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South Korea

(Taehan Min’guk)

Hyung-Ki Choi, M.D., Ph.D., and
Huso Yi, Ph.D. (cand.)*
with Ji-Kan Ryu, M.D., Koon Ho Rha, M.D., and Woong Hee Lee, M.D.
Redacted with additional information and
updated as of March 2003 by
Huso Yi, Ph.D. (cand.),
with additional information by
Yung-Chung Kim, Ki-Nam Chin, Pilwha Chang, Whasoon Byun, and Jungim Hwang**



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*Communications: Professor Hyung-Ki Choi, M.D., Yongdong Severance Hospital, Department of Urology 146-92, Dogok-dong, Kangnam-ku, Seoul 135-270, Korea; urol3887 @ yumc.yonsei.ac.kr. Huso Yi, Ph.D. (cand.): Senior Research Associate, Institute for International Research on Youth at Risk, National Development and Research Institutes, Inc., 71 West 23rd Street, 8th Fl., New York, NY 10010 USA; huso.yi @ ndri.org; or: Deputy Director, Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center, Inc., Samheung Bldg., 5th Fl., 256-2 Hangangno 2-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, 140-871, Korea.

**Unless otherwise indicated at the beginning of a section or at the end of a paragraph, Hyung-Ki Choi, Ji-Kan Ryu, Koon Ho Rha, and Woong Hee Lee are the authors. In most sections, the material these authors supplied was redacted by Huso Yi and integrated with additional information. Additional comments are indicated in brackets as [. . . (Huso Yi)]. In the areas where the primary authors did not supply information, Huso Yi and others have summarized key studies to complete the picture. Written in 2000-2001, this chapter was updated in 2003 by Huso Yi.
Map of South Korea

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Contents*

  1. Basic Sexological Premises 934
  2. Religious, Ethnic, and Gender Factors Affecting Sexuality 940
  3. Knowledge and Education about Sexuality 941
  4. Autoerotic Behaviors and Patterns 942
  5. Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors 943
  6. Homoerotic, Homosexual, and Bisexual Behaviors 947
  7. Gender Diversity and Transgender Issues 949
  8. Significant Unconventional Sexual Behaviors 950
  9. Contraception, Abortion, and Population Planning 953
  10. Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS 954
  11. Sexual Dysfunctions, Counseling, and Therapies 955
  12. Sex Research and Advanced Professional Education 956
  13. References and Suggested Readings 957

*A Note for Researchers:  The numbers included in the section titles in the Contents above refer to the page numbers in the print edition of the CCIES. For the convenience of researchers, an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file of this chapter is available for download above (click the PDF icon), which reflects the actual pagination of the book. This will allow scholarly writers to cite actual page numbers in the printed book for quoted material, as well as its availability on the Web and the URL if desired. See also How to Use This Encyclopedia.

Chapter URL:  http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/ccies/kr.php    Retrieved: 

[Note from the CCIES Website Editor:  Please send any additions, corrections, or updated information to:  Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D.]

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Demographics and a Brief Historical Perspective

ROBERT T. FRANCOEUR

A. Demographics

The Republic of South Korea occupies the southern half of the Korean Peninsula in northeast Asia, with North Korea on its northern border, the Sea of Japan and Japan to the east, the East China Sea and China to the south, and the Yellow Sea and northern China to the west. With a total landmass of 38,023 square miles (98,480 km2), and a coastline of 1,500 miles (2,400 km), South Korea is slighter larger than the state of Indiana. The country is mountainous, with a rugged eastern coast. The western and southern coasts are deeply indented, with many islands and harbors. The climate is temperate, with heavier rainfall in summer than in winter.

In July 2002, South Korea had an estimated population of 48.3 million. (All data are from The World Factbook 2002 (CIA 2002) unless otherwise stated.)

Age Distribution and Sex Ratios: 0-14 years: 21.4% with 1.13 male(s) per female (sex ratio); 15-64 years: 71% with 1.03 male(s) per female; 65 years and over: 7.6% with 0.65 male(s) per female; Total population sex ratio: 1.01 male(s) to 1 female

Life Expectancy at Birth: Total Population: 74.88 years; male: 71.2 years; female: 78.95 years

Urban/Rural Distribution: 83% to 17%

Ethnic Distribution: Homogeneous, except for about 20,000 Chinese and 4,500 Chinese-Koreans

Religious Distribution: Christian: 49%; Buddhist: 47%; Confucianist: 3%; Shaminist and other: 1%***

Birth Rate: 14.55 births per 1,000 population. Family planning has been an important task since the 1960s. Korea’s TFR decreased from 6.0 births per fertile woman in 1960 to 4.5 in 1970, 2.7 in 1980, 1.6 in 1990, 1.5 in 1998, and 1.7 in 2002.

Death Rate: 6.02 per 1,000 population

Infant Mortality Rate: 7.58 deaths per 1,000 live births

Net Migration Rate: 0 migrant(s) per 1,000 population

Total Fertility Rate: 1.72 children born per woman

Population Growth Rate: 0.85%

HIV/AIDS (1999 est.): Adult prevalence: 0.01%; Persons living with HIV/AIDS: 3,800; Deaths: < 180. (For additional details from www.UNAIDS.org, see end of Section 10B.)

Literacy Rate (defined as those age 15 and over who can read and write): 98% (male: 99.3%, female: 96.7%); Korean is the official language, but English is widely taught in the high schools. Education is free and compulsory from the 1st to 6th grades.

Per Capita Gross Domestic Product (purchasing power parity): $18.000 (2001 est.); Inflation: 4.3%; Unemployment: 3.9%; Living below the poverty line: 4% (2001 est.)


***Editors’ Note: The strong historical dimensions of this chapter and the recurring references to the historical and contemporary influence of Confucianism and its patriarchal views might seem to be unimportant, because 96% of Koreans are either Christian or Buddhist and only 3% identify with the Confucian/Neo-Confucian philosophy. However, Confucianism, and particularly Neo-Confucianism, continues to play a major role in Korean sexual culture.

B. A Brief Historical Perspective

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI)

[Comment 2001: According to the National History Compilation of the Republic of Korea (NHCROK 2001), the beginning of Korea dates from 2333 B.C.E., when Tan-gun, a legendary figure born of the son of Heaven, married a woman from the bear-totem tribe and established the first kingdom, Chosun, literally meaning, “Land of the Morning Calm.” Korea’s early native culture was based on a warrior aristocracy, a shamanistic religion, and a subject class of rice cultivators. The ancient period was followed by the Three Kingdoms from 57 B.C.E. to 676 C.E.; the North-South Unified Shilla period (676 to 935 C.E.); and, starting as a province under the Shilla era, the Koryo dynasty from 913 to 1392 (the Koryo dynasty started as a province in 913 and governed the whole country in 935). (End of comment by Huso Yi)] In the Yi or Chosun dynasty (1392 to 1910), during which it was known as the Kingdom of Chosun, Korea was a staunch tributary ally of China during its Ming (1368-1644) and Ch’ing (1644-1911) dynasties. The Japanese, who invaded most of Korea in 1592, were finally expelled by combined Korean and Chinese forces in the late 17th century. This relationship with China brought a strong adherence to Buddhism and a government system modeled on Chinese bureaucracy. For the next 200 years, Korea was rigorously isolated from all non-Chinese foreign influence and was known as “the Hermit Kingdom.”

Korea’s isolation, and its status as a tributary of China, ended in 1874, when Japan imposed the Treaty of Kangwha to guarantee Japanese commercial access to Korea and other interests. The outcome of the Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895) recognized Korea’s complete independence, but made the nation a protectorate of Japan. In 1910, Japan forcibly annexed Korea as the colony of Chosun. A harsh colonial policy was established to eradicate all Korean culture and make Korea an integral part of the Japanese empire. All Korean resistance was violently repressed, although resistance movements managed to survive in exile. During World War II, tens of thousands of Koreans were conscripted to work in Japan and in the Japanese-occupied territories. At the same time, thousands of Korean women were forced into “comfort services” for the Japanese military, a reality that was not dealt with publicly until 50 years later in the late 1990s.

Following Japan’s surrender in 1945, Korea was arbitrarily divided into zones of Soviet and American occupation. The 38th parallel split the country geographically, economically, and politically into North and South. Korea’s industrial and hydroelectric power was concentrated in the north, where careful Soviet plans established a communist government. In the agricultural south, American attempts to reunify the country under a republican government were inept. By 1948, when it was obvious that the country could not be united, the Republic of Korea was organized in the south, and the United States withdrew its occupation forces in June 1949. In June of 1950, Northern Korean troops invaded the south in an attempt to unify the country under a communist regime. Because it boycotted the United Nations Security Council debate on what response to make to the invasion, the Soviet Union could not veto the United Nations’ decision to send troops to repel the invasion. Initially, American forces were successful in driving the communist forces back to the Chinese border. However, when Chinese troops entered the war, the tide reversed and the United Nations troops were driven south. Seoul, the capital, fell to the communists on January 4, 1951. Within two months, the communist forces were driven back to the 38th parallel, where the battle line stabilized despite intervals of fierce fighting. A truce was finally signed on July 27, 1953, with a demilitarized zone along the 38th parallel.

Postwar reconstruction of the south followed with major American support. Student demonstrations in 1960 forced the resignation of Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee. In May 1961, a military coup was established. The military government was given some democratic trappings in a 1972 referendum that allowed General Park to run for an unlimited series of six-year presidential terms. Following Park’s assassination on October 26, 1979, by the government’s chief of intelligence, General Chun Doo Hwan assumed power. Widespread violent political protests followed, although the nation’s economy was making great strides, with modernization, industrialization, and a strong urban life. In 1986, South Korea achieved a favorable balance-of-payments ratio in its foreign trade.

Widespread demonstrations in mid-1987 led to new elections and a calmer political situation, although students called for greater efforts for reunification of the north and south, and protests of the large number of American troops continued. North-South talks in 1990 produced an agreement in principle on reunification in the near future. However, South Korea’s interest in reunification became more cautious when North Korea faced a major widespread famine. The massive economic burdens West Germany encountered in helping East Germany become a part of a reunited Germany added to South Korea’s growing hesitation over reunification. Establishment of diplomatic relations with China in 1992 was a clear signal that Korea will remain a major influence in the region. [Comment 2001: In addition, the Korean government began to build up good relationships with North Korea through the so-called “sunshine policy” of President Kim Dae-Jung, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize honoring his political efforts for democracy and reunification. (End of comment by Huso Yi)] [Comment 2003: In 2003, Roh Moo Hyun became the 16th President. Mr. Roh is a self-taught lawyer without a college education and acquired his liberal credentials by defending students and working-class workers involved in the democracy movement. He named his administration “Participatory Government” and swore to promote democracy and reformation. In his administration, female ministers were appointed, including Ms. Kang Gum-Sil at the age of 46 years old, who would head the male-dominated Justice Ministry for the first time. (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

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1. Basic Sexological Premises

A. Character of Gender Roles

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI)

[Comment 2001: The following examples of typical and popular Korean proverbs concerning women provide an insight into the position of women in Korean culture and the family:

  • “If you don’t beat your woman for three days, she becomes a fox.”
  • “If you listen to a woman’s advice, the house comes to ruin; if you don’t listen, the house comes to shame.”
  • “If a woman cries, no good luck for three years.”
  • “A woman’s mouth is a cheap thing.”
  • “You can know in water 1,000 fathoms deep, but you can’t know the mind of a woman.”
  • “When wood fire and a woman are stirred up, the outcome is a great misfortune.”
  • “Get slapped at the government office; come home and hit your woman.”
  • “A bad wife is a grievance for 100 years; bad bean paste is a grievance for one year.”
  • “The good-for-nothing daughter-in-law gets sick on the day of ancestral sacrifice.”
  • “A son-in-law is a guest for 100 years; a daughter-in-law is an eating mouth ’til the day she dies.”
    (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

Throughout Korean history, Korean women have been treated as second-class citizens regardless of their social and familial positions. In the social system, they have been limited to being bystanders in the main cultural systems, behind bureaucratic male dominance. Korean women have been the subjects of discriminations based on their role in marriage, their fertility, and their lack of a right to end their marriage in divorce, as well as their subordinate role in the public domain.

In the Koryo dynasty, monogamy was encouraged, and divorce and remarriage were widely practiced by both men and women. However, at the end of the Koryo dynasty, polygamy emerged. The Chosun dynasty (1392-1910) proclaimed monogamy and officially frowned on polygyny as a part of a social reformation policy, although powerful men were commonly allowed to have several wives. [Comment 2001: The Chosun dynasty reversed the entire previous marriage system by prohibiting women’s remarriage, and furthermore, marriage between those of the same surname and family origin (Chung 1998). The law against remarriage was enforced in 1447 and lasted until 1894. The law against same-surname and family-origin marriage still exists in Korea. It will be discussed later. (End of comment by Huso Yi)] The conflicting system of polygyny and monogamy coexisted without much problem because of the lenient Neo-Confucian morals for males. Those who made the laws were not about to give up their privileged right. Nor were they about to improve the subordinate position of women. Women who openly opposed the practice of multiple wives were maltreated and humiliated. However, in 1899, near the end of Chosun dynasty, a formal protest against polygyny took place, headed by the newly organized woman’s association. Their protest ended without any change, but it was a herald of an active organized women’s movement in Korea.

Early marriage is another interesting feature of the Korean marriage heritage. Records of early marriage as far back as the Three Kingdom era (57 B.C.E. to 676 C.E.) document the practice of early marriage, which allowed children about 10 years old to be presented to a family as a bride or groom. The legal age for marriage in Chosun was 15 for boys and 14 for girls, with the exception of 12 years when a child had to assume responsibility for the family. At the time, the average legal age for marriage in other countries was 18  for men and 15 for women. It was generally believed that the risk of inappropriate sexual involvement increased if marriage was delayed, and so the legal age for marriage was lowered. The custom of early marriage continued well into the 20th century. In the 1991 national tax census, among 1,000 married couples, 10 men and 18 women married before the age of 5, 48 men and 132 women were married between ages 5 and 10, and 159 men and 488 women married between ages 10 and 15. In other words, 217, or one in five of the men, and 638, or nearly two thirds of the women, were married by age 15 (Chung 1998). These children had no choice in the commitment of marriage and parenthood. With no opportunity to reject or refuse their arranged partners, marriage was simply one’s fate. Another surprising fact is that among 100 murderers in prison, 31 of the 47 female prisoners murdered their husbands (Chung 1998).

B. Women of Korea: A Historical Overview

YUNG-CHUNG KIM (Summarized by HUSO YI)

Women and Family

As in other agrarian societies, the large patriarchal extended family was the basic organizational unit in Korea for many centuries, with relatively little change in its basic structure. The rule maintained in husband-wife relations was the rigid distinction drawn in their roles. Whereas the man dominated in public affairs, the woman took full responsibility in the family. The wife was responsible for the education of the children, especially the girls, up to the age of marriage. There were no educational institutions for girls, and the mother assumed the role of teacher. Her influence was not limited to her daughters’ upbringing. She was often honored and rewarded for her model behavior and contribution when her husband or sons were successful in public life.

The woman also took an active part in the family economy. She was expected to be an able and careful manager of family finances. In case the husband was disabled and could not support the family or was neglectful of his duties, the wife had to be able to use her skills to provide for the family. Also, one of the wife’s functions in the family system was the performance of rituals in ancestor worship. Filial piety was the prime virtue by which family lineage was preserved, and ancestor worship was its salient feature.

In traditional Korea, it was customary for the ruler and yangban (rural ruling-class males) to keep several wives. There was a clear distinction between the primary spouse and the secondary wife/wives or concubines who were at his caprice. In contrast, the woman was subject to strict chastity. When the husband died, ideally the wife must remain chaste the rest of her life; this was the virtuous conduct expected of widows. However, there was less prejudice against remarriage for women in the Koryo period than during either the United Shilla period or the Chosun dynasty. Customs concerning marriage were basic features of the social structure. Because a person’s social position was determined by bloodline and family background, a marriage violating or risking such established convention was neither desirable nor acceptable.

The marriage celebration was an expensive one. Such expensive and elaborate feasting and entertainment at weddings (and funerals) were responsible for the ruin of many of the less-affluent yangban in the later years of the Chosun dynasty. As the proverb goes: “If a family has three daughters, the pillars of the house will fall.” So the marriage expenditures remained a grave social problem throughout the Chosun dynasty, and even today this is true to a great extent.

The position of a woman, on the whole, depended on the status of her father, husband, or son. Women of the ruling class, either by birth or by marriage, could enjoy the same privileges of comfort and honor as men of the same class. Hence, the conduct of women was governed by the rule of three obediences: obedience to the father in childhood, to the husband during marriage, and to the son in old age. The systematic subjugation of women in Korea started during the early reigns of the Chosun dynasty within the aristocratic milieu. The Confucian government started to enact various legal measures harshly discriminatory against women. Remarriage of widowed women was strictly forbidden by law. This prohibition was enforced by disqualifying the sons and grandsons of remarried women from taking the government-service examination.

Social status and rights were transmitted only from fathers to sons. Whereas chastity was thus being forced upon women, men were allowed to expel their wives on any of seven grounds, the so-called seven evils (ch’ilgo chiak): disobeying parents-in-law, bearing no son, committing adultery, jealousy, carrying a hereditary disease, talkative to a fault, and larceny. However, even in cases where the wife was guilty of one of these seven evils, the husband could not divorce her if she had served three years mourning for her husband’s parents, if the man had gone from poverty to wealth since marrying, or if the wife had no family to depend upon when divorced.

Surprisingly, however, according to the stipulations in the new Confucian code, male and female offspring were both entitled to inherit the father’s property. Although there were certain discrepancies between the law and its application, it is important to note that an equal right to property inheritance was recognized by the law, as it was during the Koryo period prior to the Chosun dynasty.

