65% of Korean Couples Worry About Contraception?

The Sweet Sex and Love 2003( Source: realistic dreamer )

A quick survey on contraception use in Korea that was on the front page of Yahoo! Korea recently.

Unfortunately, not only is there no information about the methodology used, but the accompanying article is rather short, and states the obvious several times. One wonders what the point of it was.

I feel certain that it was not intended to be simply sensationalist though, as if it was then presumably it would have attracted more than 11 comments from Korea’s infamous netizens. And however dubious, its results are broadly similar to those of more reliable surveys, which is why I chose to highlight it here.

The notion that contraception is primarily men’s responsibility really does seem to be an ingrained part of Korean sexual culture then?

男·女 65% ‘피임 고민’ 08/10/09

미혼남녀들의 큰 고민 중 하나가 피임.

One big concern [Korean] men and women face is contraception.

20~39세의 미혼남녀 1,127명을 대상으로 ‘피임’에 대해 설문조사한 결과, 대부분의 미혼 남녀가 피임으로 고민해본 적이 있는 것으로 나타났다.

1, 127 single men and women aged between 20 and 39 were given a survey about contraception, and the vast majority replied that they have worried about it at some point. [Here are the questions and results].

피임으로 고민해본 경험?

Have you ever worried about contraception?

남자 59%, 여자 71%가 ‘고민해본 경험이 있다’고 답했다. 또한 남자보다 여자들이 피임으로 인한 고민이 많은 것으로 나타났다.

59% of men and 71% of women replied that that had. It emerged that more women than men had worried about it.

피임, 남자와 여자 중에 누가 더 신경 써야 하는가?

Who should be more concerned about contraception? Men, or women?

The Sweet Sex and Love

남자 79%, 여자 83%가 ‘당연히 남자가 더 신경 써줘야 한다’고 답했다.

79% of men and 83% of women replied that “Of course it is men that have to be more concerned.”

선호하는 피임 방법은?

What type of contraception do you prefer?

주로 쓰는 피임 방법으로 ‘콘돔’이 63%를 차지, 1위로 꼽혔다. 이어 ‘체외 사정’, ‘배란 주기법’, ‘먹는 피임약’ 사용 등이 뒤따랐다.

The most preferred choice was the condom, with 63% of respondents choosing that. That was followed by the withdrawal method, the rhythm method, and the oral contraceptive pill.

성관계시 피임이 중요한가?

Is contraception important in a sexual relationship?

남자 95.10% 여자 100%가 ‘중요하다’고 답해, 남녀 모두 피임의 중요성에 대해서 인식하고 있는 것으로 나타났다.

95.1% of men and 100% of women replied that it was important. Both men and women perceive it as being important.

이 번 설문조사 결과, 미혼남녀 모두 피임의 중요성에 대해 인식하면서도 정작 피임을 제대로 못해 고민하는 것으로 나타났다. 이는 감정이나 분위기에 휩쓸려 피임을 등한시하는 경우가 많기 때문. 피임도 사랑을 나누는 하나의 과정임을 인식하는 것이 무엇보다 중요할 것이다.

While this survey showed that both men and women perceived contraception as being important, in reality many had experienced difficulties with it. And many people neglected it because of the atmosphere or getting swept away in the heat of the moment also. But people need to acknowledge that using contraception is part of the process of making love (end).


Korean-language Sources on Gender and Sexuality #1: PlayHolic

The Art of Seduction It’s official: from now on, I’ll be using Korean-language sources on gender and sexuality here just as much as English ones.

Partially, this is simply to maintain and improve my Korean ability, which I’ve sorely neglected since starting a new job back in July. But the main reason is that not only can foreign-language commentary on any subject quickly become out of date, it also makes one reliant on the views of those Koreans fluent in English, which are not necessarily reflective of Koreans as a whole.

