Let’s Talk About Sex…With Seniors

In The Social Fabric, Uncategorized on February 5, 2012 at 1:27 am

It’s not a topic easily broached in Korean social circles, and most people would just rather not.  But recently two articles about the sexual activities of certain age groups have made the rounds in Korean papers.

The first was a hit to the ego of young  Koreans, who were polled to be the least sexually active in their age group worldwide (Full article here).  Even though this article comprehensively did the rounds  on social networking sites, the findings weren’t really that surprising.  Despite what Korean Dramas will have us believe, young Korean people are a lot more sexually active, it’s just not that easy to do it often.  The poll and article gave no insight into the societal restraints of unmarried couples to have sex more than once a week, as they invariably live with their parents.  Paying for love motels or some other suitable location for private time can really rack up a bill.  Factor that in with demanding work schedules, familial commitments and maintaining the odd friend or two…unless you live together who has the time?  Incidentally, Koreans were the only Asian representative of the people polled.

Image source

But that wasn’t the article which got me tilting my head to one side.  About a month later new statistics were making the news rounds, that in fact it is the elderly population of  Korea who are increasingly sexually active.  A poll of the over 60’s age group showed that over 66% are sexually active (Full article).  But it wasn’t just the fact that the oldies are getting more action, it was that they know even less about sex than their kids and grandkids.  Of those polled, 26% never use condoms, 28% occasionally use them, and an alarming 78% had never had an STD test.  With more than half of the sexually active respondents resorting to prostitutes for their sexual outlet, the figures speak for themselves.  (For a good read on the social stigma of older people and sex check out The Grand Narrative’s take on its representation in film.)

But what puzzled me is the selective importance placed on sex education.  The government is being prompted to concentrate on sex education for seniors, as opposed to improving programs for the younger generation.  Elderly community centers are providing advice and support for the sexually active in attempts to raise awareness of STD’s and the practices of safe sex.  We’ve established that the older generation are in need of this support, and that the young adult population don’t really have sex that often anyways, but what about the forgotten youth? For me, coming from a culture of reality programs like ’16 and Pregnant’ and personally having regular sex education classes in school from 8th grade, it’s usually the older generation that don’t talk about sex and the younger generation who can’t shut up about it.

So what is available for kids these days?  My sister once asked me why a show like ’16 and Pregnant’ would never take off in Korea, and it’s probably because it’s more likely to be ’16 and Studying’.  The pressures of school, studying and tests definitely take a lot of time out from getting frisky with the opposite sex, but that certainly doesn’t account for everyone.  Korean teenagers are becoming sexually active at a younger age every year with 17% of high school students being sexually experienced.  Problem is, the youth are barely that much more informed about sex than their grandparents.  A survey in 2008 found that 60% of sexually active teens engage in unprotected sex, which was a total of 75,238 kids.  Following a rabbit hole of statistics, 9% of those females got pregnant, 88% of which whom obtained abortions.  Approximately one third of all abortions are performed on teenagers.

Above: The Korean version of teen pregnancy film ‘Juno’ wasn’t a patch on the original, and despite a lack of any sex or nudity was rated 19. Image Source

There is sex education in schools, it’s just dismally inadequate.  Legally schools are required to provide 10 hours a year of sex education classes, but most have only 5 hours  offered in health classes, which are often elective.  Ignoring the fact that this is just simply nowhere near enough, the content is also not practical.  Classes focus on maintaining virginity, sexual violence, prostitution and harassment prevention, rather than how to practice safe sex and the health risks of reckless sexual behavior.  It’s partly due to the stigma surrounding talking about sex.  Teachers are embarrassed to conduct the classes and opt for showing a poorly produced sex education video akin to what was available in the early 80’s.  One girl described her sex education as a video of ‘A man and a woman who were very in love, got into bed with their clothes on and the screen went black.  The next scene she had a big stomach.’

Just as Western parents use ‘The Stork’ as an escape from that inevitable question, Korean mums and dads will tell their children they were found under a bridge.  The difference is that Western kids have more chance of being subjected to comprehensive and frank discussions of sex at school, whilst Korean kids rely on each other, the underground, and the trusty old internet.  Yet while the over 60’s get the information they need to protect themselves, the next generation are still in dire need of direction and awareness.  The naivety that the youth of today will follow the traditional trends of abstinence will eventually cost the social fabric dearly.  As K-Pop stars get sexier and and stars set examples of sexual freedom, we can expect the masses to copy and repeat.

  1. […] Let’s Talk About Sex…With Seniors […]

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