Women “Professionals”

As pointed out earlier, because of firm adherence to the segregation of men and women, few women could engage in any form of activities outside the family compound. There were, however, some exceptions. Three special groups of women wielded considerable influence by performing certain public functions in traditional society. They were shamans, folk healers, and entertainers (kisaeng). The women who worked in these special jobs were, almost without exception, from lower-class families.

The mass culture of Korea since ancient times has been shamanistic in its basic character and tone. Records on female shamans first appeared during the early Shilla period. By that time, they had already outnumbered male shamans. The female shamans had three functions: as priests, as exorcists, and as diviners and fortunetellers.

The second group of women, the folk healers, were increasingly in demand during the Chosun dynasty. It was considered improper for a woman to be examined by a man even if he were a physician. When a woman healer was not available, women patients died because they refused to see male healers. It was, therefore, necessary for the government to train women in order for them to take care of female patients. Women healers could also have a law-enforcement role. When authorities needed to arrest a woman of the ruling class for some suspected crime, women healers from the lower class were called upon to act as policewomen.

The women entertainers (kisaeng) also belonged to the low social group. Because their occupation was to entertain men, they developed special talents and skills in poetry composition, singing, dancing, calligraphy, and painting. They were the few women who had free access to public events. For this reason, entertaining women most frequently appeared as heroines in ancient tales and novels. To romanticize the lives of the low-born women in these special cases would be wrong; however, compared to the secluded life of the court and yangban families, the lives of female shamans, healers, and kisaeng permitted them to have broader experiences and development of their talents.

Women in the Modern Era

It is hardly accurate to speak of education for women during the Chosun dynasty. Education had barely developed even for the majority of men beyond the local village schools. Because of the new emphasis on Confucianism, and the government-service examination system, formal education facilities and curricula were expanded during the Yi dynasty. Needless to say, women were excluded from these schools.

Following the signing of treaties with Japan, the United States, and European nations in the 1880s, a modern system of schooling was introduced by government officials and leaders who traveled abroad, and by foreign missionaries who were to play a decisive role in women’s education. To be exact, school education for girls began in 1886, when a Methodist missionary founded Ewha Haktang. In spite of persistent resistance by Confucian conservatives to women’s education, various women’s organizations, individuals, and government leaders founded many schools for women by the government by the turn of the 19th century. During the first decade of the 20th century, numerous women’s societies were organized for various purposes, including modernization and Westernization.

In 1910, following Japan’s victory over imperial Russia in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905), Japan annexed Korea. Education was the most important method for carrying on the Japanese colonial policy in Korea. Japan hoped to assimilate Korea culturally as well as politically and economically. The discriminatory policy was even more noticeable in women’s education, which was perhaps the least concern of the government during this period. No institution of higher education was founded for women by the government. The colonial policy exploited Koreans more than ever through a military draft and forced labor. Women too, were either sent to factories, into forced labor, or as “comfort women” at army camps. Women leaders could not keep their positions unless they pledged loyalty and obedience to Japan.

During the Japanese colonization, on the other hand, women were politically active in the independence movement. In 1913, a teacher at a girl’s school in Pyongyang (now located in North Korea) formed an underground organization. Some of the members organized an underground society called the Patriotic Women’s League. Some churchwomen were active in support of the independence movement. They collected funds for resistance fighters and succeeded in sending the money to the government-in-exile in Shanghai. Among the various women’s organizations that sprang up in the first quarter of the 20th century, the one that was most outstanding and had the most lasting effect was the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Founded in 1922, this organization has continued, to the present, its activities that have helped promote women’s status, social programs, participation, and volunteerism.

A review of the path of women through the centuries of Korean history reveals certain contrasting traits: on the one hand, a state of subjugation, and on the other, a state of self-reliance and full social participation. The differences between the modern era and the past are striking. Women’s self-consciousness, buried deep in traditional society, was awakened with the coming of the enlightenment era. By the beginning of the 20th century, women were participating in the drive for political emancipation, social justice, and equal rights. Korean women were confident in their stride and bold in their ambitions as they stepped into the new age.

C. Sociolegal Status of Males and Females

HUSO YI

After the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, a new Constitution stated the equality of all, including women and children. Other equalities were spelled out in the sectors of politics, economics, general society, and culture, but in actuality, such equalities were not well maintained or protected. According to the annual report by the National Statistical Office (1999a), the majority of employed women are limited to part-time work, the opposite of the male employment pattern. The part-time jobs of women are usually low paying and involve blue-color-type work. In 1997, the average wage of women workers was only 59.9% of their male counterparts. As for participation in employed labor, the report indicates that in 1985, 72.3% of adult males were employed and 41.9% of the women. Twelve years later, in 1998, the data were 75.2% for men and 47.0% for women. However, when the labor participation is divided by marital status, the report indicates as follows:

  1. The percentage of single women working in 1985 was 50.8%, which decreased to 46.0% in 1998.
  2. The percentage of working single men increased from 43.5% in 1985 to 48.5% in 1998.
  3. The percentage of married working women rose from 41.0% in 1985 to 47.3% in 1998.
  4. The percentage of married working men has been relatively stable between 1985 and 1998 (86.8%), dropping slightly from a little above 86.8% between 1990 and 1997.

Therefore, unmarried women are the only group in which the participation rate has not increased since 1985.

Obviously, the labor participation rate of women has lagged far behind that of their male counterparts. Compared with statistics from developed countries, Korean women between ages 25 and 35 have an especially lower rate of labor participation. This is likely because of women in this age group being forced to choose their marital and childcare responsibilities over involvement in the workplace.

In terms of the educational status of women, as of 1995, women accounted for 34.8% of the total enrollment in high school and 13.1% of college and postgraduate educational attainment, compared to men, with 41.4% for high school and 25.6% for college and postgraduate enrollment. In addition, the serious gender imbalance in certain university departments continues to be a problem. The career consciousness of female students tends to be based on the division of societal gender roles. For example, in occupational choice, female students are accustomed to such traditional jobs as teaching and nursing, whereas male students prefer to become scientists and lawyers. In response to new educational opportunities, the average age of marriage has been pushed later, as the number of years women spend in school increases. In 1960, the average age at women’s first marriage was 21.6 years old, whereas for men it was 25.4 years old, a difference of 3.8 years. In 1998, this increased to 26.2 years for women and 29.0 years for men, a difference of 2.8 years (National Statistical Office 1999a).

Meanwhile, after 1980, women began to use legal means to address and remove patriarchal structures and sex discrimination by new legislation, including the enactment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act in 1987, the Mother-Child Welfare Act (supporting single mothers) in 1989, the Child Care Act (for support of working mothers) in 1991, and the 1993 Act Relating to Punishment of Sexual Violence and Protection of Victims, as well as the prevention of prostitution (for a review of current laws on Korean women, refer to Kim 1996). Another important issue in women’s rights is the status and compensation of “comfort women” under Japanese colonialism (1910 to 1945). The Korean Council for Women Drafted into Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (2000), established in 1990, has made concerted efforts to solve the issue of comfort women and Japan’s responsibilities for compensation. During World War II, women were sent to all combat areas and territories occupied by Japan. It is estimated that up to 200,000 women were drafted, of which approximately 80% were Korean women ranging from age 11 to 32.

Today, women’s issues have become very important in national policy. Since 1994, the Korean Women’s Development Institute (2000) has published Women’s Statistical Yearbook in order to review and analyze the existing social statistics and indicators about the status of women in comprehensive and systemic ways. The women’s social indicators system in the book is composed of 36 subareas, 98 detailed concerns, and 435 indicators under eight major categories: population, family/household, education, employment/economic activities, health, social welfare, social activities, and public safety. In February 1998, the Presidential Commission on Women’s Affairs (2000), under the direct supervision of the President, was initiated to promote the status of women and expand women’s participation in the public domain. Following Women’s Affairs, another important step for women’s rights has been taken by establishing the Ministry of Gender Inequality in January 2001. The ministry aims “to develop training and educational courses for women, to devise measures to prevent domestic and sexual violence and gender discrimination, and to provide appropriate services for victims” (Han 2002).

D. Male Preference, Female Infanticide, and the Sex-Ratio Problem

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI)

The influence of Neo-Confucianism has been generally strong since the Chosun era, and it is linked with a male preference in offspring. During this era, the most legitimate method to have children was within a marriage, which was also designed as a joint commitment between two families to produce an heir for the husband’s family. Contrary to Confucianism, the traditional Buddhist belief was that all human beings are just transient creatures, prone to be reborn in another life. This resulted in a certain unselfishness and less emphasis on male preference. However, in the Chosun dynasty, the long-term success of the family became the most important goal in marriage. In the eyes of parents, a son will provide economical and emotional supports after his parents’ retirement. After their death, he will be in charge of funeral and memorial services. Only a male can head a Korean family. Without a son, a Korean family ceases to be a family, which was an utmost disgrace to parents and ancestors. As the importance of a son increased, his social position became more important. The son had priority in the parents’ assets, and in case of the father’s early demise, the son oftentimes assumed the role of father in the family.

This pattern of male preference changed social manners and it continues to this day in Korea. However, in 1962, the government introduced a family planning program as part of a powerful economic plan. It encouraged small families with fewer children. With the phenomenal economic growth, the concept of children has changed from a workforce resource to an investment, which requires much time and money. As the average length of education increased dramatically, this burden has also become more prominent. Thus, the small family has become the main pattern.

Widespread abortions have helped to preserve small families in case of unwanted pregnancies. Furthermore, with the advancement of modern reproductive medicine, such as chorionic villi sampling, amniocentesis, and ultrasound scans, the ascertainment of fetal sex has become possible, and small families with an existing male preference have resorted to so-called selective abortion or female infanticide. This has created a sex-ratio imbalance, with 113.4 males born in 1995 for every 100 female babies, much higher than the world average of 106 to 100. This imbalance has been particularly drastic for the third child, where the ratio was 179.4 males for every 100 females. This trend of female infanticide is slowing somewhat, with a ratio of 108.4 to 100 for the first child in 1997 and 134.0 to 100 for the third child (see Table 1).

Table 1                  

Sex Rate at Birth by Birth Order (Males Born per 100 Females) by Year

Birth Order 1971 1981 1985 1991 1993 1995 1997 1998
Total 109.0 107.2 109.5 112.4 115.3 113.2 108.3 110.2
First 108.1 106.3 106.0 105.7 106.5 105.8 105.1 106.0
Second 107.7 106.7 107.8 112.5 114.7 111.7 106.3 108.1
Third 109.7 107.1 129.2 179.5 202.6 177.5 133.6 118.8
Fourth & Over   110.1 112.9 146.8 194.7 237.9 205.4 155.4 155.2

According to a survey by the Korean Institute for Health and Social Welfare (1991), 71.2% of married women between ages 15 and 49 replied that a son is required in the marriage. This trend is more evident in older women with lower education. The reason for this male preference was family succession for 42.2% of the women, a sense of security for 34.2%, a balanced family for 16.8%, and economic security after retirement for 6.8% of the women surveyed. In a study of 260 married women in Seoul (Kim 1993), the preferred sex for a second child after a son was 52.8% for a daughter and 20.5% for another son. However, after an initial daughter, 83% wanted a son, and only 2.2% wanted a daughter. In a study of 1,546 married adults, 29.4% replied that a son is necessary, whereas 70.6% said a son is not a requirement (Chin et al. 1997). These results reveal an improving trend away from male preference compared to the 1991 survey. Still, the deep-seated preference continues for the next child to be a male, especially in families with daughters. Overall, the recent gender imbalance may be attributed to the easy societal acceptance of gender-selective abortion, a male-centered sexual culture in which the responsibility of contraceptive use primarily is attributed to women, and a deep-rooted patriarchal male preference (see Section 9, Contraception, Abortion, and Population Planning). [Comment 2001: In their study, as for the question of “why a son is necessary,” 43.5% claimed that a son is needed for the family succession, 39.3% wanted a boy and a girl, 5.8% said “daughters will be taken to husband’s family,” and 5.8% “wanted to be respected by the parents of husband.” (As noted in Section 1B, Basic Sexological Premises, Women of Korea: A Historical Overview, one of the seven evils for a wife is not bearing a son.) For those who needed a son for family succession, when they were asked, “who most claimed the need of a son,” 54.3% said the husband himself, 35.5% said his parents, and only 6.9% said the wife.

[In the traditional idea of the Korean family system, it is said that when a woman gets married, she is no longer considered as a member of her family. This notion is indeed supported by the law of Head of Household. Thus, it should be noted that male preference is closely related to the family law that was initially established in the Chosun dynasty. First, when a woman marries, her name will be eliminated from her family register and transferred to her husband’s family register. Not only ideologically, but also legally, married women are not members of their natal families. In addition, according to the law, married women cannot be the primary successor of the family inheritance. For example, when a husband, the first family head, is dead, the headship is inherited by his son or grandson. If a family does not have a male successor, the headship is taken by the family’s unmarried daughter, not the wife. The wife is the third order for the headship. Even when a woman gets divorced, the headship still remains on the side of her ex-husband so that it is very difficult for women to head a family. In summary, when a daughter is married, she is “taken” to her husband’s family and then has no right for headship and inheritance unless the will specifies her inheritance. If a woman gets divorced, her name can be re-listed in her family register. It is extremely difficult for divorced women to win custody. Another case is the family without a son. After the daughter(s) leave by marriage and her/their father is dead, the headship passes to the mother. But the problem occurs after the mother is dead. Since there is no one to have headship in the family, the family becomes officially extinct (Kim 1992; Chang 1996). Active movements have been organized to correct the law/system of family headship. Critics claim that the law is unconstitutional and violates human rights. A coalition has submitted a petition to the United Nations and, as of mid-2001, was preparing for an appeal to the Supreme Court (Headquarter of the Family Headship Law Abolition 2000; Citizens for Abolition of the Family Headship (Hoju) System 2000).

[Such a legal system evokes bearing a son, “to be respected by the parents of husband.” It is the most important obligation for married women to have a son. It is said, “A married woman should gift a son to her husband’s parents.” In that case, it is likely that son is regarded as a “property,” as well as the source for family linkage survival. In the Chosun dynasty, if a married woman could not have a son, her husband would adopt a surrogate for a son. These days, it might be happening, but more frequently, women get abortions until they have a son. It is the fidelity and duty of married women to the husband’s family. Once women “accomplish” this role, they are “accepted” and “respected.”

[Selective abortion is not the only avenue to male preference. In Oriental medicine, there are treatments and pills for son-bearing. In a survey of 203 Oriental medical doctors by Hankyere (1996), 34% said that they learned in medical school about the treatment for son-bearing, whereas only 6% learned about the daughter-bearing treatment in school. Ninety percent of their patients asked for medications for son-bearing and 60% of the doctors prescribed it for them. Despite popular prescriptions and treatment, 45% of the doctors did not believe in their reliability and effectiveness. No clinical study has been reported about the medications. Another interesting finding was that 51% said that sex is determined when fertilization occurs and 49% said sex determination is later, around 3 months. It is believed in Oriental medicine that the third month of pregnancy is the time of sex determination, so that sex can be changed by treatment. (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

E. General Concepts of Sexuality and Love

HUSO YI and KI-NAM CHIN

Cultural Taboos

Parallel with family succession in Confucian sexual values is “purity of kinship.” “Purity of kinship” includes not only the prohibitions of interracial and interclass marriages, but also a third, particularly Korean, prohibition against marriage between persons with the same last names. [Comment 2001: In the legal system, this prohibition is quite complicated. For our purposes here, it is sufficient to note the system of Korean kinship. According the Committee of Korean Genealogy (2000), there are 254 surnames from 13 out of 14 Korean alphabets. The official report by the National Statistical Office (NSO 1985) revealed that, among 275 surnames, each of 44 surnames was reported by less than 100 people. As of the 1985 population of 40,410,000 people, 5 surnames were reported by more than one million: 8,780,000 were owned by those who had the last name of Kim, 5,980,000 of Lee (or Yi or Rhee), 3,400,000 of Park, 1,910,000 of Choi (or Choy), and 1,780,000 of Chung (or Jung). (Note: there is no official romanization for Korean as in other languages, hence the alternate spellings.) Thus, 54% of the population had one of those five surnames. (The NSO recently finished another investigation in 2000, which was to be published in September 2001). It should be noted that the surname, however, is categorized by three criteria: 1. ancestor, 2. place of family origin, and 3. letter of surname (surname). For instance, although two Korean people have the same surname, they may have a different ancestor and/or place of family origin. Because the ancestor is hard to detect without genealogy, Koreans usually refer to two components, place of family origin and surname. In fact, no official classification for the place of family origin exists. Every genealogical archive shows different numbers. (According to the Committee of Genealogy, one archive reports 499 family origin places for Kim, whereas another notes 600, and others note 623. As for Lee (Yi, Rhee), in the census, only surname and origin is asked because of the incorrectness of the origin of ancestor.