Consider the following by sociologist Yoshio Sugimoto for instance. He is talking about Japan, but his points are equally relevant to Korea:

Dominating in the upper echelons of society, core subcultural groups are able to control the educational curriculum, influence the mass media, and prevail in the areas of publishing and publicity. They outshine their peripheral counterparts in establishing their modes of life and expectations in the national domain and presenting their subcultures as the national culture. The samurai spirit, the kamikaze vigor, and the soul of the Yamato race, which some male groups may have as part of the dominant subculture of men, are promoted as presenting Japan’s national culture….

More generally, the slanted views of Japan’s totality tend to reproduce because writers, readers, and editors of publications on the general characteristics of Japanese society belong to the core subcultural sphere. Sharing their subcultural base, they conceptualize and hypothesize in a similar way, confirm their portrayal of Japan between themselves, and rarely seek outside confirmation….(An Introduction to Japanese Society, pp. 12-13).

And in particular:

Core subcultural groups overshadow those on the periphery in inter-cultural transactions too. Foreign visitors to Japan, who shape the images of Japan in their own countries, interact more intensely with core subcultural groups than with peripheral ones. In cultural exchange programs, Japanese who have houses, good salaries, and university educations predominate among the host families, language trainers, and introducers of Japanese culture…(p. 13)

After two years of immersing myself in (limited) English-language sources on gender and sexuality then, it’s high time to make Korean language-ones my starting point instead.

MeinkampfTo that end, let me begin by recommending the blog PlayHolic (플레이홀릭) written by a Korean woman from Jeju called Im-ji (임지; probably not her full name). I’ve been following her on Twitter for several months now, but I confess it was only a few days ago that I first really read her tweets, my curiosity picqued by one that mentioned Talk on Sex (토크온섹스), which turned out to be a weekly podcast that she is the co-host of. At over an hour long and (not unreasonably) with no transcripts though, then those are well beyond my ability to keep up, but fortunately her blog entries aren’t. I’ve translated this recent one on Korean attitudes to contraception below.

Coming in addition to this recent post of mine on the subject, admittedly it probably provides no new information for readers of this blog, but it does at least demonstrate that reliable information about the contraceptive pill is available in Korea. Unfortunately Korean women are generally disinclined to seek that information out though, as like I explain here (and Im-ji briefly alludes to), many fear that being proactive and insistent on using contraception will make them appear sluttish to their partners, and in turn possibly their peer group.

For those reasons, I’ll be focusing in the next few weeks on finding any attempts that have been made to counter these stereotypes, and particularly by Korean celebrities and/or institutions. For the former, a good person for me to start might be former S.E.S. member Eugene (김유진), who advertised the contraceptive pill in 2006 (two examples are included below).

(I apologize in advance for any mistakes in the translation, and welcome any corrections if any readers feel it needs them)

피임에 대한 여성들의 고민 / Women’s Troubles With Contraception (20/10/2009)

피임은 인류에게 떼려야 뗄 수 없는 영원한 숙제나 마찬가지이다. 미혼은 미혼이기에, 기혼자들은 미리 세운 가족 계획에 따라 피임을 할 수밖에 없다.

Contraception is inseparable from being human: it is a perpetual problem. But while married women have to make plans about having children, unmarried women shouldn’t have children and so have no choice but to use it.

그 피임 방법이 누구나를 만족시키고, 쉽다면 행복하겠지만 안타깝게도 실제 피임은 그리 간단한 문제만은 아니다.

Everybody should use a contraceptive method that is satisfactory for them, and if it is easy to use then they will be happy. But unfortunately the reality is that choosing contraception is not a simple issue.

Son Ye-jin Song Il-gook The Art of Seduction( Source: Naver Movies )

남녀 모두 각자가 선호하는 피임법이 있기 마련이고, 제대로 피임을 하지 않으면 불안감과 초조감에 섹스를 즐길 수 없다.

Of course, all men and women should use the contraceptive method(s) they prefer, but if they are not used properly then this can make one feel ill at ease and nervous and unable to properly enjoy sex.

아무래도 임신은 여성의 몸을 빌어 나타나기 때문에 피임에 대한 부담감은 여성이 더 크기 마련이다.

