Korean Sociological Image #83: Vintage Contraceptive Pill Commercials

Spending the weekend looking for 8 year-old contraceptive pill commercials, as one does, I ended up finding some adorable 38 year-old ones instead:

Take the title dates with a grain of salt: this brief post says that they actually come from 1982, 1976, and 1976 respectively, and the second at least is corroborated by very similar print advertisements appearing in 1976 newspapers. The writer gains further credibility by noting the names of the actors in the first (An So-yeong/안소영) and third ones (Yeon Gyu-jin/연규진 and Yeom Bok-soon/염복순), and by pointing out that the 1970s ones would have appeared in cinemas rather than on television—although as TV bans on contraceptive commercials weren’t actually lifted until 2006, then presumably the same goes for the 1982 one too.

Here’s what Yeon Gyu-jin (love his expression!) and Yeom Bok-soon ‘say’ in the last one, although I confess I’m a little confused by the end caption that says it’s a “contraceptive pill that you don’t take” (먹지않는 피임야):

M: 이봐, 이봐, 첫 아기는 아들이야. / The first one has to be a son.

W: 어휴, 어휴 아들 좋아하네. 누구맘대로. 딸이 좋단 말이예요. / Tsk. You like boys, but it won’t happen. I like girls.

M: 글쎄 아들이라니까. / Well, I said I like boys.

W: 어휴, 어휴 딸이란 말이예요. / Well, I said I like girls.

M: 당신같은 딸 낳아 누굴 또 속 썩일려구. 어휴…. / If we get a girl like you, she’ll be a handful…

W: 그럼 자기 나 닮은 아들, 딸 어때요? Then, how about a boy and a girl that look like me?

M: 에이,,에이.. 그게 당신맘대로 할 수 있어? Is that something you can happen just because you want it to?

W: 그건 저한테 맡겨 주세요. 제가 자신있으니까요.  You leave that up to me. I’m confident!

Korea Contraceptive PillCelebrating 50 years of the pill in — where else? — a nightclub :) Source.

However charming the commercials may appear now though, any nostalgia for simpler times would be misplaced, as in reality Korea’s population polices were every bit as systematic and draconian as China’s back then. What’s more, the state tended to view the pill as a temporary or supplemental contraceptive at best, much preferring one-shot and permanent methods. In the 1960s, that would be the “patriotic” and “ideal” IUD; by the 1980s, sterilization.

In light of that, these pill commercials become all the more exceptional(?) and intriguing. I’d appreciate any additional information readers can provide about them.

Likewise, it’ll be interesting to see what contraceptive commercials appear — or rather don’t appear — on Korean screens in the future as the Park Geun-hye administration grapples with Korea’s ironic world-low birthrate. Because on the one hand, it is regrettable that the former Lee Myung-bak administration saw no need to defend women’s access to the pill, and it is preposterous that his (re)criminalization of abortion — which simply puts women’s lives at risk — is likewise viewed by his successor as a viable method of baby-making. But on the other, because of course Korea is now a democracy, and finally aired its first condom commercials on television in July last year, and with a firm sex-is-fun message at that (in contrast to the PSAs that were briefly allowed in October 2004). Here’s hoping there’ll be a lot more coming this year too! ;D

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

7 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #83: Vintage Contraceptive Pill Commercials

    1. Yeah — except for some brief PSA-type ones that were briefly allowed in October 2004, for the sake of HIV/AIDS protection (I added a link after you already commented). I’m really surprised though, that, condom-wise, there was nothing on TV between when restrictions were lifted in January 2006 and when the Durex ones appeared in July 2013, and wonder if a) there were some de-facto restrictions, b) manufacturers were still hesitant to advertise (although discreet ones certainly did appear in newspapers and billboards and so on), or c) some combination of both was responsible?

      Speaking of which, I end the post on an optimistic note, but as I type this an insomniac 2:14am I suddenly find the lack of any new condom commercials in 6 months a little ominous. What do you think?


      1. I think I’d be interested to know some of the statistics on unwanted pregnancies in Korea…though I doubt much of it isn’t as documents as perhaps it should be! It says a lot about a culture that manufacturers were hesitant to promote their product – there must be some ‘disincentive’ to that kind of behaviour, for sure…


  1. James, I’m sorry this isn’t related directly to the article above, but I was wondering what you might think about the latest survey in the Korea Herald about women in the workforce: http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20140202000275

    I’m confused about what they mean by “marriage.” They list reasons for why South Korean women leave the workforce, and they list “marriage, pregnancy, infant care, and education.” What’s strange is that most of the women responded that “marriage” was the reason, while I was under the impression that the other things were the reasons why they stopped working after the wedding. For example, it’s not like they’re having children before the marriage, so I assumed that would fall under the broad meaning of “marriage.” Here the survey distinctly separates them, yet most people still list “marriage” as the reason. Can you shine any light on this?


    1. No worries about the unrelated topic, but — no offense! — I’m a bit confused by your confusion sorry. Like you say, the other, child-related reasons cited could come under ‘marriage’ I guess, but there’s a distinction made because before having children many women do quit or are “persuaded” to leave their jobs before the wedding day. I don’t have any links about that off the top of my head sorry, but in the meantime I can say that many female, former co-workers of mine weren’t allowed to work by their new fathers-in-law; that I’ve had many middle-aged and elderly male students who confirmed they did the same with their own daughters-in-law; and that a young, new Gyopo CEO of a big lumber import/export business here in Busan told me that, before he started in 2008, all the women were automatically fired upon marriage.

      All personal anecdotes sure, but still: my strong personal impression is that it’s surprisingly common. When I have time (busy week sorry!), I can dig up some links/stats to confirm that if you likw (You’ve gotten me interested myself now…).


      1. Well, first of all, don’t work yourself too hard on my behalf. :)

        Your impressions are very similar to mine. My Korean friends and family have all expressed similar ideas about what women should be doing after marriage, and generally that is not working. I wasn’t sure if that “persuasion,” as you call it, was what the article meant by “marriage” or if there was some other meaning I was supposed to pick up from the context. I think we both understood it to mean that marriage is the end of a woman’s career here in Korea. Which, I think, begs the question: if these fathers-in-law (and Powers That Be) aren’t prohibiting work for child care or pregnancy reasons, then why *are* they prohibiting it? Clearly the people taking the survey saw the various reasons as deserving of distinct categories. It’s interesting, anyway.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s