While there are indications of shifts in sexual attitudes and behaviour, mainstream Chinese culture remains strongly heteronormative, and those who do not conform to the privileged status of the heterosexual male experience restrictions in terms of sexual autonomy and sexual expression. Stigma attached to LGBT people exists in every aspect of social life: they face discrimination in accessing employment, promotion, social welfare sharing, and access to health resources. There is intense pressure on all Chinese people, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity, to get married in order to access social benefits and gain social acceptance. This pressure has in turn created new disadvantaged groups including, for example, heterosexual wives of gay men. In addition, the government does not allow open discussion of LGBT issues in newspapers, magazines, books, films and television programmes. There are few or no positive representations of LGBT people in literary and artistic works. As a result, the sexual life of LGBT populations remains very much underground. 


This Policy Audit was a collaboration between Pink Space Sexuality Research Centre and IDS.

Case study

This Policy Audit examined the cultural, political and economic spheres in China from the perspective of people with disabilities. Through a series of case studies we argued that the heteronormative assumptions that underpin disability policies do not recognise the sexual desires and sexual needs of people with disabilities. Therefore, laws, families and society at large treat sexual behaviours among people with disabilities as abnormal, and the disabled as people who need to be arrested, invisible and even criminalised. Not only do the current laws and regulations fail to recognise people with disabilities as sexual beings and as having sexual needs, they also give power to guardians to have complete authority to control the sexuality of people with disabilities, all in the name of care, responsibility and law.


This paper set out to explore the extent to which existing policies and laws address or reinforce interlocking forms of discrimination faced by people with disabilities. It did so with a particular focus on sexuality, as sexuality offered a useful analytical lens for unpacking the construction of people’s lives and livelihoods through legal and policy structures that, ostensibly, set out national and federal guidelines to enhance the wellbeing of people with disabilities.

The paper was structured around three questions:

  • How are the sexual needs and sexual rights of people with disabilities, their rights to sexuality, intimate relationships, and family life dealt with in laws, regulations and policies?
  • How are people with disabilities represented within these laws, including the way that the guardian system supervises and regulates their sexual and reproductive health?
  • How is the issue of sexual and reproductive health education reflected in the laws, regulations and policies for people with disabilities and their implementation? 

In the Chinese legal framework, there are approximately 50 policies, regulations and laws which directly or indirectly relate to the lives of people with disabilities. The research team conducted a review of these official documents in order to understand how people with disabilities are constructed, represented and protected (or neglected) in the law. To collect empirical data, they engaged with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provided support to people with disabilities and carried out detailed discussions with their staff. A number of small focus group discussions with disabled service users and their carers was undertaken. Finally, Pink Space staff conducted a systematic search of the organisation’s ‘story store’, an archive of stories collected through five years of work with people with disabilities.

Policy Audit: Sexuality and Disability in Policies Affecting Chinese People with Disabilities

  • Law-makers and policymakers at the national level should involve people with disabilities and grass-roots organisations in the consultation processes, to guarantee their needs and desires are represented and reflected in the policies and laws that are relevant to them
  • Local and regional ministries that are responsible for implementing national policies should integrate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights across national policies and provide better access to sexual health resources for people with disabilities
  • NGOs and the civil society sector working on disability issues need to work across fields with NGOs working on sexuality issues to reach a better understanding of disability and sexuality issues