However, as it is women’s bodies that are affected by pregnancy then of course women feel more of the burden for contraception.

피임이 제대로 되지 않을 경우, 여성들은 임신에 대한 불안감 때문에 섹스에 집중하지 못한다. 또섹스가 끝나고 나서도 임신 가능성에 대한 공포감에 시달린다. 인터넷 게시판에는 임신진단시약과 사후피임약에 대한 물음이 끊이질 않는다.

If contraception is not used correctly, then women become nervous about becoming pregnant and are unable to concentrate on enjoying having sex. They are very uneasy about this possibility after having sex also. Questions about pregnancy tests and morning-after pills never cease on internet cafes and message boards.

그렇다면 여성들은 과연 피임을 제대로 하고 있을까?

How can women use contraception properly then?

산부인과 전문의들로 구성된 피임연구회가 세계피임의 날을 맞아 19~34세 여성 1,000명을 대상으로 실시한 ‘한국 여성의 피임에 대한 인식과 행태 조사’에 따르면, 2,30대 여성의 44.5%가 ‘피임은 남성이 해야 옳다’고 답했다. 오직 4.8%만이 ‘피임은 여성이 해야 한다’고 대답했다. 이는 여성들이 남성들에게 피임을 의존하고 있다는 것으로 해석해도 무방할 듯 싶다.

Gynecologists and contraception-research centers recently welcomed World Contraception Day, and according to a survey of knowledge and attitudes to contraception of 1000 Korean women aged between 19 and 34, 44.5% replied that “contraception is men’s responsibility,” but only 4.8% replied that it is women’s responsibility. In short, Korean women rely on men to provide and use contraception.

SES Eugene Contraceptive Pill Advertisement

( Source: cupitee )

피임을 하지 않은 상태에서 성관계 후의 대처 방법도 ‘임신진단시약으로 임신 여부를 확인’하는 비율이 62.4%, ‘응급피임약(사후피임약)을 복용하겠다’고 답한 비율이 30.7%로 나타났다.

When those women that don’t use contraception were asked how they dealt with the possibility of becoming pregnant, 62.4% replied that they used a pregnancy test, and 30.7% replied that they used emergency contraception.

피임을 남성의 몫으로 떠넘기는 경우, 콘돔을 사용한다면 그나마 다행이다. 문제는 질외사정법 등으로 피임을 떠넘기는 경우이다. 질외사정법은 엄밀히 이야기하면 올바른 피임 방법이라 할 수 없다. 질외사정은 질 내 사정에 비해 임신 가능성이 줄어들 순 있지만 사정 이전에 이미 정자가 일부 정액에 섞여 분비되므로 엄밀한 의미에서는 피임법이라 부를 수 없다.

In the case of men fulfilling their portion of a couple’s responsibility to use contraception, it is lucky [for women] if they use condoms. Those that use the withdrawal method will have problems though, as it is not a precise method. Of course, if the man does not ejaculate into the woman’s vagina then the possibility of becoming pregnant is lowered, but sperm and semen can still mix and be secreted before a man ejaculates.

가장 많은 연인들이 이용하는 피임법이 콘돔이다. 간편하고, 몸에 무리가 가지 않는 방법이기 때문이다. 그러나 그 이질감 때문에 남성들은 물론 여성들 중 일부도 콘돔 사용을 꺼려하기도 한다.

By far, Korean lovers’ preferred choice of contraception is the condom. It is convenient and does not place a burden on the body. However, because of the reduced feeling many men and also some women don’t like to use it.

그럴 때 선택할 수 있는 피임법이 먹는 피임약이다.

In  that case, one alternative is the contraceptive pill.

Korean Contraceptive Pill Advertisement( Source: Encyber )

그러나 우리나라에서 먹는 피임약은 유달리 그 편견의 정도가 심하다. 체중을 증가시키거나 불임에 이를 수 있다는 오해가 팽배하기 때문이다.

However, in Korea the contraceptive pill has an exceptionally bad reputation. Rumors and misunderstandings about it have spread easily, such as it increasing your weight and causing sterility.