[Korean genealogy started early in the Shilla dynasty, but only people of royal class could have their surnames. In the Koryo dynasty, ordinary people started to have surnames with the place of family origin. At the time, because they made their family origin based on the current living places, it is not unusual to have the same surnames regardless of the origin of the ancestor. Thus, in the early Chosun dynasty, people paid more attention to the place of family origin rather than the letter of surname when married. But, later in the mid-Chosun dynasty, marriage within the same surname and place of family origin was prohibited by the law, which has existed to now (Chung 1998). Today, the law enforces a prohibition of marriage within the same surname and place of family origin in the eighth degree. In a sense, a marriage within the same surname and family origin is constituted as incest, which therefore can violate the purity of kinship. Some family clans even prohibit marriage only within the same surname. The law has been criticized for a long time because of its unrealistic aspects. First, it has nothing to do with the matter of family purity or incest, unless it happens within blood relatives. Second, the place of family origin is not always correct, and furthermore, the fact that two have the same family origin does not tell the status of their kinship in all senses. For example, two peoples who have the same name and whose family came originally from the same city do not always indicate whether or not they are close relatives. Third, it is a reality that many who have same name and family origin get married, and, because of this fact, a specific period is granted for such married couples to get a marriage license. (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

Since the Chosun dynasty, these reproduction-oriented sexual norms have traditionally surrounded sexual acts with a total secrecy. This secrecy remains dominant, within marriage, in the family, and in public. [Comment 2001: However, this secrecy is no longer an absolute and universal factor inhibiting communications about any and all sexual issues in Korea today. Modern currents of sexual liberation, and global communications about sexual topics via the Internet and World Wide Web are reducing the traditional secrecy surrounding sexuality in Korean culture. As of the end of December, 2000, the Ministry of Information and Communication reported that the number of Korean Internet users topped 19 million (Korean Government Homepage 2000). Another study by NetValue also reported that Korean Internet users spent 18.1 hours a month online, on average, more than any of the other 12 nations, including Hong Kong (the second at 12.1 hours/month), the U.S. (at 10.8 hours/month), and Singapore (at 9.9 hours/month) (Korea Herald 2001). It is not difficult to assume how much the Internet will have an impact upon the lives and sexuality of Koreans. (On the very same day, the Seoul District Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into adult Internet sites and arrested six Internet adult-TV-station operators; the office announced that “we can no longer tolerate the Internet TV’s overheated competition by broadcasting lots of lewd programs,” and expanded the investigation to all 40 Internet adult-TV stations (Kim 2001) (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

Nevertheless, Confucian taboos continue to hinder institutional sexuality education programs, as well as discussions about sexuality within the family. Korean children grow up with a belief that ignorance of sex is good; they are still encouraged not to talk about sexuality. During childhood, they learn negative attitudes about sexuality, which during adolescence, because of their natural curiosity about sex, often turns into irresponsible sexual activities. [Comment 2001: In a nation-state study with 2,243 adolescents, 67.2% reported sexual violence in the middle/high school, and regarding the question of asking about potential sexual violence, 75.6% of the male adolescents and 23.9% of the females reported that they felt impulsive and had a terrible desire of experiencing “violent sexual activities” in middle/high school (Chung 1990). This negative view of sexuality is also related to the prevalence of verbal and physical sexual domestic violence in Korea (see Section 8, Significant Unconventional Sexual Behaviors) (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

The Double Standard in Sexual Culture

The most outstanding aspect of sexual culture in male-dominant Confucianism is the different standards of sexual morality for men and women. Such ethical codes are formulated by stressing virginity for women. According to Confucianism, the woman is always placed lower than the man. The husband is compared to the sky and wife is depicted as the ground and, therefore, she is obedient to the husband (see Woman’s Four Book by King Young-Jo, 1736/1987). [Comment 2001: Woman’s Four Book was originally written by Chinese scholars. King Young-Jo imported and translated the book to correct the morals of women. In his introduction, he began with the metaphor, “Man is the sky and woman is the ground.” Besides that dictum, many rules of obedience are described for women. For example, the title of the first chapter is, “The chapter of low and weak status,” which implied women. The chapter begins: “The sky is high, the ground is low and yang is strong, yin is weak. The lowness and weakness is women’s destiny. If the woman wants to be strong on her own, it violates the law of justice.” (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

Under the ideology of the gender hierarchy, the moral superiority of the upper class and family purity, and the Chosun dynasty Constitution of 1485, women of the ruling class were prohibited from remarriage after the death of their husband. If a widow was recognized as a moral model, gracious grants were allowed for her entire family. By the end of Chosun era, the control of female virginity and fidelity had been firmly established, widely promoted by books about female domestic education. Contemporary Korean attitudes towards virginity are based on these historical events. To maintain the purity of one’s family lineage, female virginity and sexual fidelity were and still are stressed for women, whereas men were and still are generously allowed the varieties of prostitution, polygyny, and other forms of sexual explorations.

The Phallus-Centered Sexual Culture

The male-dominant sexual culture of Korea has been very phallic oriented. Because the male sex is considered sexually superior to the female sex, sexual intercourse is not perceived of as a mutually intimate interpersonal relationship. Rather, it is perceived as a physiological or primitive event, a kind of tension release for the male. In this view, only the phallus is worth consideration. Thus, the entire Korean sexual culture exists for satisfying the male’s sexual needs, downplaying the mental and intimate relationship between partners. Women are raised to passively play up to this male-dominant action, and those who are more obedient and passive are encouraged. Men, on the contrary, are portrayed and raised as strong, aggressive, and dominating figures, and this concept is carried into everyday sexual and marital relationships. Because this sexual discrimination is regarded as natural, intimate relationships between men and women are seriously distorted.

[Comment 2001: The Korean metaphoric/ideological description of the phallus-centered sexual culture that one finds in Korea has interesting ritual expressions in the traditional phallus-worship ceremonies of Japanese Shintoism and lingam and yoni worship in Hinduism (Gregersen 1994, 232, 355). In Korea, the phallus is literally called “male-root” and the vulva “female-root.” Although many phallic stones were destroyed during Japan’s colonization and the subsequent modernization, 840 stones and wooden objects have been discovered so far (Kim & Yoon 1997). Those that are made of wood are placed in the temple or hung on the ceiling of a household. (The size and shape of the wooden phalluses are just like modern sex toys). Oh (1997) analyzed 45 historical remains that are preserved for “sexual worship”: 26 stones are categorized as being used in prayers for a son, 9 for protecting the village, 5 for preventing a women’s promiscuity, 3 for family well-being, and 2 for cultivation. These stones convey a male preference. However, many vulva-shaped stones can be easily found next to phallic stones in a ying-yang context or separately. These vulval stones, as well as vulval fountains, are also worshiped, as are phallic stones. Vulval fountains are not only natural ones, but some that are designed on purpose. In order to be pregnant with a son, women not only pray in front of the stone, but also rub their genital areas on it. Many interesting worship ceremonies are still held all over the country. For instance, in a fishing village, fishermen have for hundreds of years carved wooden phalluses and offered them to a legendary virgin of the temple twice a year. It is believed that the virgin died in the ocean longing for sex, so the villagers believe that they should appease the virgin ghost in the ocean with wooden phalluses to avoid any misfortune and accidents. (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

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2. Religious, Ethnic, and Gender Factors Affecting Sexuality

A. Source and Character of Religious Values

HUSO YI

As already noted, Korea has developed and adopted several new religions that have molded its sexual values, family structure, concepts of love, and gender roles, both in public and the private space. The ancient shamanistic religion and warrior aristocracy encountered a new religious influence 2,000 years ago in Confucianism. Buddhism arrived in Korea around 400 C.E. and was actively persecuted for a hundred years. At the end of the Koryo era around 1400, Neo-Confucianism reversed the previous sex-positive attitudes in Buddhism. In the late 1700s, Catholicism arrived from Europe, followed a century later by Protestantism. Today, 49% of South Koreans are Christians and 47% are Buddhists. Although only 3% of Koreans believe in Confucianism, it remains the basis of criminal law and sexual morals.

Confucianism

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI)

Confucianism was first introduced into Korea in the era of the Three Kingdom unification. The Unified Kingdom of Shilla was successful in blending the different lifestyles and cultures from the other two original kingdoms, and also was eager to accept the advanced cultures of mainland China. A new and unique cultural unification took place on the Korean peninsula, and one of the most important advancements was Confucianism. In this new era, the political idea of Confucianism, which stresses loyalty to authorities, was a convenient justification for the totalitarian rule of the kings. In the succeeding Koryo era, Confucianism continued to be the main ideological basis for the kingdom. Its beliefs were accepted as an efficient ideology supportive of the king and the ruling class. This is why, even though its official adherents are few in number in Korea, it has remained a major social influence. This practical social application is also the reason that Confucianism has flourished in the Far East.

Respected scholars were recruited to serve as high-ranking government officers, and all ceremonies and record keeping was modeled on the Confucian system. The government set up a learning center to sponsor further research and discussion of Confucianism. The kings and other nobles tried to practice the Confucian way of life in both their personal and public lives. One important aspect of Confucianism in the Koryo period 600 years ago is that it did not consider Buddhism as a hostile belief to Confucianism. The people of Koryo considered Buddhism as a personal religion for souls, and Confucianism as a bible for everyday human social lives. They respected both beliefs until the end of the Koryo era, when Buddhism became lavish and selfish. Orthodox followers of Confucianism then rejected Buddhism altogether, banning new recruits and halting financial support to the Buddhist temples. Confucianism was greatly appreciated by the reforming sect of the ruling class, which made it the official belief of the Chosun dynasty. It was the guideline of politics, society, and culture, encompassing all facets of everyday life. This marked the end of a thousand years of Buddhist public influence in Korean culture and the return of Confucianism in a Neo-Confucian form employing negativity against sexuality (Fellows 1979, 199-241; Noss & Noss 1990, 283-318).

Confucian belief regards the male as a positive being (yang) and the female as a negative counterpart (ying), based on the concept that the biological differences of the two sexes actually stem from a basic element of nature. Confucianism stresses the harmonious relationship of yang and ying, but yang is always more dominant than ying in every aspect. Thus, men are considered omnipotent compared to women, and male dominance and discrimination against women are justified. Furthermore, the Confucian way of life regards sex as an inevitable aspect needed to maintain the family and society, rather than an act of pleasure. Thus, in the Chosun era, sex was first considered as a reproductive process. The Chosun period is also known for its strict caste system, based on the Confucian theory that higher and ruling classes should be morally superior to the subjecting classes. Male preference and a double moral standard in sexual matters are only a few examples of this varied Confucian past (Fellows 1979, 199-241; Noss & Noss 1990, 283-318). [Comment 2001: In addition, it should be noted that these ideologies in Confucianism have been challenged by feminism since 1990, and are having an impact on changing the laws discriminating against the status of women and individuals’ lifestyles (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

Buddhism

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES

Buddhism was first introduced to Korea in the year 372 C.E. during the Three Kingdom period in which it was adopted and encouraged as the new faith by the royal court. Traditional shamanism and conservative nobles opposed Buddhism for 100 years after its initial introduction, but in all three Kingdoms, it was accepted by the sponsorship of royal endorsement. In the totalitarian kingdoms, Buddhism was a practical new faith helping to unify the common people. The people considered themselves subjects of both Buddha and the king, and this helped to unify the young kingdoms. The three kings and their royal courts gave generous contributions and slaves to the Buddhist temples to support cultivation of the land. Buddhism in this era was a tool to deepen the philosophical aspects of the people, and the monks were both scholars of learning and teachers (Fellows 1979, 129-194; Noss & Noss 1990, 157-231).

After the unification of the three kingdoms, Buddhism received more attention internationally by preaching abroad. However, the lavish construction of temples wasted resources, which became one of the reasons of the demise of the unified kingdom of Shilla. In the Koryo era, Buddhism still played a major role as the main religious belief of the kingdom. The monks of the Buddhist temples were exempt from military conscription and service, and even princes became monks in this era. This gave Buddhism a flavor of nobility, but toward the end of the Koryo dynasty, the powers of the Buddhist temples and monks became excessive, and power shifted back to Confucianism. During the Neo-Confucian Chosun period, the monks were subjected to harsh rules, including closure of major temples, seclusion in the mountains, forced labor, and heavy taxes. The social position of Buddhist monks was lowered substantially. Buddhism in this era shifted its base to the poor and unfortunate. Despite this oppression and decline in public image, 47% of Korean people still consider Buddhism as their faith. Buddhists in general are instructed to give up all desires, including those related to sex, and sexual activities are prohibited in many sects.

Catholicism and Protestantism

During the mid-Chosun dynasty at the end of the 17th century, a Korean scholar introduced a Catholic publication, marking the first recorded evidence of Christianity in Korea. Other books about Christianity followed and naturally became the subject of academic interest. Because Catholic belief differed so from the realistic beliefs of Confucianism, Catholic belief was initially considered similar to Buddhism, and so drew only academic attention and interest.

Towards the end of the 18th century, Christianity began to win over increasing numbers of the common people, mostly in the northern provinces near the Chinese border. Catholicism in Korea is unique in the fact that it was not initially introduced by priests, but rather through books imported by scholars and then self-propagated among the common people. Catholicism did not acknowledge the caste system, and thus was considered by the authorities as a threat to the society. Catholic worshipers also neglected the responsibility to conduct memorial services for one’s ancestors, which was considered one of the most important elements in Koreans’ everyday lives. Soon Catholicism was considered illegal and officially banned. Harsh punishments were given to the worshipers. The Chosun government also prohibited the importing of any Catholic book. Around 1801, some 300 Catholic worshipers, including a priest, were executed. A Korean informer notified the archbishop in Peking and called for a military demonstration by Western powers to stop this repression. This incident only aggravated the religious oppression of Catholics, and by 1839, three Western priests had been executed along with 80 more believers. However, Catholicism gained an underground popularity, so that by 1865, there were more than 23,000 Korean Catholics, with their own Catholic school.

The increasing popularity of Catholicism was in part attributed to the extremely corrupt period of the 19th-century Chosun. After the beginning of formal diplomatic relationships with France in 1887, freedom of religion was finally guaranteed in Chosun and an official Catholic Church was established in Seoul. Missionaries quickly set up Catholic parishes and became involved in publishing numerous books.

Protestantism was first introduced into Korea in 1884 by an American Presbyterian missionary named Dr. Horace N. Allen. In the next year, Dr. Horace G. Underwood (Presbyterian) and Rev. Henry G. Appenzeller (Methodist) arrived in Korea. They started by concentrating on offering practical knowledge on health, medicine, and general education to the poorer segments of the general public. Preaching followed. The Protestant belief of equality and freedom directly confronted traditional Confucianism, and became, as it spread, the foundation of a democratic movement. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was first established in 1903 in Korea and brought with it initiatives on reforming various aspects of everyday lives, including the prohibition of alcohol, abstinence from smoking, and equal rights. In 1915, the Chosun Christian College was founded, chiefly through the efforts of Dr. H. G. Underwood, the pioneering Protestant missionary who served as the Chosun Christian College’s first president. During the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century, the Protestant churches and schools became a secret stronghold for the independence movement. It is no wonder that many of prominent leaders in this era were Protestants. Both Catholics and Protestants are currently actively involved in medicine, education, and various social movements. (As noted earlier, 49% of Koreans are Protestant or Catholic.)

B. Character of Ethnic Values

HUSO YI

Korea is a very homogenous country in terms of ethnicity. Until recently, it was so and it is still rare for many Koreans to have close contact with other ethnic groups. Historically, when the neighboring countries, China and Japan, began to open their borders to Western culture in the late 19th century, Korea remained closed to trade with Western countries. Opening to trade with the West might lead to colonization by Japan or by Western nations, as happened with the British in Hong Kong and the Portuguese in Macau. Another reason for this policy of seclusion may be the size of Korea and its geographical location: a small country surrounded by China and Japan. The lack of contact with other cultures naturally restricted the acceptance of various sexual attitudes and behaviors from the outside. In recent years, the influence of globalization and the immigration of foreign laborers have challenged Korea’s homogenous character and traditional isolation.

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3. Knowledge and Education about Sexuality

A. Historical Perspective

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES

Unmarried young men and women in the Chosun dynasty received a very limited form of sexuality education, focused on how to achieve pregnancy and produce better descendants. The most important lesson was instruction on how to select the right time, as well as the best position and behaviors, for achieving pregnancy. When newlyweds started their honeymoon, the bride received a calendar with information about the fertile time. In many instances, husbands were also given this information. In some traditional extended families, married sons were not allowed to sleep in the same room with their wife unless the family patriarch approved, based on the wife’s fertile period. Delivering a child was an important, often-sacred event in the Confucian Chosun family. Prenatal care was a mandatory obligation for pregnant couples and was dutifully accepted by all expectant parents. This prenatal care began even before conception and was the focus of sexuality education when taught in the elementary schools.

B. Government Policies and Programs

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI)

The traditional silence of Korean society on sexuality issues and education has left its adolescents almost completely without guidance in dealing with the imported Western sexual cultures. This trend is accelerating with the fast pace of modernization, and the consequences can be observed in the increasing incidence of adolescent pregnancies, sexual abuse, and sexual crimes. The Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea (PPFK) started sexuality education in 1968. Since 1982, counseling centers for sexuality has been provided for adolescents in schools and industrial parks. Besides education and counseling, PPFK has published annual reports on counseling cases and educational projects to help understand adolescent sexuality.

In spite of such efforts and the obvious needs, formal sexuality education in schools has not been well established. What sexuality education exists in schools focuses solely on physical development and gender roles. For female students, the topics of menstruation, pregnancy, and virginity are the main content, whereas male students are taught about sexually transmitted disease and sexual activities. It is assumed that male students are sexually active but female students should not be. Research in the 1990s has noted the limitations and problems of the existing sexuality education in schools. For example, research by Lee (1996) reported that only 5.5% of students were satisfied with their school sexuality education program. [Comment 2001: In 1996, the Korean Government established the Korea Research Institute for Culture and Sexuality to develop effective sexuality education programs. Government policies, as stated in the Sex Education in the Adolescent Youth Protection Law, state that information and materials on homosexuality are illegal. The policies are based on homosexuals being sexually abstinent and denying themselves any sexual relationships, especially in adolescence. The policies also questioned whether homosexuality should be considered as a part of sexuality education program. (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

C. Informal Sources of Sexual Knowledge

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI)

In the early 1990s, interest in sexual information increased enormously. Since then, books as well as other materials on sexuality have been produced. To meet academic interest, conferences on sexuality have been held and the mass media have taken up sexuality topics. In 1998, a public sexual education program was offered on television, and the instructor became a celebrity. It is now relatively easy to access information on sexuality.

