Korean Women’s Sexual Histories: Still a slippery subject

Durex Korea Condom Ad December 2013(Source)

Remember last summer, when Korea’s first condom commercials came out?

Showing a woman bringing condoms to a date, I hailed Durex Korea for challenging popular, slut-shaming attitudes that women must feign sexual inexperience and naivety with new partners, with contraception widely considered only men’s responsibility.

But those would be the last condoms to grace Korean TV screens, by any company. Add Durex Korea’s recent, asinine marketing attempts, and that its Facebook page looks like it belongs to a lads’ mag, then the cynic in me lamented that last year’s efforts weren’t so much the start of a progressive, feminist campaign as simple, one-off copies of the original.

Then I discovered that there had been a similar, OMG-girls-like-sex-too commercial back in December, which played on various cable channels after 10pm:

Durex Korea Condom Ad December 2013 screenshotSounds awesome, right? Even if it was just a copy again.

My hopes raised, I began looking for more information, but was soon frustrated by the lack of mention on Durex Korea’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and blog. What’s more, there proved to be only one low-res, IE-only version of it that is publicly available. (Another requires a paid subscription to this site.)

I began to suspect that some unspecified controversy spilling over from last year’s June commercials may have been responsible, as those videos are also no longer available on its FB page (although the posts are). But probably that’s just simple neglect; with a Facebook page, Twitter, and blog myself, I can confirm that it’s difficult finding the time or inclination to fix broken links in old, rarely-read posts. Better to create new content, and accordingly Korean companies rarely keep old ads on their websites, preferring that consumers focus on their recent most ones instead. Sure enough, Durex Korea’s reply to my tweet made me realize that it was actually private Youtube users that were originally responsible for (re)uploading and sharing their June commercials, without whom they too wouldn’t be publicly available today.

I guess the December commercial just wasn’t all that popular really—there was never any great patriarchal conspiracy to have it removed. But, popular or not, it shouldn’t have been such a struggle to find more information—any information—about a (relatively) groundbreaking campaign, let alone from the company responsible. So, again, I have to conclude that Durex Korea was never making any real effort to engage with female consumers and challenge double-standards. Sigh.

This summer then, it’s probably T-ara member Eun-jung’s recentconfession” to—shock! horror!—past sexual relationships that is most likely to have an impact on how the public views or discusses theirs. Or, alternatively, the news that matchmaking companies no longer assume that their female clients will pretend to be virgins before marriage…

Korean Couple Under the Co vers(Source)

That’s the takeaway message from this survey by two matchmaking companies, currently making the rounds of the Korean portals. Ostensibly, its message is actually that Korean women let men take the initiative when it comes to sexual relationships, and that previous experience with one partner makes a significant number of women—not men—much “more cautious” with their subsequent ones. Which does appear to confirm previous, more rigorous surveys, and hence the context about double-standards provided in the first half of this post.

But with no mention of the methodology, what exactly “more cautious” (etc.) means, and likely a self-selecting sample population? Then really, it confirms nothing at all. Please make of it what you will:

미혼女 34%, 애인과의 첫 성관계는 ‘술김에…’ 34% of unmarried woman need alcohol for their first time with a lover

이낙규 기자 (nak17@ajunews.com) 26.06.14

성(性)에 대한 의식이 개방적으로 바뀌고 있지만 미혼여성들은 아직도 10명 중 6명 이상이 애인과 첫 관계를 가질 때 술의 힘을 빌린다던가 억지로 끌려가는 듯한 수동적 자세인 반면, 남성은 10명 중 7명 정도가 성관계를 주도하거나 적극적인 자세로 임하는 것으로 나타났다.

Awareness of and attitudes towards sex are changing these days, [but still traditional gender roles remain]. With a new lover, six out of ten women admit that they take advantage of alcohol to overcome their shyness or reluctance when having sex for the first time, and/or passively accept it when their partner is insistent, whereas seven out of ten men believe they have to take the initiative and assume an active role.

결혼정보회사 비에나래가 결혼정보업체 온리-유와 공동으로 미혼남녀 544명을 대상으로 ‘애인과 첫 성관계를 가질 때 본인의 자세’에 대한 설문조사를 실시했다.

Marriage matchmaking companies Bien Aller and Only You surveyed 544 male and female customers, asking them about their thoughts and feelings the first time they had sex with previous partners.

