The Dire Need for Sex Education in South Korea

(Source)

As you probably suspected, only a very small percentage of Korean teenagers are having sex. The average age that they started though, was as young as 14, and that doesn’t just affect them academically.

Or at least, that’s the take-away message of the news article below, which I was pleasantly surprised to see on the front page of Yahoo! Korea last week. Unfortunately it is rather sloppily written, raises more questions than answers, seems to ignore teenage prostitution and – in a typical irony – required age verification to search for it again the next day, but I’m cautiously optimistic that the information will lead to more calls for improved sex education at Korean schools. After all, it can hardly get any worse.

이른 성관계가 아이들에게 미치는 영향 – The Effects of Having Sex at an Early Age

“어린나이에 갖는 성관계는 아이들에게 어떤 영향을 끼칠까?”

얼마 전 청소년들이 성관계를 시작하는 평균 연령이 14.2세며 피임율은 38%에 불과하다는 조사결과가 발표되면서 우리나라 청소년들의 성 노출 연령이 점차 낮아지고 있음이 드러나면서 청소년의 성 문제가 다시 한 번 대두되고 있다.

대한산부인과학회지에 실린 ‘한국 청소년들을 대상으로 한 성행태 조사’에 따르면 2006년 9월 13~18세 중·고등학생 7만1404명 (남 3만7420명, 여 3만4200명) 을 조사한 결과 청소년의 성관계 시작 연령은 중학교 2학년인 14.2세(남 14.0세, 여 14.5세)였다고 밝혔다.

이들의 성관계 경험률은 5.1% (남 6.7%, 여 3.4%) 였으며 성경험자의 피임률은 38%에 불과했다. 또한 성관계 경험 여학생의 14%는 임신 경험이 있었으며 이 중 85%가 임신중절수술 경험을 했다.

청소년의 생식기는 생물학적으로 완전히 성숙된 단계가 아니기 때문에 바이러스가 침투하면 대항할 힘이 부족해 이른 성경험은 자칫 자궁과 생식기의 건강을 위협할 수 있고 여자의 경우 자궁경부암의 발병확률이 급증 할 수 있음을 전문가들은 충고했다.

“What are the effects of having sex at an early age?”

The results of a survey on adolescent sexuality released some time ago shows that the average age that adolescents are exposed to sex is gradually lowering over time. Of adolescents that have already had sex, the average age that they lost their virginity was 14.2, and only 38% of them used contraception. This is making teenage sexuality become a pressing social issue again.

According to the “Survey of Korean Adolescents’ Sexual Activity” published in The Korean Gynecological Journal, of the 71,404 13~18 year-old middle and high school students surveyed in September 2006 (37, 420 boys and 34,200 girls), the average age that they lost their virginity was 14.2, which is the second year of middle school (boys at 14.0, and girls at 14.5).

Of those students surveyed, 5.1% had sexual experience (boys: 6.7%, girls 3.4%), but only 38% of them had used contraception. Also, 14.1% of those girls had gotten pregnant, 85% of whom had an abortion.

Having sex before the genitals are fully developed means that the body’s ability to fight off viruses and repair damage to them is insufficient, and in particular girls have a much greater chance of developing cervical cancer.

이른 나이에 성관계 갖은 아이들, 대학 못간다 – Adolescents That Have Sex Don’t Want to go to University

완벽하게 몸이 성장하지 못한 상태에서 갖는 성관계는 신체적인 악영향을 끼치기도 하지만 더 심각한 것은 심리적인 부작용이다.

영국 글래스고대학이 지난 6년 동안 5000명의 학생들을 대상으로 성관계와 학업성취도의 상관관계를 조사한 결과 남녀 청소년 모두 이른 성경험이 자신을 어른처럼 느끼게 만들어 학업 등에 소홀해지는 경향을 보였다는 연구결과를 사춘기저널(Journal of Adolescence)에 발표했다.

연구는 14~18세 사이의 청소년들에게 성관계를 가진 그룹과 그렇지 않은 그룹을 나누어 계속 학교를 다닐 의향과 장래희망의 변화여부 등에 대해 묻는 방식으로 진행됐다.

연구결과 16세 이전에 이미 섹스를 경험한 청소년 중 39%가 대학 진학 등 학업을 더 연장하고 싶은 생각이 없다고 대답했으며 성경험이 없는 학생들은 24%만이 학업연장에 대한 뜻이 없는 것으로 나타났다.

앨리슨 파크스는 “청소년기에 성경험을 가지게 되면 더욱 이성과 함께 있는 시간을 원하는 것으로 나타났다”며 “일찍 성을 경험한 남녀 모두 마치 자신이 선구자인 것처럼 행동하는 경향을 보였다”고 말했다.

(Source)

While having sex before one’s body is fully developed is bad physically, the mental side effects are far greater.

A study of the sexual experiences and academic accomplishments of 5000 adolescent boys and girls conducted for the last 6 years by the University of Glasgow, published in the Journal of Adolescence, shows a negative relationship between the two. In short, adolescents with sexual experience tended to feel that they were already adults, and so paid less attention to their studies.