In two studies by the Korean Research Institute on Sexuality and Culture (Kim et al. 1996, 1997), 37.1% of 1,976 male high school students reported that their primary source of sexual knowledge was adult materials and pornography. Fourteen percent of the males learned from their friends, whereas 37% of 3,134 female high school students obtained sexual knowledge from their peers, and 25.7% learned in school. The percentages were lower for students in the upper grades. These results show an increase in the influence of sexuality education programs in school. The study also tested sexual knowledge. Some examples of the kinds of questions asked include: “The hymen can tear during bicycle or horse riding,” “The testis produces blood along with semen,” “Kissing can induce fertilization in healthy couples,” “Pregnancy stops periodic menstruation,” “The sex of a fetus is determined at birth,” “Douching immediately after intercourse prevents fertilization,” “Condom use lowers risk of contacting STDs,” and “Masturbation is not associated with transmission of AIDS.” The mean score of the correct answers was 62 for female students and 65 for males. For the questions about STDs, the mean score was 53. The results reflected the current need for more effective sexuality education in Korean adolescents.

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4. Autoerotic Behaviors and Patterns

A. Children and Adolescents

HUSO YI

The Korean Research Institute of Sexuality and Culture (Kim et al. 1997) reported that 70% of female high school students agreed that “masturbation is natural to release sexual desire.” In contrast with their positive attitudes, however, only 15.2% of the survey participants had experienced masturbation. For those who had masturbated, the frequency of masturbation was once a month (44.2%), two to four times per month (23.1%), and five to seven times per month (5%). With respect to self-reported feelings after masturbation, 35.6% felt guilty, 21.0% felt nothing, and 6.3% felt good. When asked about their response to a sexual urge, 41.9% “just endured,” 10.5% exercised and/or engaged in favorite habits, 6.2% masturbated for relief, and 35.7% answered they had no experience of sexual urges. Meanwhile, 49.9% of male high school students reported masturbating, whereas 46.3% endured the sexual urge. There was a significant gender difference in masturbation.

B. Adults

HUSO YI

Yoo, Oh, and Soh (1990) asked about parents’ attitudes toward masturbation to see their relationship to their children’s masturbation. In 75.2% of the parents showing positive attitudes toward their own masturbation, there was a linear trend by age: 77.8% in the parents in their 50s, 75.9% in their 40s, and 56.1% in their 30s. In terms of religious adherence, Buddhists were least positive about masturbation, 54.5%, compared with Protestants, 76.9%, and Catholics, 91.7%. In terms of negative views toward their own masturbation, more than 60% of the male and female respondents said, “It is against moral standards.” The second reason showed a significant gender difference: 25.0% of the males answered, “It’s harmful to sexual activity,” whereas 12.5% of the females offered a religious reason, saying that “it evokes guilty feeling.” Certainly, their attitude on masturbation was related to that of their children’s masturbation. Those who feel good about their own masturbation showed positive attitudes toward their children’s masturbation as well. Meanwhile, their reasons also revealed a significant gender difference. Half of the parents said children’s masturbation is good because it shows “good evidence of physical development.” But, in terms of gender difference, masturbation is a “unique method of resolution of sexual tension,” answered by 13. 6% of the males and 33.3% of the females, a “relief of physical tension” by 4.5% of the males and 13.3% of the females, and a “relief of psychological tension” by 11.4% of the males and 2.2% of the females.

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5. Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors

A. Children

Male Circumcision

ROBERT T. FRANCOEUR and HUSO YI

In 1945, after World War II, very few South Koreans knew there was such a thing as a “naked penis,” a penis with no foreskin. Male circumcision was practiced only within the tiny Jewish and Muslim enclaves. Nationwide, fewer than one in 1,000 South Korean boys were circumcised, and circumcision was equally unknown in neighboring China and Japan. In Asia, only the Filipinos embraced circumcision, or at least the Spanish version, which involves cutting a slit in the top of the foreskin rather that removing the foreskin altogether. Around the world, 50 years ago, only about 15% of boys were circumcised at birth or puberty. Only one “developed nation” stood out as a champion of circumcision and that was the United States, where 90% of newborn sons were circumcised. When American soldiers arrived in Korea to implement the United Nations trusteeship (1945-1948) and returned in even greater numbers to South Korea during the Korean War (1950-1953), South Koreans came to believe that practicing circumcision was “advanced and modern.”

In the 1960s, South Koreans adopted circumcision with a passion, but also with some differences. Whereas Americans circumcise their sons soon after birth, South Korean physicians decided it was much healthier to circumcise their sons at puberty, when they were 12 years old and could understand the importance of leaving their childhood behind and becoming a man. Unlike most American circumcisers, who until recently used no anesthesia as they operated on the newborn boy, South Korean circumcisers use a local anesthesia. In the 1960s, Korean doctors and advice columnists launched a campaign in newspapers and magazines urging parents to have their adolescent sons circumcised during the long winter break before a boy enters middle school. Infections, the Korean doctors say, are much less likely if circumcision is done in the winter rather than in the summer.

Another reason Korean doctors cite in recommending circumcision is their claim that South Korean men have a gene that causes penile phimosis or “abundant foreskin.” In their view, at least 90% of Korean men have “too much” foreskin. Strangely, there is no evidence of this alleged genotype for phimosis among South Koreans, where a 1971 study of men aged 19 to 31 entering military service found only 5% to be circumcised and fewer than 1% of uncircumcised men with phimosis (Jung 1971). The incidence of phimosis is similar to that in the rest of the world. At the same time, Kim, Lee, and Pang (1999) found that most physicians could not define phimosis, yet almost all of South Korean physicians recommend universal circumcision because they believe it eliminates tight foreskins and brings many benefits. Circumcision, they wrongly claim, makes for harder penises, eliminates the bad smell of the penis, reduces susceptibility to various sexually transmitted diseases, cures premature ejaculation, and prevents penile and cervical cancer. Finally, there is the irresistible claim that circumcision produces a definite “cure-all-aphrodisiac effect” in the penis.

Those who were not circumcised believed that they were “naturally circumcised.” The common word for “natural circumcision” may be difficult to understand in other countries. But, it is a very popular Korean term, which refers to one of the following: 1. not having phimosis; 2. relatively short prepuce; 3. fully retractable when penis gets erected; and 4. the penis looks more or less the same when erect. Considering the same low rate of phimosis, the uncircumcised men also think circumcision is mandatory, but they feel “naturally circumcised” (Kim et al. 1999). The researchers noted, “nearly all textbooks, encyclopedias, and newspaper articles [in South Korea] essentially advocate universal or near-universal circumcision, and the debate is about when to be circumcised or to circumcise, rather than whether to be circumcised.”

For unknown reasons deeply rooted in their ethos, South Korean doctors misinterpret the recent decrease in American parents circumcising their newborn sons—down to 59% in 1992—as recommending universal circumcision at about age 12, even though there is absolutely no evidence that American boys are now being circumcised at puberty. The doctors are also puzzled why such “advanced” countries as Japan and Denmark do not recommend universal circumcision. One advice columnist recently wrote that, “If a child feels different because he is not circumcised and his friends boast of having a superior penis because of circumcision, it is good to have him circumcised for psychological reasons.” Today, at least 95% of South Korean boys entering middle school have been circumcised. For the other 5%, the question is not whether they should give up their foreskin, but when they should be circumcised. Korean boys simply take circumcision for granted. It is their right of passage to manhood.

B. Adolescents

HUSO YI [Updated 2003 by H. Yi]

According to a study among female high school students (Kim et al. 1997), 44.4% had had heterosexual relationships. Of those who had not had vaginal intercourse, 47.8% reported that they just had not had the opportunity, 18.3% did not want to because “we are students,” and 15.5% were not interested in the opposite gender. These results suggest that, if the opportunity offered itself, heterosexual relationships would be increased. With regard to a question about what sexual intimacies are permissible for unmarried adolescents, 44.7% regarded light kissing as permissible, 31.6% accepted holding hands, 19.7% regarded kissing and petting as acceptable, and only 1.4% found sexual intercourse acceptable. The results indicated that female students still wanted to keep their virginity although their attitudes toward sexuality became more open and liberal. In the study, 88.1% of the female students reported that virginity should be kept until marriage, whereas 65.7% of males favored premarital sexual activity. In their study, 91.7% had no coital experience, and only 7.5% had coital experiences. Among those who had coital experiences, 38.7% were coerced into having sex, 32.3% had sex “because of love,” and 11.9% were raped. In the study of male students, of the 16.2% who had had coital experiences, 74.7% had had sex with a girlfriend, 34.1% had had intercourse with a woman they “happened to meet,” and 16.6% had done so with prostitutes (Kim et al. 1996). A national sample of high school students indicated that the sexual intercourse rate among male students increased from 12% to 18% between 1988 and 1998, while female students’ sexual intercourse rate increased from 3% to 8% between 1988 and 1997 (Han et al. 2001).

Most of adolescents held conservative views of sexual experiences. The study also noted a difference in contraceptive use between males and females; 20.4% of female students used contraceptive methods and 52.2% of males used them (Kim et al. 1996; Kim et al. 1997). The most frequent contraceptive method was condom use (37.5% of the females and 49.1% of the males). The next most frequent “contraceptive” method was withdrawal prior to ejaculation (33.3% of the females and 31.1% of the males). The low percentage of contraceptive usage may come from male partners’ ignorance of condom use and/or the lack of opportunity (power) for that. Females have less opportunity to make decisions.

The Korean Sexuality Counseling Center (1997) for adolescents reported that most calls, 86.1%, were from boys. One in five boys, 20.6%, had questions about masturbation and 16.7% asked about sexual impulses. The callers were most curious about physical contacts with the other sex (50.2%), followed by pregnancy and delivery (17.4%). Boys tended to show self-centered, male-egoistic attitudes about the other sex, whereas girls focused on their responses and passive behaviors. The most frequent concern of high school girls, 31.6%, was boyfriends, followed by pregnancy, 12.4%, and abortion, 4.9%. This reflects passive attitudes about sex on the part of Korean females. The girls usually consulted with their friends, 44.5%, or with professional counselors, 33.6%. Parents and siblings were less frequently consulted, 12.2% and 4.1%, respectively. However, only 1.1% of girls considered their own schoolteachers as trustworthy consultants. A similar trend was seen with high school boys: 53.5% wanted to consult with their friends, but only a few were willing or wanted to share their sexual problems with parents (5.7%), siblings (5.1%), or teachers (1.5%). There is a substantial communication barrier between high school students and their parents and teachers, attributable to strong emotional barriers on both sides, which impede sincere discussion.

Youn’s (1996) study with 849 adolescents revealed similar results that 9.8% of the female respondents had coital experiences while 22.9% of the males had it. However, the study revealed significant gender difference in sexual experiences. The male respondents reported the maximum number of sex partners, ranging between 25 and 40 partners, whereas the highest number for the females was 6. The average number of coital partners for the males steadily increased by grade, but the number of females’ coital partners did not, as Table 2 shows. This may be because of the value of keeping virginity as a treasure to be maintained until marriage and a sort of sexual explosion in the first college year (grade 13). With respect to the question of practicing safer sex, 43% of the sexually active male adolescents had used contraceptive methods at least once, whereas 28% of the females had done so. But, only 7% of the respondents used contraceptives consistently.

Table 2                  

Korean Adolescents Who Experienced Sexual Intercourse by
Year in School


Grade
Males Females Combined
% n   / N % n   / N % n   / N
11 14.6 25 /   171 8.1 7 /   86 12.5 32 /   257
12 16.6 38 /   229 7.8 10 /   129 13.4 48 /   358
13 16.5 51 /   309 10.5 28 /   267 13.7 79 /   576
14 21.0 87 /   415 9.5 37 /   388 15.4 124 /   803
15 22.4 99 /   441 9.3 37 /   398 16.2 136 /   839
16 22.9 103 /   449 9.8 39 /   440 16.7 142 /   849
Source: Youn 1996

C. Adults

Premarital Relations, Courtship, and Dating

HUSO YI

In 1991, the Women’s Studies Center of Ewha Woman’s University surveyed 352 male participants ranging in age from 20 to 40, which indicated that over 80% had had heterosexual experiences, and among those, 44.7% had their first sexual experiences with a female prostitute, 55.4% answered that prostitution should be allowed to prevent rape, and 25.6% were in favor of the legal regulation of prostitution (Chin et al. 1997).

A study of 1,596 married couples reported that 50.8% regarded premarital relations as negative and 36% as positive; 75% regarded extramarital affairs negatively and 13.2% as something positive (Chin et al. 1997). In their study, the responses of male and female participants showed significant differences. Females, and those who were younger, more educated, and had no religious affiliation, held more positive attitudes toward premarital and extramarital relations. An interesting factor was the participants’ ambivalence. Around 80% were concerned about what they viewed as the current open and uncontrolled sexual culture. On the other hand, 61% agreed that Korea’s sexual culture is repressed. The usual double moral standard, which is more permissive for males than for females, is more complicated in modern Korea, where premarital sexual experiences and sexual liberation are increasingly accepted, while at the same time, the traditional value of female virginity and sexual passivity is expected in a very patriarchal society. The result, obviously, is psychological stress more for women than for men.

Sexual Behavior and Relationships of Single Adults

HUSO YI

As one might suspect from what has already been discussed, sexual behavior and relationships among Korean single adults are very limited because of negative attitudes toward premarital sexual relationships and the frequency of marriages arranged by parents or according to their socioeconomic status (Kendall 1996). Thus, it is likely that single adults do not feel a need for sexual relationships. Even though sexual liberation has influenced the sexual relationships of single adults, the value of female virginity is hard to be dismissed. In a study of single-adult sexual behaviors (Kim et al. 1998), around half of the male and female adults were in heterosexual relationships. But, being in relationships did not mean having sexual relationships: 52.9% of the male respondents had positive attitudes to sexual relationships, whereas 37.6% were opposed to that. In response to the question of “how one resolves a sexual urge” (multiple answers), 60% of males exercised, 52.1% masturbated, 38.3 used hobbies as a distraction, 37.0% held in their urge, 9.6% prayed, 11.7% claimed they never had a sexual urge, and 26.2% had sex. In the female group, 35.2% exercised, 8.1% masturbated, 33.8% engaged in hobbies, 21.8% repressed their urge, 3.7% had sex, and (surprisingly) 61.1% never had sexual urges. Such female repression of the sexual urge or self-reported asexuality can be related to the most frequent female sexual dysfunction, inhibited sexual orgasm (see Section 12, Sexual Dysfunctions, Counseling, and Therapies).

Hymen Reconstruction and Plastic Surgery

HUSO YI

Hymen can be translated as “virgin-skin” in Korean. Despite the effort of educating Koreans about the meaning and function of the hymen, the existence of an intact hymen is still highly valued at marriage so that hymen reconstruction and plastic surgery is frequently popular. There was an interesting lawsuit case about the loss of a hymen. In 1994, a 40-year-old woman sued the Korean Medical Research Center because she was extremely psychologically distressed after she lost her hymen during a Pap smear test. Even though the doctor claimed that the hymen is usually torn during the test (and can even be torn by exercise), the court said, “It is clear that the hymen is still recognized as a symbol of ‘virginity’ and keeping virginity is valued in society. It is admitted that she was distressed by the lost of her symbol of virginity, therefore the hospital must pay for compensation” (Park 1994). One Korean prenatal genetic clinic offers STD tests with hymen reconstructive surgery, so that women can be free from her “history” of past sexual experiences (http://www.yunlee.co.kr, in Korean). In addition, the vaginal-opening muscle (pubococcygeus muscle) tension surgery (called “beauty surgery”) is also commonly provided after delivery or for middle-aged married women. These surgeries are not even approved by the Korean medical association (Seol 2000). Dr. Seol, one of the leading sex therapists, is strongly opposed to such surgeries, based as they are on myths (see Section 12, Sexual Dysfunctions, Counseling, and Therapies).

Marriage and Family: Structures and Patterns

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI)

In 1948, when Korea initiated its own government, the law on monogamous marriage was enforced. According to the census, the crude marriage rate had not changed from 1975 (8.0) to 1997 (8.1). The average age at first marriage in 1987 was 27.3 for males and 24.5 for females, which was delayed to 28.7 and 25.9, respectively, in 1997. However, the crude divorce rate has increased significantly from 0.5 in 1975 to 2.0 in 1997. The number of divorces in 1998 was 124,000, an increase of 30% from 1997. It is calculated that one out of three Korean marriages today end in divorce (see Tables 3 and 4). The annual report also indicated that the most common cause of divorce was the extramarital affairs of husbands. Moon (1993) addressed the factors of dissatisfaction in sexual activities with spouse, husband dominance, lack of respect and affection, male-preferred sexual position, no foreplay, and absence of communication. The sexual activities of married couples were only initiated and led by the husband. It is hardly acceptable for wives to express their sexual interests because of the cultural value of male dominance in sexual relationships.

Table 3                  

Crude Marriage Rate and Crude Divorce Rate: 1975-1997

Year Total Marriage Crude Marriage Rate Total Divorce Crude Divorce Rate
1975 282,000 8.0 16,179 0.5
1985 375,253 9.2 38,429 0.9
1995 401,161 8.8 67,858 1.5
1996 389,319 8.5 79,733 1.7
1997 374,429 8.1 83,171 2.0
Source: National Statistical Office 1999b

Table 4                  

Mean Age at First Marriage: 1987-1997

Year Male Female
1987 27.3 24.5
1990 27.9 24.9
1993 28.2 25.1
1996 28.6 25.7
1997 28.7 25.9
Source: National Statistical Office 1999b

According to a survey with 1,200 housewives in 1996, 67.2% reported dissatisfaction with their sexual lives and 30.2% responded that their sexual lives were satisfactory (Kim 1996). Such a psychological distress of sexual dissatisfaction leads to the increase of extramarital sex and divorce. In recent years, the rate of divorce caused by adultery has been increasing by 15% annually.