그결과 남성과 여성의 반응이 판이하게 달랐는데, 남성은 37.1%가 ‘주도적’, 33.5%는 ‘적극적’으로 답해 나란히 1, 2위를 차지했다. 즉 70.6%가 능동적이라는 것을 알 수 있다.

Men and women differed quite widely in their replies. Out of the men, 37.1% said they took the lead, and 33.5% that they were active in initiating sex, the top two replies. Altogether, 70.6% said they took an active role.

Wait, I'm beginning to feel something(Source)

반면 여성은 34.2%가 ‘술의 힘을 빌린다’, 28.3%는 ‘억지로 끌려가듯 (응한다)’이라고 답해 상위 1, 2위에 올랐다. 성관계를 거부하지는 않지만 수동적인 자세가 62.5%이다.

In contrast, 34.2% of women said they need alcohol [to get over their shyness or reluctance], and 28.3% that their partner insisted, the top two replies. Altogether, 62.5% said they weren’t against a sexual relationship, but they assumed a passive role.

그 다음 세 번째로는 남녀 공히 4명 중 한 명꼴이 ‘자연스럽게 임한다'(남 26.1%, 여 24.6%)고 답했다.

With both men (26.1%) and women (24.6%), the third most common reply was that they “just behaved naturally.”

‘성 경험이 있는 상황에서 다른 애인과 성관계를 가질 때의 마음 상태’에 대해서도 남녀 간에 시각차를 보였다.

With the question of how previous their sexual experience impacted their feelings about sex with a new boyfriend or girlfriend, a big difference was visible in the replies from men and women.

남성은 ‘(마음이) 더 편해진다’가 54.7%로서 과반수를 차지했고, ‘변함없다'(33.5%)에 이어 ‘더 신중해 진다'(12.8%)가 뒤따랐으나, 여성은 ‘마음이 더 편해진다'(42.7%)는 대답이 가장 많기는 하나, 그 다음의 ‘더 신중해진다'(39.7%)와 큰 차이가 없었고(3.0%포인트), ‘변함없다’는 대답은 17.6%였다.

With men, more than half (54.7%) replied it would make them feel more comfortable; 33.5%, no change; and 12.6% that it would make them more cautious. While “more comfortable” was also 고준희 정진운the most popular reply with women (42.7%), 39.7% replied that it would make them more cautious, a gap of only 3%; 17.6% replied that it wouldn’t make any difference.

자세한 응답분포를 보면 남성은 ‘다소 편해진다'(37.5%) – ‘변함없다'(33.5%) – ‘훨씬 더 편해진다'(16.2%) – ‘다소 신중해진다'(12.8%) 등의 순이고, 여성은 ‘다소 편해진다'(31.3%) – ‘다소 신중해진다'(29.4%) – ‘변함없다'(17.6%) – ‘(훨씬 더 편해진다'(11.4%) – ‘훨씬 더 신중해 진다'(10.3%)의 순서이다 (source, right).

In detail, 37.5% of men replied that it would make them a little more comfortable; 33.5% no change; 16.2% a lot more comfortable; and 12.8% that it would make them a little more cautious. With women, 31.3% replied that it would make them a little more comfortable; 29.4% a little more cautious; 17.6%, no change; 11.4% a lot more comfortable; and 10.3% a lot more cautious. (END)


Single Korean Female? Love Sex?

Krystal Etude Wanna Be Sweet(Source)

If so, do you carry a condom in your handbag these days?

Because not so long ago, academic research on the subject said you probably didn’t — Korean women were just too scared of being slut-shamed for it, leading to popular attitudes that contraception was overwhelmingly — or even exclusively — men’s responsibility. Further contributing to that stigma, bans on contraceptive commercials weren’t  lifted until as recently as 2006, although (bland) public campaigns promoting condom use had been made two years earlier for the sake of HIV/AIDS prevention.

Since then though, surveys show that attitudes among young Koreans are changing, and there’s been some alarmist articles about how much casual sex they’re having these days. Also, I often see commercials for the pill on television (especially MNet, a music channel) and in women’s magazines. But for condoms? I haven’t seen any personally, beyond minimalist ones in newspapers and magazines.

So, I was very happy to learn from a reader that he just saw two Durex ones on television, both of which encourage women to be very prepared:

And the men too:

What’s more, they’re both based on Sticky Tape below, Iggy Cerda-Salas’s winning entry for Durex at the MOFILM London 2012 Awards, which only had a male version. Add that these are the only videos on Durex Korea’s Youtube account, and that its Facebook pages were also only set up recently, then it appears that they were specifically created for the Korean and/or Northeast Asian market.