The study’s method involved dividing 14~18 year-olds into two groups: those with sexual experiences and those without, and asking each about their plans for the future. Of the 16 year-olds that had already had sex, 39% said that they had had enough of schooling and did not plan to go on to university, but only 24% of virgins felt the same way. According to Alison Parkson, this was partially because “those adolescents that first had sex at an early age wanted to spend more and more time with members of the opposite sex,” and that they “felt that they were pioneers.”

성관계 그 후, 밀려오는 불안감 – Anxiety and Depression After Having Sex

충동 에 이끌려 성관계를 맺은 후 정신적으로 미성숙한 아이들에게는 그제 서야 불안감이 물밀 듯이 밀려온다.

우리나라에서 청소년 시절에 성관계는 물론 이성교제 역시 불건전하고 몰래해야한다는 인식이 사회전반에 깔려 있다.

즉 아이들에게 이성과의 관계는 일종의 ‘죄’라는 이미지가 강하기 때문에 이성교제나 성관계가 이뤄지는 것은 단연 어른들의 눈을 피한 탈선의 상황에서가 주를 이루게 된다.

게다가 신체적으로는 임신이 충분히 가능한 나이고 또 그것을 본인들도 인지하고 있기 때문에 심한 불안감을 겪게 되는 것이다.

상담21성건강연구소 유외숙 박사는 “아이들은 무방비하게 인터넷에 노출되다보니 실제적인 것이 어떤 느낌을 줄까 하는 호기심과 욕구에 사로잡히게 된다”며 “그러나 섹스를 하고 돌아서자 마자 ‘임신했을까, 만족을 못시켰을까, 부모님에게 알려질까’ 등의 불안감이 찾아오기 때문에 자기평가가 상당히 낮아지게 된다”고 설명했다.

유 박사는 이어 “게다가 이런 고민들을 해결 할 곳이 필요한데 실제 청소년들이 문제를 들고 찾아갈 만한 곳이 없어 혼자 앓게 되는 경우가 많다”며 “이런 불안감이 심해지면 대인기피증이 생기거나 정말 성관계가 필요한 시기가 됐을 때 제대로 된 성생활을 못하게 되는 경우도 있다”고 덧붙였다.

(Source)

Adolescents that act on their urges to have sex before they are mentally ready for it tend to have feelings of anxiety, uneasiness and depression afterward.

In Korean society, there is almost a universal taboo against adolescents dating, meaning that they have to do it secretly. Indeed, having sexual relationships or even dating the opposite sex is virtually considered a crime by adolescents here, and hence that that which does occur is in places far from the eyes of adults.

In addition, as the girls are aware that there is a chance that they might get pregnant, then they in particular suffer a great deal of anxiety and depression.

According to Dr. Yu Wae-sook at Consult 21 Sexual Health Research Institute, “adolescents are defenseless against what they see on the internet, and naturally get caught up in and want to physically experience those things for themselves,” but also that once they do, “they worry about such things as if they are pregnant, if they were good enough and if their parents will somehow find out. This causes them a great deal of anxiety, and lowers their self-worth and confidence.”

Moreover, “adolescents don’t really have anywhere or anyone to go to for answers, and so have to continue worrying about them alone” and “that these worries can become so serious that they become reclusive. This can have grave consequences for their future sex lives once they reach an age when they would normally be physically and emotionally mature enough to start one.” (end)

(Source: Unknown)

As always, please feel free to correct any mistakes above, which is by no means a literal translation.

For more information about the issues raised, see here for a related survey conducted in 2003 and my analysis, and Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling here for his on similar surveys conducted in late 2008; you may also find this recent post of mine on the Korean age of consent interesting. Meanwhile, I will try to find out more information about the survey itself in the next few days, particularly the methodology used!

18 thoughts on “The Dire Need for Sex Education in South Korea

  1. Typo: 39% said that they *did had had* enough of schooling and did not plan to go on to university. Thanks for the translation.

  2. Hello James,

    Does improved sex education lead to a fall in teenage sex?

    According to Wikipedia (I know it is not the most reliable source, but it will do for now) the USA has a teenage pregnancy rate of 55.6 per 1000 women, the UK has 29.6, while Korea has one of the lowest rates at 2.9. These statistics show that Korea does not suffer by providing a poor sex education to its teenagers. Korea would be hard pressed to have a lower teenage pregnancy rate than 2.9.

    Both the USA and the UK provide its teenagers with extensive sex education programs which fail to prevent teenagers from having sex. According to your blog Korea fails to provide its teenagers with a proper sex education and as a result has the one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in the world.

    Could this possibly mean that if you tell teenagers how to have safe sex, they will have sex?

    Pat

    • Are you being facetious?

      If not, then there’s so many false assumptions, gaps in knowledge and flawed logic in your comment then I don’t even know where to begin. Quite frankly, I see little point in bothering.