D. History and Structure of the Korean Family

Patriarchy

PILWHA CHANG (Summarized by HUSO YI)

The recently expanding discourses on sexuality and the enlarging diversity of lifestyles in contemporary Korean society might give an impression that the reign of traditional control over sexuality is loosening. However, “legitimate” sexual behavior has been, and still tends to be, limited to marital partners. Patriarchy has a vested interest in defining women’s sexuality in a particular way. It has particular sexual scripts, which use sexuality as social control. Women and men’s sexuality is treated differently. Women’s sexuality has frequently been exploited and degraded and used to sell commodities, even to turn women themselves into commodities. This double standard works against women and in favor of men.

Korean history, from the 3rd century to the end of the 19th century, illustrates a gradual systematization of one of the most ideal types of patriarchy in the world. By the end of the 16th century, the state completed a patriarchal system by implementing Confucian ideology, with its gender hierarchy and sex segregation, through the gender division of labor and class divisions that upheld the patriarchal family in strict observance of patrilineage (rule of lineage, descent, or continuing family line from father to son), patrinymy (rule of continuing the surname of the father), and patrilocality (residential rule based on patrilineal locality). Women had to prove their worth as mothers, producing sons to continue the family line, and producing food and clothing, to survive in a woman-hostile environment. However strong and capable they might have been, Korean women were systematically denied activities outside the confines of the home, and their education was strictly prohibited.

Only in the national crisis at the end of the 19th century, when foreign powers threatened Korea’s sovereignty, did some possibilities of cracking this rigidity arise. For about two centuries, some philosophical systems, among them Silhak and Tonghak, began to question the gender relations under new influences. [Comment 2001: Very briefly, Silhak can be compared to pragmatism and Tonghak can share its philosophy with a sort of socialism that claims the rights of lower-class people. (End of comment by Huso Yi)] However, it was only in a crisis situation when proper observation of traditional family rituals became difficult or impossible that such thoughts began to be heard and listened to. The national crisis created a space of critical reflection on the traditional ways of life. Within this space, reevaluation of the position of women began. Women’s social participation had to be accepted, however reluctantly, as essential to national survival. The resulting discourse, however, focused on the national interests, and not on the value of education held for the personal development of women and their fuller participation in society.

In the last hundred years, Koreans have experienced crisis after crisis: the Japanese occupation, two World Wars, the division of the country into North and South, the Korean War, and the industrial war to join the world capitalist system. These crises prioritized efficiency and expediency, and justified sacrificing individual human rights for the sake of growth and stability. In this context, it was easy to brush aside women’s claim for human rights as a luxury, and so the tradition of utilizing women’s instrumental values persisted. At the same time, such crises opened some windows of opportunity for women to participate in sociopolitical arenas. Also, it is true that the models of the “developed” world provided a stimulus for women’s rights. Consequently, women’s suffrage was included in the first modern Constitution in 1947, and primary education became compulsory for girls as well as boys. In the last few decades, Korea has managed to furnish the appearance of “modernity.” Despite the appearance and some changes in patriarchal families, the underlying assumptions continue to be patriarchal, with the view that women’s identity is only familial, guided by the “three obediences” to father, husband, and son, and without any independent public identity based on her own personal merit.

The marginal position of a daughter in her natal family rests in her future roles as wife and daughter-in-law in another household. Because of this, she was considered only as a temporary member of her natal family, her filial piety being transferred on marriage to her parents-in-law. Her duty of filial piety towards her own parents was not to bring shame and dishonor to her natal family by misbehaving in her new family. With marriage, a daughter had to break her ties with her natal home, “she who left the family and has become a stranger.” Her parents told her that she now belonged to her husband’s family where she had to persevere, however hard life might have been: “She ought never return to her old home but the ghost of her husband’s home.” It is another example of how married women are treated. In an old saying, once they are married, they have to finish their lives no matter what happens to them. Once married, a wife who committed any of seven evils could legitimately be divorced, and a divorce brought shame to her natal family. Because a wife could not be protected by her natal family, she had no alternative but to comply with the rules of her husband and his family to survive. In this environment, the sooner a wife made the transition, the easier it was for her in her new role. Physical distance from the natal family helped the process, hence the proverb: “Toilets and the wife’s home are best kept at a distance.”

Even if the environment of her husband’s household was alien and hostile initially, the young wife can gradually establish her own position within the household by producing her own children, particularly sons. Producing the heir secures her status and her acceptance as a full member of her husband’s family. Once a wife became the senior lady of the household, mother-in-law to her sons’ wives, she had achieved a measure of power. Many women must have softened the hardships by anticipating the day when they would enter the stage of being a mother-in-law. This is another dimension of intrafamily relationships that explains why having a son was, and still is, so much more important to a mother than having a daughter. As filial piety was the supreme principle, a mother’s authority was respected, and through her sons she could enjoy a measure of social power.

However, although a mother possessed considerable power and influence within the family, her power did not extend beyond its boundary. A woman’s power was based on the private relationship between mother and son, and, however strong an influence she may have on him, it could not extend beyond the scope of the village. As this power was derived from the son, and his power base lay in patriarchy, the mother’s power could not and did not challenge the patriarchal system. Rather, the mother actively enforced patriarchal rules in their own interest. This is why, despite the existence of powerful women, the patriarchal system was not undermined or modified to improve the situation of women, nor to institutionalize the private nature of women’s power publicly. Under this system, it is far easier for women to perceive other women as a threat to their livelihood and power than as allies to fight against the system.

Problems of Today’s Families and Its Direction of Change

HUSO YI

There is little dispute that the family has been changing under the process of industrialization. Although this is widely acknowledged by empirical research and a broad range of data sets, the question still remains whether the external trends really confirm the change in the stereotyped ideology of the family, even with the notion that social procedures are now developing for basic functions other than the family. Besides, it is also necessary to notice that not all changes occur at an equal rate, nor do all segments of a society adjust equally to the changes taking place. Then, how much change has occurred in the Korean family and what are the implications of this change?

The decrease in average household size (from 5.2 in 1979 to 3.12 in 1995) may come from the increase in one-person households and non-family households because of the advance of the mean age of first marriage of women (from 21.5 in 1960 to 26.2 in 1998), the great flexibility in adapting to new ways of life, such as marriage, divorce, and remarriage, and more frequent family moving. Despite the changes in the physical organization of the family, traditional Confucian ethics, which stress patrilineage, filial piety, solidarity among brothers, and the importance of domestic harmony, are still pervasive in the Korean family. The unbalanced sex ratio of children, which has emerged as a serious social problem in Korea, shows a good case in point. In other words, the ideal of son preference is still pervasive as a main agent to support the male-centered norms and values of the patriarchal family. The findings from the 1981 Gallup survey of children and mothers (see Table 5) also shows that the traditional Korean concept of the family as a social institution to continue patrilineage is reflected in attitudes toward childrearing.

Table 5                  

Meaning of Giving Birth and Raising Children

  Mothers Only Both Parents
  Korea U.S. Korea U.S.
To transmit my life to my child 34.0 40.8 32.2 30.5
To have a successful child who will further pursue
my aspirations
43.2 10.9 32.1 11.4
To continue my family line/name 48.3 23.1 68.2 28.4
To contribute to a generation which will inherit
the future society
48.4 52.6 39.6 45.6
To strengthen our family bond 24.8 44.9 25.4 49.5
To have security in my old age 26.8 5.8 37.5 7.8
To mature and enrich myself 13.5 44.2 19.2 53.5
Just to enjoy childbearing 19.3 48.6 18.9 49.8
To be recognized by society 29.3 4.0 10.9 2.2
To obtain additional work power in our family 2.2 2.6 1.8 2.6
Note: Multiple answers may exceed 100%. Source: Chang 1998

Despite the gradual changes in recent years, the idea that the role of homemaking belongs exclusively to women is still pervasive throughout Korean society. This has put great pressure on career women and forced them to perform dual roles. Women engaged in full-time homemaking, on the other hand, experience more social alienation and anxiety in the nuclear family life than in the traditional extended family life, which is increasingly more difficult to maintain in modern urban life. Full-time homemakers experience a serious conflict of role expectations and their own identities. Thus, although Korean families appear to be stable, in reality, they are increasingly at a crisis level of psychological dissolution.

Sexuality and the Physically Disabled and Aged

HUSO YI

In a study about sexuality in 65 spinal-cord-injured males (Oh et al. 1990), 24 had problems with erections, 23 had difficulty in maintaining erections, and 24 were unable to ejaculate. During sexual intercourse, 41 had difficulty with erections, but the rest reported suffering from fears of not reaching orgasm, and fears of a passive response and rejection from partners. After the spinal-cord injury, about 80% of them said that their sexual and marital satisfaction had decreased. Although they were aware of sexual problems, only 5 had been in sex therapy because of a lack of facilities and accessibility.

The National Rehabilitation Center started a sexual rehabilitation clinic project in 1996. The clinic has provided sex therapy and counseling, couple sex therapy, group therapy, and erectile dysfunction therapy for more than 1,000 physically disabled people and their partners. The clinic also facilitates a place, called the “shelter for love,” where physically disabled people and their partners can stay over to enjoy their sexual activities. Since 1998, the clinic staff has organized conferences about sexuality and disability. In 2000, Dr. B. S. Lee, a sexual rehabilitation specialist, published a small handbook, Sexual Rehabilitation for the Spinal Cord Injured. The book introduced the importance of sexuality in the physically disabled, cases reports about sex therapy for the foreign and Korean disabled, sexual concerns of the female and male disabled, medical treatment for erectile dysfunction, psychological issues on sexual rehabilitation, and marriage of the physically disabled. (For information: http://www.nrc.go.kr/eng/eindex.htm; contact: nrc1986@chollian.net.)

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6. Homoerotic, Homosexual, and Bisexual Behaviors

A. Historical Perspective

HUSO YI

The earliest Korean record of homosexuality may be from King Hyekong, the 36th king of the Shilla dynasty in Samguk-Yusa (a Three Kingdoms’ story) written by Il Yeon in the 13th century. King Kyungduk did not have a son, but wanted one very badly because he needed an heir. He kept asking the messenger between God and man to go to God and ask for a son. God insisted that he was not destined to have a son, only daughters, yet the King was persistent. Finally, God let him have a son, but God put a female spirit in the son’s body. King Hye-Kong was very feminine and liked only being around men all the time. He became the next king at the age of 8 in 765 C.E. because his father died early. However, he was killed at the age of 22 in April 780 by his subordinates because they could not accept his ‘femininity.’ Another story in Samguk Yusa is about Myojung, a very young Buddhist monk who lived during the reign of Wonsung (785-798 C.E.), the 38th king of the Shilla dynasty. It is said that he was loved and sought after by several male Shilla aristocrats, and even by a Chinese Emperor from the Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E.).

One of the best-known homosexual histories is the Hwarang or Flower Boy, the story of a homoerotic military elite, paralleling the Egyptian mamluks, the Japanese samurai, and the Theban Band of ancient Greece (Murray 2000). Prior to the introduction of Buddhism, ancient Korea maintained a transgendered shamanistic tradition, in which the hwarang seem to have been involved. With the transfer of religious legitimization to Buddhism, the code of the hwarang began to change from social and religious concerns to political and military programs. In the Haedong-Kosung-Chon [Lives of Eminent Korean Monks] written by the Buddhist Kakhun in 1215, the first criterion of the hwarang seems to have been appearance: “It was handsome youths who powdered their faces, wore ornamented dresses, and were respected as hwarang.” After unification of the peninsula, ruled by the Three Kingdoms, in 676, the members of hwarang were rewarded with land and slaves.

In the Koryo dynasty, same-sex relationships, mostly between males, were very common among the ruling class. In a historical analysis of Hallimbuilgok by Seong, King Chungsun (1275-1325) maintained a long-term relationship with a wonchung (male lover), and King Kongmin (1325-1374) appointed at least five youths as “little-brother attendants” (chajewhi) as sexual partners. After the fall of the Koryo dynasty in 1392, the Chosun dynasty adopted Confucianism as a governing ideology in order to confirm their dynasty as totally different from the Koryo dynasty. Even though Confucianism had negative attitudes about same-sex relationships, there were still male-to-male relationships among the Buddhists and among the rural ruling class. Lesbian relationships were not treated with the same acceptance, as the palace chronicle from the Chosun dynasty reveals. King Sejong convened a meeting of his cabinet on October 24, 1436, to discuss the rumors that his daughter-in-law had been sleeping with her maidservant. These rumors had been somehow confirmed, so the ministers advised the king to strip his daughter-in-law of her noble status in order to preserve the honor and dignity of the royal family (Chung 1998).

Another historically known homosexual group was the namsadang in the Chosun dynasty (Murray 1992), which existed until it was broken up by force to extinguish the national culture under the colonization of Japan in the early 1910s. As a type of indigenous theater, the namsadang traveled around the country with various types of entertainment, including band music, song, masked dance, circus, and puppet plays. Reflecting the common peoples’ harsh living conditions and their resentment toward the upper class, the namsadang was the voice of lower-class people. When boys, called midong (beautiful boys), first joined a troupe, they played the penetrated sex role and were probably male prostitutes for the rural ruling class (Leupp 1995). In this era, many members of the rural ruling class maintained boys for sexual purposes. Because same-sex relationships, however, were generally regarded as immoral in the eyes of Neo-Confucianism, the namsadang performers were treated as outcasts.

B. Children and Adolescents

HUSO YI

As mentioned below, there is a law against informing adolescents about homosexuality and, in mental health settings, it is easy for lesbian and gay adolescents to be diagnosed as having either sexual maturation disorder, egodystonic orientation, or sexual relationship disorder. In fact, it is likely that mental health professionals will claim homosexual attraction is nothing but a phase of heterosexual development (Yi 2000). In another context, homosexuality may be diagnosed as either pseudo-homosexuality or true-homosexuality (Hong 1996; Lee 1993). Although no research on homosexuality among children and adolescents has been conducted, most research on adolescent sexuality asks questions about homosexual behaviors. Instead of considering homosexual behaviors as normal, these studies by the Korean Research Institute for Culture and Sexuality categorize homosexuality together with “sexual violence” (Lee et al. 1998), or asks females the question, “Have you ever fallen in love with a woman whom you consider as a man?” (Kim et al. 1997). Both studies found that around 13% of the female student respondents said they had had sexual relationships with the same gender.

C. Adults

Gender Roles, Courtship, and Relationship Patterns

HUSO YI

Before the emergence of gay identity in the mid-1990s, expressing homosexuality in Korea was somewhat easier than in the West, because the existence of homosexuality was denied at the same time there was a cultural tolerance for homophilic touch. Same-sex friends can hold hands together on the streets just like heterosexual couples. However, it might be inappropriate to see such same-sex friendships as homosexual relationships in the way that Western culture does (Shong & Icard 1996). One of cultural patterns related to homophilia is that when a husband’s friend visits, his wife sleeps separately from her husband, who sleeps with his male friend. Also, because same-sex roommates before marriage are common, in fact, more acceptable than sharing with the opposite gender, living as a young “gay” couple is possible, and the neighbors hardly suspect them as lesbians or gay males (Yi 2000). But, because everyone’s first role is to continue family linkage, lesbians and gay men are compelled to be married after a certain age. In addition, Christianity is certainly another hindrance for gay courtship, particularly because Korean Christianity is strongly fundamentalist (Martin & Berry 1998). These long-established cultural norms have been challenged by the gay community. Every issue of a gay magazine since 1997 reports the commitment ceremonies of lesbian and gay couples.

Social Status of Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals

HUSO YI [Updated 2003 by H. Yi]

The modern gay community can be traced from the 1960s as a form of subculture grown in Nakwon (paradise). From this culture, the decorous term for homosexuals began to be constructed: A derogatory term, pogal (the backward reading of the word kalbo, which refers to the most vulgar term for prostitute, and more generically meaning “promiscuous”), was created. In public, tongsôngyônaeja (men who only pursue sex with men) had been used to degrade homosexuals. Until the intense contact of Western gay culture, the word homo had been occasionally used by homosexuals themselves and later by heterosexuals as a term of insult. Gay had been also used, but referred to transsexuals, transvestites, or cross-dressers. Of those cultural codes, the most influential word is iban (other people), which has survived up to these days and represents homosexual identity, as does gay. The origin of iban is unknown, yet it is interpreted as contrasting to ilban, which means general people or default/first-class. An interesting response from political gay activists about the word was hesitation in using iban, because the word does not impose any positive meaning of pride. The concept of pride was never imagined until the 1990s, and then first conflicted with the very local term for homosexual, iban. Regardless, iban indicated a new consciousness of homosexuals as a social group, but then it was classified as the first blocked LGBT-related keyword for online gay interest groups on the largest Korean website as of May 2002.

In the 1970s, around 120 lesbians and gay men held a monthly social gathering at a Chinese restaurant. But, the social group did not survive to connect with the current gay community (Lee 1997). Today’s gay movement emerged with Sappho, the first Korean lesbian group, organized by an American lesbian soldier. When she came to Korea in November 1991 to serve in the army and found no lesbian bars, she immediately realized that living as a lesbian was very difficult in Korea. Outside of meeting a few lesbians in a gay bar, there was no chance to meet with lesbians. She decided to organize a group for lesbians and placed an advertisement for her lesbian group in English newspapers. Eight foreign lesbians from the United States and Europe gathered together at the first meeting. The membership of Sappho changed often, because most of its members returned to their homes in the U.S., Canada, Belgium, Sweden, or Australia after two or three years in Korea. Sappho was still holding its small meetings in early 2001.

In the U.S., groups for lesbian and gay Korean-Americans were founded in New York (in December 1990) and in Los Angeles (in August 1993). A few members from these Korean-American groups had been in contact with Sappho and discussed forming Korean gay and lesbian rights groups and providing outreach and support to their various friends. In the meantime, a Korean-American gay man visited Korea and organized the first Korean gay and lesbian co-gendered group in December 1993. Unlike Sappho, this group was organized by Koreans, and is recognized as the first authentically Korean lesbian and gay men’s support group.

