colonies. Paris: I. Liseux. 3 vols. Second and enlarged english ed., Untrodden Fields of Anthropology (etc.). Paris: Librairie de Medecine, Folklore et Anthropologie. 2 vols. A criqigue was offered by Ross G. Forman (2002) Jacobus X Marks the Spot:  Imperialism, Sexology, and Pornography in The Untrodden Fields of Anthropology and The Crossways of Sex. 4-6 November 2002 workshop “Gender and Literature in Cross-Cultural Contexts”.

[2] Child Workers in Asia 12,3(1996) Boy prostitutes in Phnom Penh: “Boys on the streets of Phnom Penh are involved in offering sex to foreigners and to Khmer men. In 1995 local authorities acted against the problem with the first prosecution of a foreigner”.

[3] Matignon, J. J. (1883) Superstition, Crime et Misere en Chine. Lyon [etc.]: Stock; Quoted by Bleys, R. C. (1996) The Geography of Perversion: Male-to-male Sexual Behaviour Outside the West and the Ethnographic Imagination 1750 – 1918. New York, NY : Cassell, p178

[4] Proschan, Frank (2002) "Syphilis, opiomania, and pederasty": Colonial constructions of Vietnamese (and French) social diseases, J Hist Sexuality 11,4:610 et seq., n3

[5] Devereux, G. (1961) [Lecture notes], as cited by Lebar et al. (1964:p147), op.cit.

[6] Forrst, D. V. (1982) The eye in the heart: Psychoanalytic keys to Vietnam, J Psychoanal Anthropol 5,3:259-98

[7] Online in Januari 2002

[8] Rydstrøm, H. (2002) Sexed bodies, gendered bodies: children and the body in Vietnam, Women’s Studies Int Forum 25,3:359-72

[9] Girls could be referred to as a con/cai him (lit. child/ female vulva; i.e. vulva girl), but I never registered an occurrence of this term. In my observations, a little girl’s genitals are only commented on with respect to hygienic matters. Besides such comments, I have not recorded any talk about girls’ genitals; they do not appear to be a matter of conversation in daily family life. [orig. footnote]

[10] Pastoetter, J. (2001) Vietnam, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.-in-chief) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Vol. IV. New York: Continuum. Online ed.

[11] Thu Hong, Khuat (nd [1998]) Study on Sexuality in Vietnam: The Known and Unknown Issues []. Cf. Thu Hong, Khuat (January, 2003) Adolescent Reproductive Health in Vietnam: Status, Issues, Policies, and Programs. []