먹는 피임약은 임신을 가능하게 하는 호르몬인 에스트로겐과 프로게스테론을 통해 여성의 배란 및 생리를 조절하는 약이다. 피임 실패율이 낮고 콘돔처럼 성감을 떨어뜨리지 않기 때문에 잦은 성관계를 갖는 연인이나 부부에게 적합한 피임법이다.

[But] through the hormones estrogen and progesterone, the contraceptive pill is a medicine that can control when you ovulate and have your period. It also has a lower failure rate than the condom, and doesn’t reduce sexual feeling. For these reasons, it is particularly appropriate for lovers who often have sex and for married couples.

살이 찌거나 여드름이 나는 등의 부작용 등은 초창기 피임약에서 나타났던 증상이나 최근 저용량 피임약들이 도입되면서 이런 부작용들을 해결하고 있다.

It is true that first generation contraceptive pills did have the side effects of causing women to gain weight and cause acne, but those have been resolved in more recent versions by lowering the dosages.

먹는 피임약은 다른 피임법과 마찬가지로 사용을 중단하면 바로 임신 능력이 회복된다. 장기 여행 등으로 피임약을 복용해 본 여성이라면 약을 먹지 않을 경우, 바로 생리가 찾아오는 것을 경험해봤을 것이다.

Like other contraceptive methods, as soon as you stop using the contraceptive pill your fertility recovers. Women who have gone on extended trips and stop taking the pill have reported that their period returned quickly.

또 먹는 피임약이 호르몬을 조절하기 때문에 막연하게 나쁘다는 이미지가 있는데, 먹는 피임약은 전부 용해되며, 복용하지 않을 땐 체내에 그 성분이 남아 있지 않기 때문에 영향을 미치지 않는 걸로 알려져 있다.


Because the contraceptive pill works by controlling one’s hormones, then it has a vague, bad image in Korea. But as the contents of the pill are completely absorbed into the body when you take it, then there are no lingering effects if you decide to stop using it.

특히 국내에 최근 출시된 야즈는 기존 먹는 피임약이 21일간 복용하면, 7일간 쉬었던 데 비해 24일간 복용하고 4일은 위약을 복용하는 세계최초의 24/4 용법 방식으로 체내 호르몬 변화의 폭을 감소시켜 전체 생리주기 동안 더 안정된 호르몬 수준을 유지하는 것으로 나타났다.

In particular, a new contraceptive pill called Yaz has been released, and this is the first in the world which you can take for 24 days and have a 4 day break, unlike the standard 21 days and 7 days respectively. This change means that your hormone levels don’t fluctuate so much when you have your period.

임신은 비록 여자가 하는 것이지만 그 과정에 이르기까지에는 남녀 모두가 공동의 역할과 책임이 있다. 그렇기 때문에 피임은 남자의 몫이 아닌 여성과 남성이 함께 챙겨야 하는 당연한 책임이다. 여자가 적극적으로 피임을 하는 것에 대해 주변의 시선을 신경 쓸 필요가 없다는 이야기이다. 자기 몸의 주체는 자신이 되어야 하고, 여성이 먼저 나서서 자신의 몸에 맞는 피임법을 찾는 것이 그 주체가 되는 첫걸음이다.

Even if getting pregnant is only the lot of women, as that process involves both men and women then both have a responsibility to use contraception: not just men. And you should not care about what other people think of you for being proactive and responsible about it: your body is your own, and so the first step is to find the right birth control method for you.

피임을 상대 남성에게만 맡겨두는 것이 아니라 스스로 자신의 몸에 맞는 피임법을 찾고, 성생활 역시 불안감 없이 즐기는 것이 자기 몸을 사랑하는 방법이 될 것이다.

Contraception is not the sole responsibility of men, and finding what method is most appropriate for your bodies and best able to allow you to enjoy your sex life comfortably and safely is something both partners have to do for each other (End).