Medicalization of homosexuality was first introduced in 1970 by a clinical case study, titled “Sexual Perversions in Korea” (Han 1970). On the basis of Ying/Yang, the research reporting of homosexual clients in the 1960s holds that the reason for the smaller number of homosexuals is that Koreans were sexually more mature than Westerners. By repetition of gender-related ideology and strategically importing the Western view of homosexuality as inversion, Korean psychiatry created a local stance and, even today, claims that, even though homosexuality is no longer seen as mental illness, it is still socially unacceptable and dysfunctional. Currently, the Korean Standard Disease Classification, adopted from WHO’s ICD-10, classifies three categories: “Sexual Maturation Disorder,” “Egodystonic Sexual Orientation,” and “Sexual Relationship Disorder.” However, inclusion of the words “normal heterosexuality” and “marriage” in the translation shows local homophobic motives created by a faxed culture of a psychopathological model of homosexuality. No affirmative mental health service is available. In the mental health setting, the Korean Standard Disease Classification (KSDC) states three “Psychological and Behavioral Disorders Associated with Sexual Development and Orientation” (http://www.nso.go.kr/stat/dis/e-diss.htm, in English):

  • F 66.0 Sexual Maturation Disorder: The patient is suffering from uncertainty about his gender identity or sexual orientation, causing anxiety or depression. Most commonly this occurs in adolescents who are not certain whether they are homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual in orientation, or older married individuals who after a period of apparently normal heterosexuality, often within marriage, find themselves experiencing homosexual feelings.
  • F 66.1 Egodystonic Sexual Orientation: The gender identity or sexual preference (either heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, prepubertal or uncertain) is not in doubt but the individual wishes it were different because of associated psychological and behavioural disorders, and may seek treatment in order to change it.
  • F 66.3 Sexual Relationship Disorder: The gender identity or sexual orientation (either hetero-, homo-, or bisexual) is responsible for difficulties in forming or maintaining a relationship with a sexual partner.

In the original text in ICD-10, F 66.0, Sexual Maturation Disorder, reads as follows:

F 66.0 Sexual Maturation Disorder: The patient is suffering from uncertainty about his gender identity or sexual orientation, causing anxiety or depression. Most commonly this occurs in adolescents who are not certain whether they are homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual in orientation, or individuals who, after a period of apparently stable sexual orientation (often with a longstanding relationship), find that their sexual orientation is changing. (italics added)

In the KSDC version, the italicized phrase above has been replaced by: older married individuals who after a period of apparently normal heterosexuality, often within marriage, find themselves experiencing homosexual feelings.

Because there is no law protecting lesbians and gay males, Korea has no sodomy laws proscribing oral or anal intercourse, except a military law against homosexual relationships in the army. Meanwhile, in 2000, Korea passed the law of Youth Protection prohibiting distribution of materials that contain incest, animal sex, and homosexuality. The following are examples of institutional homophobia. Sodomy is also proscribed behavior for members of the military, and a general statute against anything contrary to sexual customs is enforced as criminal law. In 1997, the first Seoul Queer Film Festival was banned by the government, which declared it illegal on the grounds that all homosexual materials are obscene. Since 1998, the first gay magazine has been receiving a notice from the Korean Publication Ethics Committee warning that the publication consists of obscenity, therefore, it should not be distributed among youth. In 1999, a high school textbook portrayed gay men as AIDS disease carriers and sexual perverts. Increasing concerns over AIDS revealed the possibility of an anti-gay backlash. Even though AIDS organizations are supposedly fighting against the spread of AIDS, they are in fact fighting against the spread of homosexuals by promoting homophobia and conservative sexual morals.

In October 2000, when a famous actor, Mr. Hong, first came out as gay, his jobs vanished almost overnight. His gay presence as a victim, however, made the discourse of homosexuality in ordinary lives public and led to discriminatory policies. In 2001, the Seoul City Hall authorities ordered a two-month pay cut for a male firefighter for allegedly maintaining an inappropriate relationship with a male colleague, although neither of them identified as gay. Ironically, the distaste for homosexuality created an obsession with any perceived homophile relationships. People began to be afraid of personal touch with the same sex to avoid any suspicion of being homosexuals.

In July 2001, the Ministry of Information and Communications adopted an Internet content-rating system classifying gay and lesbian websites as “harmful media” that must be blocked on all public computer facilities accessible to youth (e.g., schools, public libraries, and Internet cafes). Homosexuality is classified under the category of “obscenity and perversion” in the Criteria for Indecent Internet Sites. The decision was based on the Korean government’s Youth Protection Act of 1997, which classifies descriptions of “homosexual love” as “harmful to youth.” The first case was enacted against the owner of the first and largest gay website in November 2001, with a notice that unless it was immediately marked as a ‘harmful site,’ and filtering software was installed to prevent youth access, he would be penalized approximately US$10,000 or two years’ imprisonment. The first lawsuit was filed against the government, protesting the government’s ban on the gay website as unconstitutional in January 2002, and the court decision was delivered in August 2002 stating that the Constitution of freedom is not applicable to homosexual distribution on the Internet.

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7. Gender Diversity and Transgender Issues

A. Sociolegal Status, Behaviors, and Treatment of Transvestite, Transgendered, and Transsexual Persons

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI) [Updated 2003 by H. Yi]

Until the mid-1980s, the care system for transgendered people was not well established in Korea because of little understanding of transsexualism and the negative attitude and prejudices of medical doctors. In desperation, many transsexual persons turned to non-licensed facilities for sex-reassignment surgery or self-injected hormones for partial physical transition. [Comment 2001: Yoo (1993) has noted that doctors’ prejudices and ignorance of transgenderism/transsexualism result in a boundary between them and the patient. As a consequence, it is common that transgendered/transsexual people get more information from resources in Western countries, where the doctors learn about transsexualism from their clients. (End of comment by Huso Yi)] In 1989, Dr. Koo Sang-Hwan conducted the first sex-reassignment surgery for a male-to-female. As of late 2000, about 50 cases of sex-reassignment surgery have been reported. In 1990, the Korean Urology Association proposed 12 criteria for sex-reassignment surgery (SRS):

  1. Accurate psychiatric diagnosis.
  2. No success from long-term psychiatric treatment.
  3. Establishment of psychosocial adjustment for the desired gender before SRS.
  4. No other psychiatric illness or depression.
  5. Sufficient period of hormone-replacement treatment with no side effects.
  6. Over 21 years old and past puberty.
  7. Physical appearance has to fit with the desired gender.
  8. Family approval for SRS.
  9. Agreement of spouse and/or family regarding infertility.
  10. No drug and alcohol history.
  11. No criminal record and no possibility for crime.
  12. Under good medical supervision.

The transgendered (transsexual) patient has to meet all the above requirements and must get two recommendations from psychiatrists.

Even after the surgery, they cannot change their gender on any legal document. In 1990, the court rejected a male-to-female transsexual’s petition stating, “Because the plastic surgery only made anatomical structures that look like those of the female artificially so that it does not change the chromosomal structure, he cannot be accepted as a female from our society’s common sense and value.” [Comment 2003: Added to that, the court ruled that “he cannot legally change his gender because he has no internal parts of the female body which are very important to the woman’s role of giving birth. Thus, it is not appropriate in our society to change his gender.” Since then, all of the cases of gender change have followed this court decision (Cho 1993). It is likely that gender in Korea is constituted by chromosome and familial “role.” In the legal system, sex-reassignment surgery is regarded only as a part of plastic surgery and not a gender transition. However, since a male-to-female transgender entertainer gained a public recognition with her success as a model, actor, and singer, public awareness and attitude have widely changed. A number of literary works of fiction and nonfiction by transgendered people have been published. A clinic for sex-reassignment surgery has provided services for transgendered people. In November 2002, a law protecting transgendered persons’ rights was submitted. The court approved a female-to-male transgender sex-change appeal in December 2002. More transgender people’s sex-change petitions are expected in South Korea.

[Yet, the level of victimization of transgendered people in society is serious. In a case in which a male-to-female transsexual was raped, the judge said it was not rape, but a physical attack. The judge in this case also implied that the rape of a same-sex person could not be properly constituted as “rape,” because such homosexual acts do not fit the sense of “sex.” It is the court’s stance that sex can only occur between the opposite sexes. (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

[Update 2003: In 1986, when a male transvestite approached Dr. Kim Seok Kwan, a plastic surgeon in Pusan, and asked if he could perform a sex-change operation, Kim told the man nobody knew anything about this operation in Korea, and that he could not help him. A few months later, a request from a second male transsexual sparked Kim’s curiosity enough for him to start reading up on the subject. A short time later, Kim performed the first male-to-female sex change operation in South Korea.

[In the late 1980s, Kim’s patients were overwhelmingly working class or poor—few could afford to travel abroad for the operation. (Kim still keeps the cost of his operations to $8,000 on average, while maintaining a lucrative practice in more traditional forms of plastic surgery.) For years, he performed the operations largely in obscurity, aware that news of his special skills was spreading by word of mouth among transvestites. Strong opposition came from the country’s tradition-bound medical community, his wife, and his minister.

[By most estimates, South Koreans go under the knife for cosmetic alterations more than anyone else in Asia, with everything from eye and nose operations aimed at achieving a more Western look, to breast augmentations, calf remodeling, and hymen reconstruction among the most popular types of surgery. Some still object that sex-change operations are the ultimate expression of a plastic surgery culture in South Korea that has run amok.

[Kim also asked himself “whether it was right to change the gender of a patient, whether it was right to alter their most essential nature. I really hesitated.” In the end, what persuaded him to continue was the realization that “gender surgery is performed to rescue people who are trapped in the wrong body. We are offering the possibility for normal lives to people whose minds and bodies don’t match, and even the psychiatrists I consulted told me that this is their only hope.”

[Returning to his practice in Pusan, after a year’s training at the University of California at Davis, he found a long list of candidates desperate for the operation. In 1991, Kim’s first female-to-male surgery, which he also pioneered in Korea, caught the attention of the nation’s news media. The brouhaha of screaming newspaper headlines and guest appearances on television programs eventually died down, but in the process, some of the taboo on public discussion of sexual issues and mores in Korea was lifted. But it took the emergence of one of his patients as a true superstar as a fixture in the Korean entertainment world to trigger a major cultural change in Korean sexual attitudes. Miss Ha Ri Su had lived most of her 28 years, unhappily, as a man, until in 2000, Dr. Kim transformed her into a ravishing transgender beauty. Today Koreans have embraced Miss Ha, knowing full well that this slinky, silky-haired singer, actor, comedienne, and model, armed with a 35-24-35 figure, was once a man. In a personal profile in The New York Times, Dr. Kim admitted, “Ha Ri Su was of great benefit to social awareness of this issue. I had no idea who she was, nor how important her example would become. She has encouraged other transgender patients, who have always had trouble holding jobs; for most of them, living in secret, working in bars or as prostitutes was the only thing they could do. Nowadays these people can live regular lives, as teachers, office workers or students” (French 2003). (End of update by R. T. Francoeur)]

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8. Significant Unconventional Sexual Behaviors

A. Coercive Sex

HUSO YI [Updated 2003 by H. Yi]

It is very difficult to ascertain the actual frequency of sexual violence in Korea. According to the Korean Institute of Criminology (1998), the report rate for sexual assaults was estimated to be only 6.1% of actual incidents, whereas the rate in the advanced countries is around 30 to 40%. In 1998, the sexual violence counseling centers under the Ministry of Health and Welfare reported around 25,000 cases of sexual violence, which was twice the incidence in 1997. Of these cases, 33.5% involved rape; 21.9% involved physical sexual harassment, and the rest were about verbal sexual abuse. However, only 3.6% of the victims reported the incident to the police (Korean Institute for Health and Social Welfare 1999). The Korean Sexual Violence Relief Center (1999) reported that 95% of the victims are women (assaulters are mostly men) and 73% of the assaulters are acquaintances of their victims, who range in age from the teens to the 70s. Thirty percent of the victims are children under the age of 13, with 50% under the age of 19. Chang (2000) noted that sexual assaulters experienced no guilt for their behavior, believing that sexual violence may occur accidentally as an expression of a natural uncontrollable sexual urge of men. This conception leads men to look at rape as a kind of sexual act, rather than a crime infringing on a woman’s body and personality. An interesting legal aspect in sexual violence is that current law does not allow a victim to file a suit against her father, leaving some incest victims with no means to their rights.

In a nationwide survey of gender roles and sexual violence funded by the United Nations Development Plan, Byun, Won, and Chung (2000) interviewed 542 men and 558 women ranging in age from 20 to 59 (see Table 6). Frotteurism, the forceful touching and rubbing of the genital area, particularly in the subway, is another sexual assault problem not included in Table 6. In 1997, 128 males were arrested by the subway police for rubbing their genitals against women, and half of these sexual offenders were college graduates.

Table 6                  

Number (and Percentage) of Cases of Sexual Violence by Type of Offense and Age of the Victim

Age of
Victim   
Obscene  
Call
Penis
Exposure
Sexual
Misconduct
Attempted
Rape

Rape     

Others   

Total     
> 12   1
(7.7)
4
(17.4)
      5
(7.1)
13-18 3
(10.7)
7
(53.8)
1
(4.3)
2
(100.0)
  1
(25.0)
14
(19.7)
19-25 3
(10.7)
5
(38.5)
13
(56.5)
  1
(100.0)
2
(50.0)
24
(33.8)
26-35 9
(32.1)
  3
(13.0)
    1
(25.0)
13
(18.3)
36 < 13
(46.4)
  2
(8.7)
      15
(21.1)
Total 28
(100.0)
13
(100.0)
23
(100.0)
2
(100.0)
1
(100.0)
4
(100.0)
71
(100.0)
Source: Korean Women’s Development Institute 2000a

With the effort of the women’s rights movements, Korea has achieved several legal enforcements, as noted earlier, to protect victims from sexual harassment. However, research on the public awareness of the anti-sexual violence laws showed that only 2.1% were familiar with the laws, 31.6% had some familiarity with them, 46.5% had heard of them, and 22.2% had never heard of them (Kim et al. 2000). Thus, it is necessary to implement an effective educational program to make the public aware of the sexual violence laws.

Sexual Harassment

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI)

[Comment 2001: Cyber-sexual violence has become a major concern and issue in Korea. In July 2000, for example, a female middle-school student committed suicide after being harassed by Internet postings. In order to prevent sexual harassment on the Internet, the Ministry of Information and Communication established the Report Center of Cyber Sexual Violence in 2000 and has conducted a survey, which found that 58.9% of those surveyed had experienced cyber-sexual violence and 14.4% had witnessed it. Most cyber-sexual violence occurs in the chat rooms, bulletin boards, and email. The respondents were harassed by verbal abuse, pornographic pictures or movies, private videos (e.g., exposure of the body or sexual scenes), and suggestions of prostitution. (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

The issue of sexual harassment emerged when the Korean Women’s Hotline opened in 1983. In the first survey of 700 married women, 42% reported that they had been hit by their husband at least once. Following up on the issue, the Hotline started to deal with the issues of kidnapping for prostitution and female sex workers. During this time, society began to pay attention to harassment against women. There were two important legal cases about sexual harassment. In 1986, Kwon In-Sook, a female college student, was interrogated by the police because of her democracy activism. During the interrogation, she was sexually harassed by the police. Later, with the help of an unprecedented 166 lawyers’ arguments and human rights organizations, she was released. Another case dealt with rape. In 1988, when a woman was raped on her way home, she cut off the offender’s tongue. However, she was sentenced to a year in prison. The case stimulated debates on rape and self-defense and the implication of women’s self-defense. As a consequence, she was found innocent and acquitted. Confronted with societal situations such as these, the Korean Sexual Violence Relief Center was established in 1991.

Rape

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI)

In one study, almost half (45.5%) of female high school students reported having been sexually harassed by being touched on the breast, hips, and genital areas and, among them, 99.3% had been harassed by their male friends (Kim et al. 1997). The victims’ responses were: 70.8% tried to avoid the situation, 11.3% showed no resistance, 10.1% confronted the harasser with shouting, and only 0.8% looked for help. After being raped, 29.2% did nothing, 25.8% talked to friends, 14.6% told their mother, 2.2% reported the assault to the police, and 1.1% spoke to a teacher. Having no education about rape and a very low reporting rate does nothing to reduce the incidence of rape, and may well promote it. [Comment 2001: The law dealing with rape used to be categorized under the title “Crime Against Chastity.” This divided the victims of rape into two groups, respectable women who deserve legal protection and those (fallen women) who do not. Therefore, it was irrelevant to the court decision whether or not the victim resisted. Also irrelevant was the victim’s sexual history (Chang 2000). The myths of rape were still prevalent among males at that time: “Rape occurs because of men’s uncontrollable sexual urge” (69.0%), “a sexy female’s looks provoke rape” (93.9%), “the best prevention is women’s caution” (66.2%), and “rape cannot occur if women persistently refuse” (52.6%) (Byun et al. 2000). (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

B. Industrial Prostitution

WHASOON BYUN and JUNGIM HWANG (Summarized by HUSO YI)

Overview of Industrial Prostitution

The entertainment industry in Korean society began to grow in the 1970s, based upon the material wealth of capitalism. Amidst a materialistic social environment, a great change occurred in the form of prostitution. Rather than being confined in certain districts, industrial prostitution began spreading rapidly as a form of secondary service available in new entertainment establishments that provided a primary service. Unlike traditional prostitution, industrial prostitution involves establishments centered mainly on the tertiary service industry, in which sex can be provided legally on the side. The tertiary service industry includes the restaurant and hotel/motel business, entertainment and cultural services, and individual and household services provided by individuals and by companies. The number of women employed in these businesses rose steadily from 21.2% in 1983, to 22.9% in 1986, and 23.3% in 1989. [Comment 2001: According to Our Society Research Center (1994), around 1.5 millions are engaged in the prostitution industry. That number was one fifth of the population aged 15 to 29 (6.2 million). Over 91% of the female prostitutes had run away from home, and more than 90% had experiences of incest and/or had been sexually abused by members of their family. (End of comment by Huso Yi)] These businesses hire women who then provide sex as an additional service paid for at the end by the consumer.

