The myth of the sexless Asian male

This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.

My favorite masseur recently reappeared after long, unexplained absence. My joy, I am not ashamed to admit, is uncontainable. Every week I look forward to his strong hands on my body, pummeling my flesh, kneading my muscles, stroking my pressure points with just the right amount of force. And of course I wriggle and grunt and moan, taking pleasure, despite the pain, in the relief that floods my entire being. After each session, I am rendered almost immobile, but sated.

Despite finding myself in the throes of what may be akin to ecstasy while being massaged, there is not even an eighth of an ampere of erotic charge sparked by this man’s dexterous ministrations upon my body. Arousal level: zero.

Earlier this week, in Hong Kong, I went in for a foot massage. The person sent to attend to me was a man. This was not the first time; on previous visits to Hong Kong, I somehow was also given male masseurs.  I recall having a masseuse only once. Not that it really made a difference. The men have all been equally gifted with their hands, applying the right pressure, lulling me into a state of relaxation while pampering my feet.

Again, despite their being male, no sexual dimension of any sort has ever tinged our physical interactions, notwithstanding the fact that the foot is said to be an erogenous zone, and many a man has been known to have a foot fetish.

Clearly not these masseurs, or if they did, I never detected it. Perhaps it’s because of their looks, or the emotionless manner in which they did their jobs. I didn’t find them remotely attractive; in fact, they were hardly remarkable at all. I remembered that one episode in Sex & the City where Samantha Jones has sex with a hunky masseur with, well, the magic touch. And I thought, too, of the massage trope so popular in porn, how what might have started out as therapeutic quickly turns into suggestive strokes aimed at the nether regions before segueing into full-on sex.

Had any of the masseurs offered to me been as hunky as Samantha’s, I might have demurred and requested a masseuse instead. Somehow none of the men at the foot massage salon, or indeed, even my wonderful “regular” have ever packed any heat, so to speak. In fact, their persona could be called sexless.

I couldn’t help but wonder about another popular trope, that of the sexless Asian male.

It may be an unfair stereotype, but in general, Asian men used to be widely portrayed as emasculated, non-threatening and totally lacking in sex appeal. Huffington Post cites a 2014 study by dating site OK Cupid which concluded that “Asian men are found less desirable than other men on the app. In a speed-dating study conducted at Columbia University, Asian men had the most difficulty getting a second date. And in 2018, it’s shockingly common to come across profiles that say ‘Sorry, no Asians.’”

The sexless Asian male stereotype–the tech geek, the servile sidekick, the one who never got the girl–in contrast to the exotic, erotic, mysterious, and often fetishized Asian woman, was created and continues to perpetuated by Western media and pop culture. One needn’t be an anthropologist to understand that this diminishing of Asian masculinity was also a way of asserting the superiority of the white male.

This asserted superiority was evident in many ways–in height, in build, in looks, in demeanor, and in penis size, even. In short–excuse the pun–the Asian male was undesirable.

This reminds me of an article I read in The Atlantic some years back about the penchant of Filipino seamen inserting implants called “bolitas” in their penises, to the delight of ladies at the port. It would appear that what they could not offer in terms of size, they made up for in sensation.

As Nowegian anthropologist Gunnar Lamvik discovered and related in his thesis, “Many Filipino sailors make small incisions in their penises and slide tiny plastic or stone balls–the size of M&M’s–underneath the skin in order to enhance sexual pleasure for prostitutes and other women they encounter in port cities, especially in Rio de Janeiro. ‘This ‘secret weapon of the Filipinos,’ as a second mate phrased it, has therefore obviously something to do with the fact that ‘the Filipinos are so small, and the Brazilian women are so big’ as another second mate put it.”

This practice is unique to Southeast Asia and is said to have been going on since the 16th century.  “Italian scholar Antonio Pigafetta accompanied Ferdinand Magellan and his crew on their explorations and journaled about a similar behavior in what is currently southern Philippines and Borneo. Apparently, it was also practiced in Thailand and Indonesia, but vanished from the historical record in the mid-17th century, when men bowed to the pressures of Islam and Christianity.”

The article goes on to state that Filipino sailors are extremely popular with Brazilian prostitutes at port not just because of the sexual prowess the bolitas allow them to demonstrate, but because of the way they treat women in general.  A Filipino ship officer told labor sociologist Steve McKay that the women “‘prefer Filipinos because we treat them nice, not like other nationalities. [Sailors from other countries] think because they pay, they can treat them badly … But the Filipinos–we treat them like girlfriends. We pay too, but we’re nice, we smile, we even court them. That’s what makes the Filipino special. We’re romantic.'”

Perhaps herein lies the value of a movie like Crazy Rich Asians. The all-Asian cast did not so much pander to stereotypes as it represented Asians of all kinds, in the process poking fun back at the West for its limited regard for Asians.  And casting Henry Golding as a hot, hunky, desirable, educated, classy and rich Asian was the perfect up-yours to the rest of the world. And timely, too. The current specimens of peak Caucasian manhood aren’t particularly looking too great at the moment.  They’re either totally spineless but corrupt or trigger happy but involuntarily celibate and therefore prone to overdosing with steroids, erupting in rage, and committing mass murder.

B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant. 

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Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.


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