Eugene SES Contraceptive Pill Advertisement( Source: cupitee )

One very mild criticism I have of the above is that, like the Korean author of the last translation I provided, Im-ji is quite positive about a new form of contraceptive pill called Yaz (야즈), but which as a commenter here has pointed out, is increasingly viewed as too dangerous by Western consumers, and is the subject of numerous lawsuits. Perhaps this information is simply not available in Korean yet?

In line with my new modus operandi, I’ll try to find that out myself this weekend…starting by asking Im-ji directly!

(For all posts in the Korean Sources on Sexuality and Gender series, see here)


Korean Sociological Image #22: Fresh, Young Meat

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment Male Objectification

For reasons that will soon become clear, girl-group Kara’s (카라) latest commercial for Cob Chicken (Cob 구어조은닭) is making big waves at the moment.

But probably most men are missing just how ground-breaking it really is. Mainly, because of Nicole’s buttocks thrust into their faces just 2 seconds in:

Part of Kara’s “butt dance” used in the choreography to “Mister” (미스터) though, which is playing in the background, it have been very strange not to have used it here. Indeed, it’s become something of a meme in K-pop, aptly demonstrated by this rather surreal clip of perhaps 25 female singers simultaneously performing it in a recent comedy program:

Korean Butt Dance

In light of that, it’s actually the sudden entrance of the well-muscled male at 0:17 that’s the most interesting and surprisng. And no, it’s not “groundbreaking” in the sense that it’s an explicit case of male objectification, which is not exactly a first for Korea. Rather, I label it as such because not only is the first time the makers of a Korean commercial have acknowledged their objectification of women and men therein, it’s also the first in which that acknowledgment has become a central, almost satirical theme of the commercial. Consider the screenshot viewers see immediately after the half-naked man for instance:

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment Objectification

In English, it reads: “Because the chicken is grilled, the fat is removed completely. Chicken’s young taste,” and, judging by the advertisement from the Cob Chicken website below, the association between chicken meat and lithe young bodies isn’t a one-off. Moreover, although the Korean language lacks the associations the English term “meat market” has, it has a close equivalent in “물이 좋다,” or “The water is good”, and of course there are numerous instances of food terms being used for body parts. For the most recent example, consider Matt’s excellent commentary at Gusts of Popular Feeling on the invention of the term “honey thighs” (꿀벅지), and one high-school girl’s laudable rare attempt to demonstrate how sexist and demeaning such language is.

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment(Source: Cob Chicken)

Granted, lauding a commercial objectifying both sexes is perhaps a strange choice to include in that vein. But recall that the academic studies of gender studies and feminism don’t really seem to have permeated wider Korean society like they did in the 1960s and ’70s in the West, with the result that a Korean language search for, say, “sexist advertisements”, will provide very few Korean examples. Getting the notion that objectification occurs in advertisements and in wider society out by whatever means then, I’d argue, is a very important first step towards rectifying that (however ironic this particular example is!).

Update: For comparison, numerous examples of the sexualizing and/or gendering of food in Western advertisements are available here.

Update 2: An amusing post from Seoulbeats on how appearing in chicken commercials seems to be a rite of passage for up and coming Korean stars.

Update 3: A photoshopped image that has been spreading around the Korean internet in the wake of the advertisement(s). Normally I’d demur from posting this sort of thing, but it seemed appropriate here:


(For more posts in the Korea Sociological Images series, see here)

Korean Sociological Image #21: Calf Reduction Surgery

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery Advertisement Before AfterEstimated reading time: 4 minutes.

It’s one thing to be aware of the popularity of calf-reduction surgery on an abstract level, but quite another to see the results in the flesh.

Or rather, the reduction thereof. And, while I’m aghast at the notion of voluntarily having one’s nerves cut and muscle removed for any cosmetic surgery procedure, in this particular case the mind simply boggles at how anybody can consider the “after” picture as an improvement.