Establishments that incorporate “industrial prostitution” in their services include restaurants, singing-room (karaoke) salons, room salons (adults bars with private rooms served by escort women), ticket coffee shops, steambaths, (adult) barbershops, and massage parlors. According to data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare (1998), there were 40,123 so-called singing-room and room salons under the category of liquor parlors, about 3,000 steambaths, barbershops (under the category of sanitary parlors), and 535 massage parlors, bringing the total number of such establishments to 43,658. This is just the official count; the unofficial count is expected to be much higher than this. The prostitution at these facilities is called “second stops,” and according to the specific type of establishment, sexual activities are conducted either at the same place or at another location. According to the Korea Anti-AIDS Federation’s specialized analysis in 1997, 24.5% of the respondents experienced sex in singing-room salons and room salons. Other places were in the red-light district at 24%, massage parlors at 19.9%, barbershops at 17.2%, hotels and motels at 13.8%, and others at 0.6%. A survey by the Korean Research Institute on Sexuality and Culture (Kim et al. 1997) of female high school students’ awareness of sex and factual findings showed 2.1% of the 773 respondents said they had part-time experience working at singing-room salons and room salons. Especially, with the economically hard times, dubbed “the IMF [International Monetary Fund] era,” a number of women are likely to be lured into places where industrial prostitution is possible.

Types of Facilities

  1. Ticket Coffee Shop: In these shops, the customer pays for tickets sold by the hour and takes the woman out for sex. The money paid for the tickets make up for the woman’s absent time from the coffee shop, whether the time is spent drinking wine, socializing, in prostitution, or other activities. When sex is provided as a service, the woman gets to keep that fee which is over and above the shop ticket.
  2. Room Salon: Room salons and regular bars are allowed by law to hire female employees and hostesses. According to Article 6 of the eighth provision of the Food and Sanitation Law, a hostess refers to a woman, single or married, who drinks, sings, and dances with a customer to promote merrymaking. These women usually move to another place with the customer when he decides to engage in prostitution. Unlike women at ticket coffee shops, these women do not get paid for the time they lose at the shops, but go out for prostitution after reporting to their madams. The hostess gets to keep the money.
  3. Singing-Room Salon: By law, it is illegal for singing-room salons to hire female employees. Although waitresses may be allowed, hiring a hostess is forbidden. Reality does not follow the law, and a lot of pubs have female hostesses catering to customers. The types of prostitution being conducted in these singing-room salons is identical to that at regular room salons, the only difference being that the hostesses have to report to the owner, not to the madams.
  4. Barbershops, steambaths, and massage parlors: The female employees at barbershops, steambaths, and massage parlors provide shaving, massaging, and bathing services prior to prostitution. At barbershops, the female employees provide shaves and massages to the customers, and at steambaths, the women bathe the customers and provide massages, during which they incite sexual desires and then provide prostitution. At massage parlors, blind masseuses and female workers are employed, with the latter providing prostitution. When there were no female employees available, the blind women used to provide sex, but with the introduction of female employees, prostitution at massage parlors came into full swing. At most of these parlors, the cost for prostitution is included in the overall charge. The women take their share from the prostitution and the owners take the remainder. Prostitution is much more likely to occur in the barbershops, steambaths, and massage parlors than in the other facilities listed above.

Each facility has slightly different characteristics on the basis of its own type of services. But regardless of the type, prostitution is an important factor that maintains these facilities, where both the main service and prostitution are being conducted under the protection of the facility.

Analysis of Industrial Prostitution

Many sociocultural, economic, and institutional factors draw women into industrial prostitution. From the perspective of sociocultural factors, a lot of women surveyed were exposed to the adult-entertainment industry at an early age because they had either run away from home or indulged in delinquency. They tended to run away because they did not want to study or because they were reared in an unfavorable home environment. More often than not, if the woman is a breadwinner for the family, albeit single or married, she usually selects the service industry after a divorce or separation to make a living. The service industry is an easy way to make a lot of money in a short period of time. Women who choose this service industry may do so because they do not have much education, have no special skills, or do not want to work in a factory. Most of the women had experience working in a legitimate company before they turned to the prostitution service industry. But, they either failed or worked at low-paying jobs. Sometimes, they had no other choice but to quit their jobs to escape a hostile work environment in which a supervisor pressured them for sex. Meanwhile, with the nationwide economic crisis of the “IMF era,” women have been observed moonlighting in the sex trade because they did not make enough money.

From the institutional perspective, all work facilities have health permits, but if a woman contracts venereal disease, she tends to it on her own. That is why a health permit becomes useless in solving the problem. Also, there are no social services that prostitutes can utilize, and they do not even look for them. The health permits are taken care of by the owner. Normally, establishments involved in industrial prostitution receive permits from the government. Therefore, the exploitation link is not as conspicuous as in the case of traditional prostitution. But despite that fact, many parts of the management structure are distributed among the women, those involved in the trade and related agencies, all of whom together collude in whatever corruption is needed.

[Comment 2001: In a report by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, among 222 teenage female prostitutes,

  • 67 (30.2%) were 16 years old, 48 (21.6%) were 18 years old, 38 (17.1%) were 15 years old, 35 (15.8%) were 17 years old, 26 (11.7%) were 14 years old, and 8 girls were under the age of 13.
  • 47.3% of the girls attended school and the rest were suspended.
  • 23 had been sentenced to probation.

As for 282 adult male partners,

  • 123 (43.6%) were in their 30s, 115 (40.8%) were in their 20s, 36 (12.7%) were in their 40s, 5 (1.5%) were in their teen years, and 3 (1.1%) were over 50.
  • 137 of them had been sentenced to prison and 145 were on probation.
  • Half (53.5%) of the men met the women on the Internet, 62 (22.2%) met them through “telephone rooms,” 38 (13.5%) met them by voicemail, 18 (6.4%) met them through friends, and 13 (4.6%) worked on the street (Report Center of Cyber Sexual Violence 2000). (Telephone rooms are telephone booths located in private spaces where someone can call another person to arrange for sex or call a sex worker for phone sex. Telephone calls in a private home can be easily traced and show up on the telephone bill, so Koreans are more likely to use the private telephone room. (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

C. Pornography

WHASOON BYUN and JUNGIM HWANG (Summarized by HUSO YI)

Historically, the earliest documented erotica can be found in the Koryo period (918-1392). Since the 17th century, erotica has been freely imported from China for the enjoyment of ordinary people. Compared to China and Japan, Korea was somewhat late in developing a taste for pornography because of the unique characteristics of conservatism in the Chosun dynasty. Later in the 18th century, erotica was created and produced by Koreans and widely distributed. However, the Korean erotica was not as explicit as much of that from China and Japan. After the industrialization of the 1970s, various kinds of pornography were developed as in other countries. Before the Internet was created, the main source for accessing pornography was at lodging houses and late-night coffee shops that served the role of adult theaters. Today, access to pornography has been much easier via Internet adult television, adult magazines, video purchases and rentals, and computer programs.

In a study of 1,976 male and 3,134 female high school students, 60.5% of the male students had seen all kinds of pornographic materials, such as magazines, adult videos, and computer-related materials, 28.1% had experience only with magazines, 27.4% only with adult videos, and 3.6% only with computer programs. Just under 2% had not seen any adult erotica. Meanwhile, 52.2% of the female students had never seen adult magazines, 36.3% no adult movies, and 93.9% no computer-related adult materials (Kim et al. 1997). Considering the lack of adequate sexuality education for Korean adolescents, the impact of their exposure to pornography remains to be studied. In 1997, for example, three 17-year-old male students and a 15-year-old female student recorded their sexual intercourse on videotape and sold it. The tape was spread nationwide. After conviction, one male was sentenced to six months in a juvenile prison, the other males were sentenced to work in social welfare, and the female student received two years of guidance. They said that they just wanted to make a tape like adults do.

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9. Contraception, Abortion, and Population Planning

A. Contraception

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES

After 1961, when most active contraceptive programs were started, married women who practiced contraception increased from 44.2% in 1976 to 80.5% in 1997 (see Table 7). The most common method of contraception in 1976 was vasectomy, followed by the intrauterine device (IUD), oral pills, condoms, and fallopian tubal ligation. In 1988, the most common form became tubal ligation (37.2%). In 1997, the most common form of contraception was still tubal ligation (24.1%), followed by condoms, vasectomy, the IUD, and oral pills. The usage of the IUD and oral pill is considerably low in Korea.

Table 7                  

Contraceptive-Practice Rate of Married Women, Aged 15-44

Year Total Tubectomy Vasectomy IUD Pills Condom Others
1976     44.2% 4.1% 10.5%      7.8%      7.8% 6.3%     11.3%
1979 54.5% 14.5% 9.6% 7.2% 7.2% 5.2% 12.1%
1982 57.7% 23.0% 6.7% 5.4% 5.4% 7.2% 10.3%
1985 70.4% 31.6% 7.4% 4.3% 4.3% 7.2% 11.0%
1988 77.1% 37.2% 6.7% 2.8% 2.8% 10.2% 9.2%
1991 79.4% 35.3% 9.0% 3.0% 3.0% 10.2% 9.9%
1994 77.4% 28.6% 10.5% 1.8% 1.8% 14.3% 10.6%
1997 80.5% 24.1% 13.2% 1.8% 1.8% 15.1% 13.6%
Source: Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs 1998

B. Teenage (Unmarried) Pregnancies

HUSO YI

As noted earlier, premarital sexual experience is still prohibited, and there is a strong denial of adolescents’ sexual relationships. Besides, adolescent pregnancy and abortion are another serious problem. It is estimated that around one third of all abortions might be performed among unmarried adolescents (Youn 1995). However, no official report has been published on adolescent pregnancy and abortion. Given the fact that being a teenage mother is most undesirable, adolescents may have two choices, abortion or adoption: “Most adolescent mothers who carry their pregnancies to term surrender their babies to adoption agencies” (Youn 1996, 630). According to the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, the number of babies given up by adolescent mothers was 1,904 in 1993, 1,781 in 1994 (Youn 1995) and 1,802 in 1999 (Ministry of Health and Welfare, MOHW 2000) In summary, one third of the abortion cases were performed on pregnant teens and one third of the adopted babies were surrendered by teens (see Table 8).

Table 8                  

Number of Adopted Children, 1995-1999

  Total Domestic Overseas
1995 3,205 1,025 2,180
1996 3,309 1,229 2,080
1997 3,469 1,412 2,057
1998 3,675 1,426 2,249
1999 (1,802)a/4,135 (645)/1,726 (1,157)/2,409
aNumbers in parentheses are the number of adopted children surrendered by adolescent
mothers; the number following the / is the total number of adopted children.
Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare 2000: Child Health

C. Abortion

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI)

In Korean law, an induced abortion, defined as the removing of a fetus before the 28th week of gestation, is allowed in cases of genetically inherited diseases, transmitted diseases, incest, rape, and those cases that may greatly harm maternal health. However, it has been used as a form of contraception in Korea, and the number of induced abortions runs between 1.5 to 2 million cases annually. There are 600,000 newborns in Korea each year, and the number of abortions is nearly three times the number of deliveries. The total number of abortions in Korea is the second highest in the world. One out of two married women has experienced an abortion. Eighty percent of abortions are done for gender-selection purposes, using an ultrasound scan to ascertain the gender, and then selectively aborting female fetuses. Those who seek abortions for reasons defined by the law account for only 20% of all abortions. Unmarried women have 18.5% of the induced abortions; 26.5% of these women were between ages 16 and 20. The overwhelming majority of women who had an abortion, 77.9% of married women and 71.3% of unmarried women, reported satisfaction with the results of the abortion. This reflects, perhaps, the fact that abortion has become commonplace in Korea (PPFK 1996).

D. Cesarean Operations

HUSO YI

Korea’s frequency of cesarean (c-) section delivery is the highest in the world. According to the National Health Insurance Corporation (NHIC), almost half (43%) of the Korean women who had a baby in 1999 delivered by the cesarean operation. The rate of increase has been surprisingly rapid: from 6.0% in 1985, to 13.3% in 1990, to 21.3% in 1995, and most recently, in 1999, to 43%.

By age-cohort group, 29.4% of mothers under 19 years old delivered by c-section, with 37.0% of mothers between ages 20 and 24, 40.7% between ages 25 and 29, 46.5% between 30 and 34, 58.4% between 35 and 39, and 68.7% over 40 years old (see the NHIC Web site: http://www.nhic.or.kr, in Korean).

The highest c-section frequency rate among hospitals was 75.6% of all deliveries. Even the lowest hospital rate (16.1%) exceeded the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of 10%. The 1999 rates for the United States was 20% and for Japan, 15%. A survey showed that 80% of the participants were recommended by doctors for cesareans without detailed benefits and risks (Kim 2000). The main reason of the highest rate comes from the insurance policy. Natural delivery costs about US$40 for outpatients and US$330 for inpatients, whereas the operation costs US$180 for outpatients and US$860 for inpatients. In addition, in cases of natural delivery, women need to be taken care of for at least 12 hours, but cesarean operations only take 40 minutes. Lawsuit cases regarding vaginal delivery accidents ranks the first. Thus, doctors prefer the high-profit and low-risk cesarean operation. The issue received public attention right after NHIC announced the annual report on cesarean operations in July of 2000. Since then, women’s rights groups have worked to promote the “right of choice” for women’s bodies, together with the issue of abortion.

E. Population Programs

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES

Family planning started in Korea in 1961 with the slogan of “Two children whether they are a boy or a girl.” The population-increase rate has diminished from 2.32 in 1970 to 1.54 in 1980 to 1.02 in 1997. The total fertility rate has also decreased from 4.5 in 1970 to 2.8 in 1980 to 1.6 in 1997 (see Tables 9 and 10). Korea’s population-increase rate and fertility rate decreased only after considerable effort. Although the trend and current rates are encouraging, this trend has not become solid. The reasons for this uncertainty are as follows: First, the strong preference toward boys is worsening the male-to-female ratio. Second, late deliveries for women in their later 30s are increasing. There are also significant increases in the reversal of tubal ligations and vasectomies. Third, there still exists a high rate of unwanted pregnancies, which corresponds to the high rate of induced abortion. Fourth, the number of emigrants has decreased considerably, but immigrants into Korea have increased recently. Fifth, the rapid decrease in the death ratio is producing significant increases in the adult and elderly populations.

Table 9                  

Natural Population Increase Rate

Year 1970 1980 1985 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
Rate 2.32 1.54 1.02 9.5 1.08 1.13 1.08 1.06 1.04 0.99 1.02
Source: National Statistical Office 1999b

Table 10                  

Total Fertility Rate

Year 1970 1980 1985 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
Rate 4.5 2.8 1.7 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.6 1.6
Source: National Statistical Office 1999b

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10. Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS

A. Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Incidence, Patterns, and Trends

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES

Korean law lists syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, candida, chancre, cancroids, nongonococcal urethritis, and lymphogranuloma venereum as sexually transmitted diseases. The number of STDs steadily declined from 145,802 cases in 1985, to 121,585 in 1990, and to 120,320 in 1995, but it increased to 127,389 in 1996 and 134,726 in 1997. Beginning in 1984, a law mandated that those who are employed in situations with a high risk of STDs must have regular screenings. There are 324 centers designated to prevent, diagnose, and treat sexually transmitted diseases (see Table 11).

Table 11                  

STD Screening Criteria and Required Frequency of Tests

  Frequency of Tests
  Serologic Test STD Test
Waitresses and dancers at foreign  
amusement restaurants
Once every 3 months Once a week
Waitresses and dancers at
amusement restaurants
Once every 3 months Once a month
Service girls at lodging houses/
love motels
Once every 6 months Once every 6 months
Service Girls at massage rooms Once every 3 months Once every 3 months
Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare 1999

B. HIV/AIDS

Incidence, Patterns, and Trends

HUSO YI [Updated 2003 by H. Yi]

The first report of an HIV-positive foreigner in Korea came in June 1985, followed by the first report of a Korean HIV-positive case (contracted abroad) in December 1985 (for review, see Oh & Choe 1999). The first AIDS patient was diagnosed in February 1987 following an unsafe transfusion in Kenya. As of the end of 1998, the total number of HIV-positive cases in Korea was 876 and the number of AIDS patients was 131 (see Table 12). The estimated number of HIV-positive cases as of the end of 2000 is around 5,000, most of them being in their 20s and 30s. According to a recent report by the National Institute of Health of South Korea (2002), as of September 2002, Korea had 1,888 HIV-positive cases; 277 new cases were reported in 2002. The annual-increase rate from 1994 to 1998 was 12.8%. In 1999, the increase was 44% compared to the previous five years. The reasons for this significant increase can be found in the increase in voluntary testing, increased awareness of HIV/AIDS prevention, and the need for HIV treatment. However, a 17.7% increase occurred from 1999 to 2000, with a 51.1% increase from 2000 to 2001 (see Table 12). The HIV infection rate in 2002 increased by 20% from the same period the previous year and, at the end of 2002, 400 new HIV cases were reported (CDCNPIN 2002, 2003).

Table 12                  

HIV/AIDS Cases in Korea, 1985-2002 (September)

 
Total
1985-
93

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002
HIV infected 1,888 323 89 108 102 124 129 186 219 331 277
Women 221 34 11 19 12 17 18 26 25 35 24
AIDS patients 312 16 11 14 22 33 35 34 32 42 73
AIDS deaths 403 42 13 21 33 36 46 43 52 58 59
Source: Korean National Institute of Health 2002

Table 13 shows the epidemiology of HIV infection in Korea. Sexual contact accounted for 1,505 cases (97.2%): heterosexual contact for 1048 cases (67.7%), and homosexual for 457 (29.5%).

