#JustLikeYou with hua hua: Sex Work, Shibari and Relationships through the lens of Asian European

For this week’s #JustLikeYou column, where we interview all types of different women who are #JustLikeYou, we had a little chat with hua hua. hua hua is a British Chinese artist with an unconventional third cultured kid background. She dropped out of university where she was originally studying philosophy and art history to pursue a lifestyle as an artist. She worked across different industries from film, amnesty international, sex work, gallery work, and more. Today, she is the co-founder of BORDERLINE, a platform dedicated to rope art and activities in China. She believes that rope bondage is a process of exploring our authenticities.

Read more about what it was like learning about her sexuality growing up in the UK with Chinese parents, how she got into shibari rope art, what she has learned throughout her career in shibari, and how shibari can benefit overall intimate sexual wellness for all.

Things we learnt:

  • Maya Angelou was a sex worker (how did we nót know!?!?)
  • Sugaring: A form of dating in which one partner financially supports the other, often in the form of cash or gifts
  • Some people consider sugaring as sex work

Let’s get to it.  

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hua hua, tell us a bit about yourself: where did you grow up, what are your roots, and what got you into Shibari?

I’m British Chinese from the UK. My parents immigrated to UK so I was born and raised there. For a period of time when I was a teenager I lived in Hong Kong as well. I only got into Shibari when I moved to Shanghai 6 years ago. Even though I’m from London where it’s a big cultural capital and big BDSM capital as well where it’s much easier to work and focus in this field. For some reason I picked it up when I was in China instead.  

Before I did Shibari I was interested in performance art. I dabbled in a lot of different work with a lot to express but I didn’t know what medium fitted me. When I was younger I wanted to be a filmmaker and a writer. I also dropped out of university to look into film schools. I ended up doing work that is more focused on my body. I figured using my own body was the most truthful canvas that I can do to express that I am in control of. I did lots of performance art and nude photography. I was already open minded to explore myself, my body, my sexuality and the idea of being ‘seen.’ 

I found shibari when I started working in this field and learning more about subculture. I actually met a guy on Tinder for a date who was ‘kinky’ and he took me to a BDSM party and I met some people there. It was a lucky chance. After meeting the community, I realized how mindful and conscious of how they played. They do things and be playful because they want to explore with people they can trust. I was truly inspired by this community. At that time I happened to be doing an art project with human bodies and people suggested I could try Shibari. 

I was subconsciously already interested in BDSM, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain it. Until now.  

hua hua shibari rope art bdsm the oh collective bdsm test kink test self love

 

Do you think your upbringing influenced how you view intimacy, sex, and relationships?

Growing up in London helped me feel a lot more to be ‘open’ to discuss about sex. My mum was not happy when I am so loud to talk about sex, sex life or BDSM. I am very open to talk to my sister but my mom still doesn’t like it to this day. British women are much more open to talk about sex and discuss this matter. Growing up I still sometimes felt shame and guilt because I felt like I should be open to discuss sex with my friends, but in the back of my head I hear my mum telling me how I am not being appropriate and ‘un-ladylike.’ 

I always had the question like, “Should I be so public like this? Or is this all going to backfire on me.”

hua hua shibari rope art bdsm the oh collective bdsm test kink test self love

Did you ever feel shame alongside pleasure coming from you having Asian traditional upbringing or you being a woman? 

It’s both! Shame coming from what my parents have taught me and also being a woman and what society dictates on a woman. With being a woman, I’d like to give an example where I grew up having imposter syndrome when I was dating boys. I wanted to be the ‘cool chick’ where I can talk to boys about sex. But once it gets a little bit more serious, I noticed that they get intimidated! So that also gave rise to shame and confusion for me when I was a teenager. 

Now of course you should just be yourself, but when you’re a teenager it can be confusing! 

To this point: we should just be who we truly are. If we enjoy talking about sex, talk away. If anyone feels intimidated then they are not suitable for you anyway. That intimidation can rise from insecurity and inexperience to fulfil the needs of others. 

Definitely. Women tend to talk to each other and share all the details and learning with one another. Whereas society and culture don’t give men much room to share with one another. When they do share, it’s more about the broader sense but less on the details. So they get a lot of their learning from porn! 

There’s a term called the Madonna-Whore complex where men with this complex desire a sexual partner who has been degraded (the whore) while they cannot desire the respected partner (the Madonna). I still see that to this day where they date women that they view as “fun” but would only marry or settle down with those that are “pristine and pure.”   

*Note* Naomi wolf considered that the sexual revolution had paradoxically intensified the importance of the virgin-whore split, leaving women to contend with the worst aspects of both images. Others consider that both men and women find integrating sensuality and an ideal femininity difficult to do within the same relationship.

