Women and men should not marry, for love is like the seasons – it comes and goes. – Mosuo woman

In the mountains around Lugu lake, near the border between China’s Yunnan and Sichuan rovinces, live about a community of 56,000 people who enjoy a family system that is not based on marriage. The Mosuo’s relaxed and tranquil life is accompanied by absolute sexual freedom and autonomy for both men and women.

Indeed, if marriage is universal and natural, what is this culture doing about?

Mosuo refer to their romantic arrangement between a man and a woman as sese, meaning ‘walking’. All sese are of the visiting kind and none involve a permanent exchange of vows, property, child care, and expectations of fidelity. Mosuo have no language for husband and wife, preferring the word azhu, meaning friend.

The Mosuo are matrilineal and agricultural people passing property and family name from mother to daughter, so the household revolves round the women. Women do all the work to make money, all men have to do is stay at home, do some housework, and do something to entertain themselves. When a Mosuo girl becomes adolescent (13-14 years of age), she receives her own bedroom that opens both to the inner courtyard of the house and to the street through a private door. Libidinous Mosuo men and women report to have hundreds of romantic relationships in their lifetime.

A Mosuo girl has complete autonomy as to who steps through this private door into her babhuago (flower room). The only strict rule is her guest must be gone by sunrise. She can have a different lover the following night or later that same night – if she chooses. There is no expectation of commitment and any child she conceives is raised in her mother’s house with the help of her brothers and rest of the community.

There is not concept of husbands or fathers in Mosuo community, it is the girl’s brothers that took up the task of fathering her children, thus reducing her dependency on a romantic arrangement to provide for her and to protect her and her children. Among the Mosuo, a man’s sister’s children is considered his paternal responsibility – not those who are borne from his nocturnal visits to various flower rooms. Hence sexual relations and family relations are kept distinctly separate and not interdependent.

The mechanics of such relationships are characterized by Mosuo’s sacred regard of each individual’s autonomy, sexual and otherwise – for a man and a woman. Commitment is looked as inappropriate – an attempt to control the other person’s sexual choice and freedom. Jealousy is considered as aggressive and intrusive to the sacred autonomy of other person and is ridiculed thus. So Mosuo men and women have freedom to foster as many romantic relationships as they want to and discontinue as they please, even having simultaneous relationships. It is all instantaneous and there is no concept of ‘future’ involved.

Sassy and confident, a Mosuo girl grows up cherished in a circle of male and female relatives. When she invites a boy into her flower room, it will not be for a support for future but for sheer love, lust, or raging hormones. She will not need that boy to have a home, to make a family, to support her children. She already knows that she will always have it.