Table 13                  

Routes of HIV Infection in Korea, 1999

Route of Infection Cases   Route of Infection Cases
Sexual contact   Blood products 17
    Korean heterosexual 339   Maternal 1
    Foreign heterosexual   236   Intravenous drug use 0
    Homosexual 191   Others 42
Blood transfusion    
    Domestic 10   Total 876
    Abroad 11    
Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare 1999

Availability of Treatment, Prevention Programs, and Government Policies

HUSO YI

With the initial report of an HIV-positive case in 1985, the Korean government enacted a strict law to deal with this threat. Mandatory screening of all blood products was instituted in July 1985 and expanded in July 1987. According to the AIDS Prevention Law enacted in December 1987, mandatory HIV testing was required of certain groups at high risk: overseas sailors and those female workers at coffee shops, barbershops, amusement restaurants, lodging houses, and massage parlors (note Industrial Prostitution in Section 8, above). The latter group could not get working permission without HIV testing. The mandatory HIV-testing law stopped in June 1993. Yet, the programs provided by the law include informing the spouse and friends of HIV/AIDS-infected persons and close surveillance.

People with HIV are required to receive HIV-prevention training and counseling at local health centers, as well as to report to a government office when moving. The government provides medication for HIV/AIDS for free. The problem, however, is that these patients with HIV/AIDS first have to pay for medications at the hospital and then request reimbursement. Thus, if they do not have enough money for treatment in the first 3 months, they cannot get medication. With respect to the HIV test, voluntary tests rarely occurred because of the mandatory law for reporting. Only targeted groups in the sex industry get mandatory testing. The current policy does not consider the rights of people with HIV. Once notified that they are HIV-positive, they are listed under the permanent control of the government, so they cannot guarantee their privacy. It is reported that people with HIV suffer more from government surveillance than from illness and/or the fact of HIV infection. The AIDS-related law states that if people with HIV refuse to report regularly, government officers, designated by the state governor or the Ministry of Health department, can visit them in their living places without notification and take them to separate places for treatment. In case they refuse the officer’s acts, they will be sentenced for one year in prison or a US$1,000 fine. People with HIV cannot work in the mandatory testing places. As shown, unlike those of developed countries, the AIDS-prevention law is primarily to enforce punishment and not to protect those with HIV, so that it certainly violates human rights (Chung 1999). In order to ensure their rights, actual name reporting at government offices, mandatory testing, separation for treatment, and excessive criminal law enforcement should be revised. Meanwhile, awareness about the importance of HIV testing may be different issue. A study reported that, among 507 college students, only 5 male students and 1 female student had taken the HIV test (Kang 1994).

[Update 2002: UNAIDS Epidemiological Assessment: The Republic of Korea has a low HIV-prevalence rate. By the end of June 2000, a cumulative total of 1,282 HIV cases including 197 AIDS cases had been reported. An estimated 4,000 HIV-infected individuals were living in the country at the end of 2001 (prevalence of 0.01% among people aged 15 to 49.) The great majority (96%) of HIV infections are estimated to be sexually transmitted, with 13% occurring among women. National seroprevalence surveys have identified only sporadic cases of HIV infection.

[The seroprevalence of syphilis is also very low (0.03% among blood donors). Gonococcal antimicrobial resistance is high; in 2000, penicillin resistance was 80% and quinolone (ciprofloxacin) resistance, 79.5%. Behavioral surveys in 2001 found that 26.8% of sex workers reported using condoms during all sexual contacts.

[The estimated number of adults and children living with HIV/AIDS on January 1, 2002, were:

Adults ages 15-49: 4,000   (rate: < 0.1%)
Women ages 15-49: 960  
Children ages 0-15: < 100  

[An estimated 220 adults and children died of AIDS during 2001.

[At the end of 2001, an estimated 1,000 South Korean children under age 15 were living without one or both parents who had died of AIDS. (End of update by the Editors)]

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11. Sexual Dysfunctions, Counseling, and Therapies

A. Sexual Dysfunctions and Attitudes

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES

Erectile dysfunction in males and inhibited female orgasm were the most frequently reported dysfunctions (Yoo et al. 1989). Male expectation anxiety and female orgasmic disorder were highly related to morality by repressing sexual desire. In terms of morality, it was also pointed out that masturbation and sexual fantasy were effective therapy for single adults, but little research had been done with married couples. In their study, more than 90% of the 120 married-couple respondents had sexual fantasies. With respect to the content of the sexual fantasies, the female showed more various content than those of the males: replacement of the partner (52.6% of males and 38.5% of females); unusual positions (21.1% of males and 13.2% of females); unusual sexual activity (15.8% of males and 3.8% of females); group-sex experiences (7.9% of males and 1.9% of females), and the use of sex toys (2.6% of males and 3.8% of females). The following things were only fantasized by the females: forced sexual encounters, sadistic imagery, observation of sexual activity, and sexual activities with animals. Thirty percent of the females gave no response. The findings suggested conflicts between the females’ sexual desires and their activities, which results in sexual dysfunction.

B. The Availability of Diagnosis and Treatment

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES (Redacted by HUSO YI)

[Comment 2001: Sex therapy was first offered by a few psychiatrists in the 1970s, and until the early 1980s, only partial analyses through case studies were available (Yoo et al. 1990). Later in the 1980s, as Korean society became more Westernized, the issue of sexual dysfunctions received attention. The first sex therapy clinic was established in April 1986 at Yonsei Medical Center. The clinic developed a Korean version of the Self-Evaluation of Sexual Behavior & Gratification (Lief 1981) and DSFI: Derogatis Sexual Functioning Inventory (Derogatis & Melisoratos 1979). These Korean translations were evaluated for reliability and validity and have been effective in sex-therapy settings (Lee et al. 1989). In a review of the 231 patients who visited the sex therapy clinic from its opening to April 1995, 75.8% were male and 24.2% were female. The most prevalent sexual disorders were male erectile dysfunction (40.1%), premature ejaculation (20.3%), and inhibited female orgasm (10.6%). Those who underwent sex therapy with their partners were 11. 5% where the male had the problem and 20.0% where it was the female, which were significantly lower than those in Western countries (Yoo 1999) (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

Since the 1980s, there has been a rapid increase in the number of publications associated with sexual dysfunction and andrology. In the Journal of Urology, there were 13 papers published by Korean researchers and clinicians in 1983. This increased to 33 in 1988, and to 52 in 1993. In an effort to accommodate this increase, the Korean Journal of Andrology began publishing in 1989. Andrology, a textbook on sexual dysfunction and infertility, was authored by Hee-Young Lee, and in 1995, Sae-Chul Kim published Diagnosis and Treatment of Male Sexual Dysfunction. Hyung-Ki Choi also published the experiences of a sexual dysfunction clinic to further the knowledge of the general public.

Male sexual dysfunction includes a decrease in libido, erectile dysfunction, and ejaculatory abnormality. It is estimated that there are 1.2 million such patients in Korea. This number is ever increasing because of prolonged life expectancy, stress, and various traffic and industrial accidents. Since penile prosthesis implantation was introduced by Professor Hyung-Ki Choi and Sae-Chul Kim in Korea in 1983, some 800 cases were performed as of 1995. Professor Hee-Young Lee introduced triple pharmacologic agents for corporal injection in patients with erectile dysfunction, and vascular reconstruction for arteriogenic impotence was first performed in 1989. Sildenafil sulfate (Viagra) has been available to Korean patients since October 1999. In Korea, patients over 21 can purchase a monthly allowance of 8 sildenafil pills (Viagra) with written proof from a physician that they are free from any cardiovascular diseases.

No nationwide data on the clinical profiles of sexual dysfunctions are yet available in Korea. In 1998, Hyung-Ki Choi from Yonsei University reported the results of 2,000 consecutive patients visiting a sexual dysfunction clinic from September 1995 to March 1997. Patients in their 40s were most common at 29.4%, and unmarried patients comprised 11.5%. The most common complaint was erectile dysfunction with 61.8%, premature ejaculation with 15.0%, and those with both diseases at 11.7%; 40.4% of patients had a previous experience of counseling or treatment with healthcare professionals, 70.3% being non-physician care. The most common associated diseases were diabetes (17.3%) and cardiovascular abnormality (13.8%). Medical treatment was offered in 64.7% of the patients, and among them, 21.5% gained erectile ability capable of intromission.

[Comment 2001: Another well-known sex therapy clinic is the Seoul-Cornell Clinic for Human Sexuality, with Dr. Hyun Uk Seol, who is a member of the Society for Scientific Study of Sexuality and was trained in sex therapy by Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan at Cornell Medical School in New York City. His clinic opened in 1995 and he has published a dozen books about sexuality from his own publisher, Sex-Academy. His sex therapy website (http://www.sex-academy.com; contact: seolhu@nuri.net) has good resources with online sex counseling. (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

C. Therapist Training and Certification

HUSO YI

There is no organization offering a certificate for sex therapy, nor is there any institutional training program for sex therapy in Korea. Usually, medical doctors, who are trained in psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, urology, andrology, and its related fields, practice sex therapy. In the medical school, the need for courses about sexuality has been discussed, but the problem remains as to which department should be responsible for the curricula (Hong et al. 1993). For sexuality counseling, several organizations, such as the Sexual Violence Relief Center, the Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea (PPFK), the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and other social welfare organizations have developed their own programs on sexuality counselor certification, so that no official criteria or guidelines have yet been established.

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12. Sex Research and Advanced Professional Education

A. Graduate Programs and Sexological Research

HUSO YI

The Korean Research Institute for Culture and Sexuality was founded in July 1996 under the supervision of the Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea with funding from the Korean government. The tasks of this Institute are to resolve the problems of male preference and the imbalance of sex-ratio at birth, prevent abortion by promoting contraceptive use, and establish effective sexuality education. The Institute has conducted not only nationwide studies about the issues of adolescent and adult sexuality, but also investigated sexuality education and counseling centers all over the country. The Institute has been very successful in developing resources for sexuality education, with more than 200 visual materials and a guidebook of sexuality education. Especially, the major achievement is that the Institute has offered training programs in sexuality education and counseling for the officers at local health centers, and school teachers since 1997. The training is composed of three courses. The trainees first attend lectures and a field study at a sexuality education center, and then attend 20 sessions of sexuality education and 50 sessions of a counseling internship. In the last course, they participate in the discussion of case studies, sexuality counseling supervision, and psychological testing. Those who pass the course receive the certificate of sexuality educator/counseling specialist (PPFK 2000). For information, see http://www.yline.re.kr; contact: sjoon@ppfk.re.kr.

The Korean Society of Human Sexuality (KSHS) was founded in 1988 and lasted until 1995. Composed mainly of scholars in medical science, KSHS also included social scientists, psychologists, relationship counselors, and other professionals. The Society published the Journal of the Korean Society for Human Sexuality, as well as held monthly colloquia on sexual issues and topics, such as sex therapy, sexuality and religion, sexuality education, sexual physiology, sex and art, transsexualism, homosexuality, psychosexual development, and so on. All abstracts of the journal (1989-1994) are available in English. Efforts were underway in 2001 to revive the organization.

In 1997, Ewha Woman’s University* opened the Korean Women’s Institute and offered women’s studies courses at the undergraduate level. The Department of Women’s Studies was established in the graduate school in 1982 and expanded to offer Ph.D. degrees in 1990. Through such achievements, Ewha Woman’s University has led in the development of women’s studies in Korea. The Asian Center for Women’s Studies (ACWS) was established in May 1995 for the purpose of fostering an understanding of women’s issues in Asia through extensive research, educational programs, and international exchanges (ACWS 2000). Since then, the ACWS has conducted the “Asian Women’s Studies Curriculum Development Project” and English lectures/workshops on “Women in Korea,” held an international conference on women’s studies, and published the Asian Journal of Women’s Studies. For information, see http://home.ewha.ac.kr/~ewsadmin/ www_page/eng/ (in English); contact: acwsewha @ mm.ehwa.ac.kr.


[*Comment 2001: “Woman’s” represents the university’s founding with just one student; it further symbolizes its high respect for the individuality of Korea’s wonderful women. Therefore, Ewha is not a “women’s” university, but “Woman’s university, keeping each woman’s distinctive being intact in its name” (Quoted from the Ewha Woman’s University website: http://www.ewha.ac.kr/ewhaeng/index.html). (End of comment by Huso Yi)]

The Korean Women’s Development Institute (KWDI) is not focused mainly on sexological research itself, yet the KWDI, funded by Korean government, implements numerous research activities and projects in relation to gender and sexuality, with the Departments of Law and Politics, Education, Labor and Statistics, Family Health and Welfare, Social Culture, and Information Development. The Institute publishes an annual report comparing statistics for women and men, conducts research on sexual abuse, sexuality education, and prostitution, and produces visual materials on these topics (KWDI 1999). For information: http://kwdi.re.kr; contact: S4KWDI@unitel.or.kr.

[Update 2003: The Korean Sexual-Minority Culture and Rights Center (KSCRC), founded in August 2002, was the first interdisciplinary center for research, policy advocacy, education, cultural events, and publication in the LGBTQ community. KSCRC publishes a quarterly magazine and translations in sexuality and gender studies, as well as plans to conduct research about the lives of individuals who are sexual minorities. For information: http://kscrc.org/en/; contact: Huso Yi, kscrc-en@kscrc.org. (End of update by H. Yi)]

B. Sexological Organization and Publications

HYUNG-KI CHOI and COLLEAGUES

In January 1982, at a World Health Organization meeting, the Korean Society of Andrology was formed with plans to publish a journal. The second meeting was held in September 1983. The interest in this new field of medicine was amplified by the first Korean implantation of a penile prosthesis in December 1983. The Korean Society enrolled as a member of the International Society of Andrology in 1985. The Asia-Pacific Society for Impotence Research (APSIR) was organized in November 1987 in Hong Kong, and the founding delegates from Korea included Hyung-Ki Choi, first author of this chapter, Sae-Chul Kim, and Jun-Kyu Seo. Hyung-Ki Choi was elected president at this meeting for the second meeting of the Asia-Pacific Society for Impotence Research held in Seoul in November 1989, with 239 scientists and physicians attending. In June 1994, the Korean Society for Andrology held a meeting to update private physicians on erectile dysfunction.

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References and Suggested Readings

Asian Center for Women’s Studies (ACWS). 2000. Asian Center for Women’s Studies: Activity report 1995-2000. 2 (in English). Seoul, Korea: Asian Center for Women’s Studies, Ewha Woman’s University.

Byun, W., & J. Hwang. 1999. A study of industrial prostitution. Women’s Studies Forum [Korean Women’s Development Institute], 15:211-230.

Byun, W., Y. Won., & S. Chung. 2000. Study of sexual consciousness and violence against women (abstract in English). Seoul: Korean Women’s Development Institute.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Prevention Information Network. 2002. HIV infection rise by 20 percent (Accession number 36194).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Prevention Information Network. 2003. Report shows HIV cases top 2,000 (Accession number 36766).

Chang, P. 1998. Korean mothers, daughters, and wives. In: Korean culture through women’s eyes: Lectures in English (in English). Seoul: Asian Center for Women’s Studies, Ewha Woman’s University.

Chang, P. 2000. Women and sexuality. In: Women of Korea: Lectures in English (in English). Seoul: Asian Center for Women’s Studies, Ewha Woman’s University.

Chang, S. B., Y. J. Lee, S. J. Park, E. I. Song, J. A. Suh, & Y. K. Oh. 1998. A study on college students’ sexual behaviors. Korea Research Institute for Culture and Sexuality Report [Seoul], 98-03 (abstract in English).

Chang, Y. A. 1996. A study on reformation of the head of household law. Korean Women’s Development Institute Research Report, 200-4. Seoul: KWDI.

Chin, K. N., Y. J. Lee, S. J. Park, E. I. Song, & S. R. Kim. 1997. A study of married adults’ sexuality consciousness and attitudes. Korea Research Institute for Culture and Sexuality Report [Seoul], 97-01 (abstract in English).

Cho, D. H. 1993. Legal problems in operation for transsexualism. Journal of Korean Society for Human Sexuality, 4(1):16-20.

Choi, Y. A. 1996. Reality and problems in sexual violence. Presentation at 8th Symposium of Social-Ethics, Seoul.

Chung, D. C. 1990. A survey on sexual violence of adolescents at the urban area. Journal of Korean Society of Human Sexuality, 2(1):33-62 (abstract in English).

Chung, H. M. 1999. Criminal legal problems of AIDS and prevention strategy. Annual report, 98-12 (abstract in German). Seoul: Korean Institute of Criminology.

Chung, S. H. 1998. Sexual customs in the Chosun Dynasty: The view of women and sexual culture. Seoul: Garam Kihuk.

CIA. 2002 (January). The world factbook 2002. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency. Available: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html.

Citizens for Abolition of the Family Headship (Hoju) System. 2000. Available: http://antihoju.jinbo.net/ (in Korean).

Committee of Korean Genealogy. 2000. Available: http://www.koreafamily.com (in Korean).

Derogatis, L. R., & N. Melisoratos. 1979. The DSFI: A multidimensional measure of sexual functions. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 5:244-281.

Fellows, W. J. 1979. Religions east and west. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

French, H. W. 2003 (June 21). Changing patients’ sexes, and Korean mores. The New York Times, A4.

Gregersen, E. 1994. The world of human sexuality: Behaviors, customs and beliefs. New York: Irvington Publishers.

Han, D. 1970. Sexual perversions in Korea. Journal of Korean Neuropsychiatry, 9(1):25-34.

Han, M. S. 2002. Minister’s message. Ministry of gender inequality in Republic of Korea. Available in English: http://www.moge.go.kr/eng/index(eng).jsp.

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