Unfortunately though, it is neither a mistake nor a satire, but is instead from a genuine advertisement in this month’s Busan edition of Cocofun (코코펀), a free local entertainment guide available in major cities. Here is the full version:

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery AdvertisementFor the record, I’m not labeling skinny calves as unattractive by definition, particularly if a woman—and it’s almost exclusively women who undergo calf-reduction surgery—has such legs naturally; as it happens, the difficulty of finding food I wasn’t allergic to when I was young meant that my own calves probably weren’t much bigger until my mid-teens. Buffing-up in my early-20s to compensate for my own body image issues then, naturally I also prefer healthy and active women over sedentary, thin ones today. But regardless of my background, I think I would always have struggled to understand how the muscle development naturally ensuing from an active lifestyle could ever be considered unattractive.

That isn’t the case in Korea and the rest of Northeast Asia however. For a good introduction as to why, I recommend this post at FeetManSeoul for starters, while some other sources, such as the following English guide to the procedure from this cosmetic surgery clinic in Seoul for instance, also mention the fact that “Asian women have shorter legs and thicker calves than Caucasian women.” But, lest one is tempted to read too much into that curious racial comparison though, by no means do all commentators on the subject indirectly refer to some alleged Caucasian ideal, and actually even this more direct description of the procedure from the same site fails to mention it.

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery (Source)

However, there may also generational differences to consider. Take 38 year-old singer and actor Uhm Jung-hwa below for instance, appearing in a press conference with 29 year-old actor Han Chae-young for their movie Are you living with the person you love? (지금 사랑하는 사람과 살고 있습니까?) in July 2007. Ironically, both are well-known for having received extensive cosmetic surgery, but as you can see, only Uhm Jung-hwa has retained her muscular legs. I find her much the more attractive for that reason, and—assuming that she had the procedure done herself—seriously wonder how much physical exertion Han Chae-young is capable of; did I mention that calf-reduction patients have to learn how to walk again?

Uhm Jung-Hwa Han Chae-young legs calvesBut while its voluntary nature may may mean that it’s too extreme of me to compare calf-reduction surgery akin to foot-binding at this point (although both do involve the physical disablement of women for the sake of a wholly artificial beauty ideal), I will go so far as to invoke Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792) here. For not only did she note that women being considered “too susceptible to sensibility and too fragile to be able to think clearly” was partially the consequence of not receiving the physical education that boys did (see here also), tellingly she also wrote that women are “taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison,” implying that if young women weren’t so encouraged to focus their attention on beauty and outward accomplishments, they could achieve just us much as men do.

Points to ponder in a country where health-food is promoted to elementary school girls on the basis of allegedly improving their face-shape and making their undeveloped breasts and buttocks bigger. And yet still people wonder why I’m so negative sometimes!

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

Korean Sociological Image #20: Sex Sells

Yahoo Korea Cheoum Cheorom Cool UEE

Pity the hapless commentator on hidden themes in advertising. Not only is he or she often accused of overanalysis, but men in particular can be labeled as positively perverted in seeing sexual symbols in otherwise inanimate objects.

Granted, sometimes a bottle is just a bottle, and Cheoum Cheoreom Cool (처음처럼 쿨), a new brand of soju, is not the only commercial to have an animated example of its product moving across the screen below it on Yahoo! Korea at the moment. But I do wonder why the bottle is tilted the way it is though, particularly as the long-held convention in Korean alcohol advertising is that bottles should always be displayed standing upright?

As it happens, that convention is still adhered to on Cheoum Cheoreom Cool’s website, but with the soju bottle springing-up in a most satisfying manner in the corner of the screen once you click on the “over 19” button. That wasn’t the case when I wrote about its marketing campaign last month.

Naturally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

But I’m not against this latest twist per se, and indeed this advertisement for bokbunja (복분자) below with a similar theme still puts a smile on my face 4 months after first noticing it (see here for more like it). And yet Cheoum Cheoreom Cool’s version isn’t quite so, well, elegant, and smacks of desperation given that the campaign already so excessively focuses on female body parts. Perhaps like Lee Hyori before her, UEE (유이) isn’t bringing Lotte the increased market share anticipated?

