What Would It Look Like…?

These have not been good days for discussing human sexuality, let alone homosexuality, in South Korea. As has been well documented[1], the new sex education guidelines promulgated by the Ministry of Education here have prohibited the discussion of same-sex relationships, based on opposition from conservative (usually Christian conservative) groups. The Ministry, unable to find a compromise, decided to publish the current guidelines in an attempt ‘to create a social consensus’ and move forward. This has been roundly criticized by domestic groups, including LGBT+ advocacy groups, the Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU), and has been noticed by no less a group than Human Rights Watch[2].

Well, the guidelines don’t seem to be all that good in promoting frank discussions on human sexuality, in general. According to analysis done by some groups, the sex education guidelines reinforce traditional or sexist attitudes concerning sex and gender. For example:

  • An earlier draft suggested that men have sudden surges of sexual desire without warning;
  • It is suggested that sexual abuse of children can lead to ‘defects’ such as questioning sexual orientation;
  • Again, an earlier draft suggests that the behaviour of women can invite date rape, for example when women are unwilling to share the costs of an outing;
  • It places the responsibility for avoiding date rape on women, by clearly ‘saying no’; and
  • Issues of safe sex and contraception are given short shrift, while the potential negative effects of sex (pregnancy, STDs) are emphasized.[3]

In contrast, Denmark has mandated age-appropriate education on sexuality from 1st to 10th grades. Consequently, it has seen a marked decrease in teen pregnancy rates, abortion, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)[4]. In contrast, while there has been an increase in sex education programs in the United States, the overall teen pregnancy rate is still twice that over most other industrialized countries, with the highest rates of teen pregnancy taking place in Southern and South-western states – yes, otherwise commonly known as the ‘Bible Belt’.[5] This could be – maybe it already is – the way Korea goes if education authorities willingly ‘get into bed’ (figuratively, of course) with the conservative Christian forces at work here and keep pushing the idea of ‘don’t do it or else it’ll fall off’!

But lately, I’ve begun to wonder – what would it look like if people just said ‘No’ to this? What would it look like if progressive people in South Korea said, ‘Enough of this! We don’t trust the Ministry of Education to provide good sex education for our students – we’ll do it ourselves!’ What would it look like if progressive churches, community groups, and interested persons pooled resources and put together an alternative sex education program? What might that program look like? Might it be truly age appropriate, more medically accurate, more willing to accord equality to men and women, more honest about the pros and cons of sexual activity, and more willing to give information about how to manage the risks associated with sexual activity? Most importantly, might an alternative program like this actually place trust in the children and youth of this country – trust in their ability to learn, to make the best decisions for themselves, and to act responsibly in their private and public lives?

‘You may say I’m a dreamer’[6], and I may be the only one thinking this way. Still, I wonder what it would look like, and how those sitting in the places of authority would react. Makes for some interesting speculation…

[1] Um, J W ( 2015, 30 March). New sex-ed guidelines forbid teaching about homosexuality. the hankyoreh [online]. Accessed 25 June 2015 at http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/684591.html.

[2] (2015, 3 May) Letter to the Government of South Korea on the Need to Recognize Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Sex Education. Human Rights Watch [online]. Accessed 8 September 2015 at https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/05/03/letter-government-south-korea-need-recognize-sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity.

[3] Yoon, M S (2015, 12 August) What they don’t teach you at school. The Korea Herald [online]. Accessed 8 September 2015 at http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20150812001021.

[4] See Isaacson, J (n.d.) Sex Edcation. In Isaacson.356 [online]. Accessed 10 September at http://sitemaker.umich.edu/isaacson.356/sex_education.

[5] For information, see the Guttmacher Institute (2014) Fact Sheet: American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health (accessed 10 September 2015 at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-ATSRH.html), and (2015) State Policies in Brief: Sex and HIV Education (accessed 10 September 2015 at http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_SE.pdf.

[6] Thanks, John Lennon.

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