The development of a sexual identity in Asian culture is complicated by the fact that it is considered taboo to discuss sex, which is deemed a shameful topic (Chan, 1997). Wolf (1995) noted that the avoidance of sexual discussion made virtually impossible any true survey of sexual prac­tices among most Asian groups. Indeed, any Asians who would respond to sexual surveys are likely to be particularly unrepresentative.

Asian women are reared in a culture where women assume subservient roles to men. Confucian precepts, which dominated many cultures of

China, Japan, and Korea and continue to do so today, are patriarchal. The “Three Obediences” for women according to Confucian precepts require respect to father at home; respect to husband after marriage; and respect to sons at old age. The “Four Virtues” of women are chastity, reticence, a pleasing manner, and domestic skills. Even Asian American women must struggle with the conflicting messages from their unique families and those promoted by the dominant U. S. society (Pfeifer & Sussman, 1991).

Recognizing the multiplicity of cultures, it is difficult to discuss Asian women or Asian American women as a group. Still, the stereotypes are pervasive. Asian American women have been presented as submissive, gen tie, and quiet while also being portrayed as highly sexualized, erotic geisha, or “Suzie Wong” types (Chan, 1997; Oyserman & Sakamoto, 1997). Del Carmen (1990) confirmed that Asian Americans are less verbal and ex pressive in their interactions than White Americans. They appear to rely to a great degree on indirection and nonverbal communication, such as silence and the avoidance of eye contact as signs of respect. Japanese Amer icans, for example, value implicit, nonverbal, intuitive communication over explicit, verbal, and rational exchange of information. Whether these images and findings will carry across Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and all other Asian groups is a question still to be examined.


For girls and women sexuality evolves from simple stereotyping into a constellation of complex roles and challenges across the lifespan. Begin ning in girlhood gender socialization involves the combination of socially constructed expectations, biological transformations, and individual ad justments. Girls and women continuously shape and reshape their sexual lives in an effort to understand and meet their personal needs and the expectations of society. Although there are sets of experiences, issues, and stereotypes that appear relevant to gender regardless of class, culture, or ethnic background, there are other domains impacting the daily lives of women of color that must be interpreted through the different lenses these women are forced to wear. Thus, an understanding of sexual roles cannot occur without the simultaneous examination of the various contexts in which they occur.

The critical issue that must be examined is whether we can continue to ignore the variations across and within groups of ethnic women. Clearly, there are points that all women have in common, but the differences aris ing from social class, religion, and cultural background require attention and explication. As researchers become more sophisticated in dealing with these distinctions, they will become more understanding of the sexual roles across the lifespan and the expectations these entail.