Phallic Bokbunja advertisement( Source: Jinro )

Thanks to reader “JSK Hanglo” for bringing the commercial to my attention.

Update: See here for some similar phallic symbolism from the latest New Yorker.

(For all posts in my Korean Sociological Images series, see here)


“Korean Women are Sexually Conservative”

korean-etude-advertisement-song-hye-gyo(Source: Naver)

As they say, first impressions last, and my own first introduction to Korean sexual politics came with a bang when the scandal over the Baek Ji-young (백지영) sex tape erupted in late-2000. The way she was treated by the Korean media was hypocritical and shocking, and confirmed what I’d learned at university: Korea was a deeply patriarchal and sexually-conservative society.

Or at least, as the “Korean Gender Guy,”™ that’s what I’d like to pretend informed my first year in Korea. The truth is, I barely noticed at the time, being rather more concerned with getting into my Korean girlfriend’s pants. But they also say that the best way to learn a new culture is to sleep with the locals, and what I learned about sexual politics that way was no less important for being so base: the books were simply wrong about how prudish Koreans were. I’ve been poking fun at the huge gap between image and reality ever since.

But with a nod of appreciation to the advice of this regular commenter, it’s high time to move on from that extremely simplistic conception of the subject.

Just like it is misguided to think of, say, all American voters as mere “conservatives” or “liberals,” the reality is that Korean society is both profoundly sexually-liberal in some instances and sexually-conservative in others. For instance: most Koreans have sex before marriage; Korea has one of the largest prostitution industries in the world; Korean teenagers increasingly dance extremely provocatively on television; Korean women are increasingly objectified in advertisements; and, overall, censorship of sexual content in movies is rapidly easing.

And yet that combination by no means implies that Korean men and women are equally able to express and enjoy their sexuality in 2009, let alone that, like almost a decade ago, a female celebrity secretly filmed while having sex with her boyfriend wouldn’t again be ostracized by the Korean media. Indeed, one can argue that to describe Korean society as simply “sexual-conservative” is merely to gloss over its profound double-standards.

One such double-standard is the need for sexually-active women to appear inexperienced and virginal to their partners, and in that vein, this survey of condom use and sexual activity in Korea – probably the most comprehensive of its kind – found that a majority of them did so to the extent that they regarded contraception as entirely men’s responsibility, as I discussed last December. Either they didn’t provide it themselves, they didn’t insist on their partners using condoms, and/or they would even feign complete ignorance of all contraceptive methods.

Again, that’s to be expected from a “sexually-conservative” society. But bear in mind the fact that love hotels are ubiquitous here, and – as that survey demonstrates – are well used. So while this particular double-standard is hardly confined to Korea, it is particularly severe in its effects on Korean women.

In light of that, the fact that rates of oral contraceptive pill usage are extremely low in Korea (3%) shouldn’t have been a surprise to me when I learned it from this recent Korean blog post, which I’ve translated below. But while I was certainly aware of the scare-tactics used – for various reasons – by Japanese medical authorities to dissuade women from using the pill there for instance, and which meant that it was only legalized as late as 1999 (see here, here and here), in hindsight perhaps I was too optimistic about Korean women’s reaction to similar tactics used here in January. So I was taken aback:

피임에 보수적인 여자들 – When it Comes to Contraception, Korean Women Are Conservative

Korean Pill Cartoon 1Mr Kang, reporter: “As women are actively making advances in Korean society, so too are women becoming more open and assertive about sexual matters.”

Korean Pill Cartoon 2a

Mr Kang: “Today, we are going to meet Ms. Kim, a cool, forward-thinking woman with free and open attitudes to love.”

Ms Kim, caption: “I have 900 intimate male-friends…but that’s what happens if you’re as pretty as I. It’s not a crime!”

Korean Pill Cartoon 3Mr Kang: “I will ask about modern women’s opinions on sex and love…Nice to meet you Ms Kim. Ms Kim, I heard that you have very liberal and open attitudes to love. Is that true?”

Ms Kim: ” Yes. I don’t care about men that leave me, and I don’t say no to men that approach me…I’m so cool!”