      If I must, then let me remind you that correlation does not imply causation. Are you really arguing, even just for a moment, that Korea’s low teenage pregnancy rates are entirely due to its crappy sex education programs? That teens in the UK, US and Korea should be treated as monolithic units, with the same culture, school hours, opportunities to meet the opposite sex, and access to contraception etc. etc., sex education being the only variable?

      That’s bad enough, but you’re also making a huge leap of faith by implying that because the USA and the UK have extensive sex education programs, then they both have universal, non-ideological and uniformly beneficial and appropriate ones. A 5 minute Google search will reveal that that is by no means the case, as well as the overwhelming evidence that sex education does lead to teens tending to lose their virginity at a later age, and/or increased use of contraception, less prevalence of STDs, less pregnancies, abortions etc. etc.

      Yes, I really shouldn’t have bothered…

        • Indeed. In the interests of full disclosure though, I do think that the vast majority of teenagers are not mature enough to handle it – or rather, the possible consequences – and I’d seriously recommend to my daughters to wait until they were 18.

          Lest I sound hopelessly naive and idealistic though, in my defence I doubt there’s many 21 year-olds (let alone older adults!) who don’t regret losing their virginity at 16 or 14 or whenever (especially women), and I do very much recognize that such advice from adults is likely to be completely ignored, so teens still need access to contraception and helpful and approprate advice and information etc., or at least the ability to find the latter for themselves via the internet and school counsellors and so on.

          • Oh absolutely – my point is really that the important thing is information. Well-informed, mature and sensible teenagers are far less likely to get themselves into trouble regarding sex, whether it be physical, emotional, legal or whatever. For some (maybe only a few) teenage sex is not something regrettable. I’ve seen firsthand how these issues have affected people in different countries including Korea, and I feel compelled to say that just because Wikipedia says that Koreans have a low teenage pregnancy rate does not mean that teenage sex isn’t a big problem there.

          • Aren’t there many 21 year-olds (let alone older adults) who regret not losing their virginity at 16 or 14?

            I mean, sex is, ehm, cool, and virginity is, khm, socially awkward. Isn’t it?
            Or is it just me who feels that early virginity loss correlates positively with confidence in oneself?

          • James, please don’t speak for me, it’s highly offensive. I’m a 25 year old woman who lost her virginity at the age of 15. I have never regretted it for a second.

            I also had proper sex education, and therefore felt I could make an informed decision.

            • Good for you. But I don’t deserve your offense – saying that “I doubt there’s many 21 year-olds (let alone older adults!) who don’t regret losing their virginity at 16 or 14 or whenever (especially women)” isn’t “speaking for you” at all. If I’d said “There are not many 21 year-olds…” then sure, that would be. But as it is it’s clearly just my opinion.

    • “which fail to prevent teenagers from having sex”
      because sex is an universal human value. Teenagers, being humans, value sex a lot. Therefore they’re going to have it.

      Sexual education just reduces the tension between all parties involved. Except when it doesn’t.

  3. Speaking from my experience.. Korean teenagers have definitely less opportunities to have sex and less interest in having sex than Western teenagers. That could be due to the social and cultural influence, and also immaturity of Korean teenagers. It is not surprising given that there are many single women in their 20s and 30s who are still virgins…

    I doubt though that this kind of surveys and researches will improve the sex education in Korean schools. Honestly I don’t think there are many teachers qualified to teach the sex education. Ignorance about sex and safe sex is a problem not just of kids, but also of adults in Korea. The conversation about sex is still very tabooed, especially between parents and children. I don’t think such an environment will change any time soon…

    • You do not need teachers to do sex educations.
      What you need are brochures, wikipedia and condom vending machines.

      That, and sane parents.

  4. I wholeheartedly support those “pioneers”.

    “Of the 16 year-olds that had already had sex, 39% said that they had had enough of schooling and did not plan to go on to university, but only 24% of virgins felt the same way. According to Alison Parkson, this was partially because “those adolescents that first had sex at an early age wanted to spend more and more time with members of the opposite sex,”
    That’s so adult. Children study. Adults work. Adults spend time with other adults, often of the opposite sex. Children spend time with books they’d rather not read.

    “Adolescents that act on their urges to have sex before they are mentally ready for it tend to have feelings of anxiety, uneasiness and depression afterward.”
    And adolescents that do not have sex tend to have eelings of anxiety, uneasiness and depression, period.

  5. I live in Andong, South Korea, and have done so for the past three years. I can tell that the education system in South Korea as a whole is a mess. The students are taught next to nothing about the world around them. Many students can barely find other countries on a global map, and little knowledge of world history. I can’t imagine how bad the sex education must be here in schools. I know teens have sex, it’s also seen in their movies and music. It’s hard to think that a society that has very sexy music and movie stars (which probably screw around) knows so little about sex and related things. I’ve been with a few Korean girls, and they seem to dislike foreplay or anything that sets a mood. They’ll do it, and expect you to finish quick so they can get on with their lives. They don’t seem to know that it’s a pleasurable experience. I do hope they revamp the education system as a whole here, it NEEDS it.

    Thanks for the post! I love reading about Korean things from non-Koreans, keep up the good work!

    Ketan

    http://ketanhein.wordpress.com

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