  

How did you overcome shame then?

Part of kink is part of my way to work through my early issues toward sex and sexuality. That’s why so many people are kinky. Because we have so many conventional ideas on how to be sexual, but naturally a lot of our desires are not well accepted. So instead of fighting it all the time, you get a thrill out of the same as well.  

That’s also part of the reason why I like shibari and why I like nude photography. It’s exciting and thrilling to be in the position of ‘shame’ and rebel against the convention. 

 

hua hua shibari rope art bdsm the oh collective bdsm test kink test self love

 

Do you think your sense of rebelling came from going to an all girls school and Chinese heritage? 

Part of it but not all! I went to a Catholic all girls school and with traditional Chinese parents. Our school was wild! The more they tell you to not do, the more you want to do it!  

 

hua hua shibari rope art bdsm the oh collective bdsm test kink test self love

What were the sources you used that educated you about intimacy, relationships, sex, and more? 

I was curious so I wanted to build up all the experiences when I was young. I learned from post 10pm TV shows and also I had a really great middle school teacher who taught us sex education. 

 

You have been organizing borderline shibari courses in Shanghai - tell us a bit more about this. what prompted you to start? why china?

I came to Shanghai because of a breakup. I was in an experimental phase where I wanted a huge change. I wanted to do something creative but I never had the medium on how I could achieve it. My parents always told me to get a good solid education, get a good job, and do creative things as a hobby on the side. I didn’t want to spend years where I am working unhappily in a job just to appease my parents. So when I came to Shanghai, I was determined to start something in the creative world immediately.  

First I did videography, then I got involved with Basement 6 (underground community) then I got more access to performance art. I enjoyed them but nothing felt concrete until I found Shibari.  

When I found Shibari, it clicked. It was crafty where I can work with my hands, an aesthetic element to the crafts, a chance to work directly with human bodies, and also have important components with relationship and intimacy as well.

hua hua shibari rope art bdsm the oh collective bdsm test kink test self love

Who should visit or try out shibari classes? what type of people?

There are so many different ways of tying. It can fit whatever mood, feeling, or relationship you have with the other person. Rope is just a tool. Many people can enjoy it in different ways.  

I see a lot of couples where they used shibari to relearn and re-communicate what they like and don’t like with each other. It also increases intimacy between them as well. 

There are also some people who are unable to explain why they like Shibari but they enjoy coming to see me. That is also partly because there is so much shame in culture that shibari is something underground and is a kink that people should be ashamed about. These people just ‘KNEW’ they were into tying and being tied. Just like how a lot of kids growing up would do things that are now seem as ‘kinky’ but as a kid, it’s completely fine and normal. It’s mostly when we start getting older with societal constructs where we start feeling like our ‘kinks’ are unacceptable.  

 

hua hua shibari rope art bdsm the oh collective bdsm test kink test self love

Do you believe everyone has some sort of kink? 

I do believe everyone has the ability to do things out of the normal conservative view of what sex is. The problem is that we all have been taught with a view of what sex should be. 

A lot of people feel like they’re not interested in sex but that could also be due to them only experiencing one type of sex. There are so many ways to experience intimacy. When we think of sex, we often think of penetration. But penetration is so related to cis-gender relationships. But if you look into more queer communities, sex is a whole different way.

This is why I like doing rope because it helped me understand my sexuality a lot more. It helped me understand what I liked, such as touching, the breath, and the closeness of the bodies - not necessarily penetration. There are so many ways we can get turned on but we’ve all been taught such a small part of what sex could be. 

hua hua shibari rope art bdsm the oh collective bdsm test kink test self love

What is the greatest misconception about Shibari? 

That you are totally out of control when you get tied. People tend to think the submissive is pitiful, poor, or a person getting exploited who is going to be traumatised by the experience. But the case in BDSM is that the person receiving any kind of BDSM play is the person in power and the person who is getting all the attention! In the case of BDSM the person who is receiving it can tell you when it ends. To be tied, does not mean you’re in a ‘weaker position.’

Do you see direct benefit in Shibari and overall intimate and sexual wellness? 

Definitely. Before I did shibari, I had way more issues with trust and intimacy. One thing I enjoy about shibari is that it taught me to be vulnerable with another person. There’s a lot of strength in sharing your vulnerabilities and that doesn’t mean just being tied but the person tying as well. The more we share, the more awareness we have to what we like, what we enjoy, what we need and more. It breaks down guards and that can bring two people closer together. For people who practice BDSM safely, they are definitely more self aware of their own limits and what they consent to. 

What is one piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?

It’s important for young people to take your time to research and learn before jumping into any sexual experiences. It’s also important to share what you don’t want to do and what you don’t like before going on any dates or relationships! 

 

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