Korean Pill Cartoon 4Mr Kang: “Since you are old enough, I assume that you have sex with your boyfriends. Do you take the initiative and/or insist on using contraception?”

Ms Kim: “Contraception? Surely that is men’s responsibility, yes?”

Mr Kang (gray text): “I’m surprised that you’re so conservative.”

Ms. Kim (gray text): “It is totally men’s responsibility!”

Granted, a bizarre cartoon, and probably one that detracts from rather than evinces the following points made by the blogger:

이전보다 자유로와진 미혼남녀의 성생활이나 성 담론에 비해 아직도 피임에 대한 인식은 무척 보수적이죠. 게다가 아직까지 수많은 여성들은 ‘피임=남자의 책임’이라는 구시대적 사고방식을 가지고 있는 듯 합니다. 한국 여성 피임 인식 조사에 따르면, 여성의 60%는 성관계 시 피임을 하지 않는 것으로 나타났는데 이는 ‘설마~’와 ‘막연함’ 때문이라고 합니다.

“Compared to the past, people are much more sexually active these days, and talk about sexual matters much more openly. But they are still surprisingly conservative when it comes to using contraception. In particular, many women stick to the traditional line that it is entirely men’s responsibility. According to a survey by the WHO, 60% of Korean women don’t use any contraception at all, maintaining an “it won’t happen to me” attitude.”

International Rates of Pill Usage Korea

물론, 남자에게도 책임은 있겠지만 여성들 역시 능동적일 필요가 있다고 보는데요, 통계에 따르면 남자들의 피임 방식인 “CONDOM”은 피임에 성공할 확률이 85%에 지나지 않는다고 합니다. 반면에 여성들이 준비할 수 있는 ‘먹는 피임약’인 경우, 성공 확률이 무려 99%에 이른다고 하네요.

“Of course men also have a responsibility to use contraception, but it seems that women are not fulfilling theirs. According to statistics, whereas condoms are 85% effective in preventing pregnancy, the use of the oral contraceptive pill is done entirely by women and is as much as 99% effective.”

Korean Pill vs Condom Cartoon

더치페이의 나라 네덜란드에서는 피임에 대해서도 서로를 배려하기 위해 CONDOM과 피임약을 모두 사용하는 이른바 ‘더치피임’이 널리 퍼지고 있다고 합니다. 또한 요즘 나오는 먹는 피임약(야즈)은 피임 뿐만 아니라 여드름 및 월경전불쾌장애(심한 형태의 월경전 증후군)에도 치료 효과를 인정받았다고 하니 여성 스스로를 위해서라도 꼭 한번 고려해볼 수 있길 바랍니다.

“In the Netherlands, when it comes to contraception people combine condoms with the use of the pill in order to be safer, and this is known as “Dutch [Style] Contraception.” In addition, a  new form of the pill called “Yaz” is coming onto the market, which combines a contraceptive function with helping to prevent skin problems and PMT. Women should consider this new product as an option.”

Men Women Gender 50 50And I’m afraid that that is all, although it attracted a great many commenters, most of whom agree that contraception is also women’s responsibility. But they take issue with the blogger’s description of women that don’t use the pill as “conservative,” citing concerns about side-effects, to which my response would be to direct them to this comment.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already read my earlier post on condom use and rates of sexual activity in Korea then I strongly recommend you do so to place this new information in context, and you may also be interested in the recent appointment of a minor Korean-American celebrity being named “goodwill ambassador for the Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to promote a campaign teaching young Korean women about sex and reduce abortions.” This has many positives of course, but I’d echo Brian in Jeollanam-do’s concerns that this may be “a product of, and will contribute to the perpetuation of, the belief that Americans and Westerners alone can be open about sex,” to which I’d add the stereotype that Westerners and especially Caucasians are overall much “more sexual” than Koreans. Finally, for a very frank discussion from the front-line as it were (an American woman dating Korean men), make sure to check out Doing it Korean Style!

Update: Apologies for not mentioning Dating in Korea also.