Or in other words, Durex Korea at least now feels that there’s a definite market for their product among Korean women, and that they’ll no longer be so embarrassed if they’re caught with them.

Here’s hoping sales go well!

But have any readers seen any previous Korean commercials or ads by other condom manufacturers? Did women feature in those too?

(Related: See Korean Sexuality: Still Awaiting a Revolution? for more on the curious parallels between Korean women’s *previous* attitudes to contraception and those of their UK counterparts in the 1950s.)

(Update: Durex Korea has just confirmed that these are Korea’s first condom commercials)

(Update, June 2014: Unfortunately, these commercials proved to be just a one-off, with no real attempt to engage with female consumers and challenge double-standards. Sigh.)

Korean Medical Association: Don’t Take the Pill!

All the contraceptive pills are gone...(Source: Surija / “Sray”; CC BY 2.0)

Why not? Well, because Korean women are stupid apparently, unable to do so much as read the instructions and numerous warnings about possible side-effects that come with the product, let alone do their own research and make their own choice about what contraception is best for them personally.

Or at least, that is the more benign reading of this warning from the KMA, and to be fair, given such factors as Koreans’ general reluctance to self-diagnose and be proactive about treating any medical condition that they might have themselves, and many Korean women’s complete reliance on men to use contraception, then at first glance there is nothing to distinguish the top-down, patronizing but also paternalistic tone of the KMA in the warning as any different from any other Korean institution’s relationship with the Korean public. In reality however, in its bias and scare-mongering it demonstrates an explicit and almost sinister vested interest in maintaining the huge abortion industry here.

No, really. That may sound like hyperbole, but then the Korean state already has a long history as an extremely invasive and coercive force in Koreans’ reproductive lives, its population policy in the 1960s and 1970s only slightly less draconian than that of China’s today, at many points having soldiers withdrawn from the DMZ at the height of the Cold War to deliver IUDs and perform abortions in the Korean countryside for instance (see this book for more on that). And such industry-related claims are also widely acknowledged of Japanese health authorities (albeit not so much in Japan itself), which banned the pill for three decades and which Japanese women are still scared of using, so why not of Korea ones too?

But regardless of that background, how else are we to interpret the evidence from just the KMA’s warning alone? Consider that:

  • It provides no information about possible side-effects that I didn’t already know about 10 years ago (and I’m a guy remember), which begs the question of why the Korea Times considered it “news” exactly.
  • It literally doesn’t provide a single positive medical benefit of using them, and naturally the Korea Times fails its most basic of journalistic duties by not providing them either.
  • It implies that somehow there is somehow something unique to contraceptive pills and not, say…amphetamines that makes women’s access to them in much more urgent need of being restricted.
  • And finally, that in a country where double-standards, moralistic pharmacists and medical staff, virtually non-existent sex education, and a lack of access already combine to severely limit women’s sexual confidence and choices of contraception in practice (see here)…surely it is telling that the most senior medical institution in the country is literally scaring women away from using the single safest and most effective contraceptive in human history?

Actually, I do agree that there are some benefits to women of, say, requiring a prescription from a doctor to get the pill, one poster in this forum (which I give a hat tip to for some of the above) pointing out that it means many women will usually get gynecological examinations at the same time, wheres they wouldn’t have bothered otherwise. But, one should always be very careful to acknowledge the different contexts in which they occur, and I dare say that most young British women buying contraceptives, for instance, are not asked by pharmacists if they’re married, or alternatively the same by doctors and nurses rather than a more neutral, non-judgmental inquiry as to if they are sexually active. To require a prescription in those circumstances would surely mean that many women simply wouldn’t go to get them all, which renders quick and easy access to the pill, albeit online if you don’t look 25 or older, one of the very few positives about Korean sexual culture (source, right: NEWSis).

Ending on another positive note, all trends in Korea point to continued increased use of the pill over time, and I’m not merely seeking brownie points among my readers when I say that I do have confidence in Korean women even just considering the pill not to be swayed by “warnings” like this. Given how, as I explained in my last post on the subject, half the battle is getting many Korean women to take an active role in using contraception at all, then merely thinking about all the pros and cons of the options available is an important first step. And of those that have done so, then I dare say that from that point on they will apply a more discerning eye to the ravings of groups like the KMA!

Update: In case anyone wants it, here is the original warning in Korean too.