South Korea’s sexist sex-ed curriculum is spurring a private sex-ed industry

Students in South Korea must spent 15 hours per year in sex-education classes.
Students in South Korea must spent 15 hours per year in sex-education classes.
Image: AP Photo/Lee Jin-man
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South Korea’s sex-education program is notoriously sexist. Students are required to receive 15 hours of sex ed per year, starting in elementary school and continuing through high school.

The latest version of the national sex-ed guidelines was introduced in 2015, and it’s full of lessons that have prompted a backlash from activists, teachers, and parents. For example, first- and second-graders in elementary school are taught that “(male) sexual desire can arise quickly on impulse, regardless of time or place.”

Now, some parents and teachers are seeking alternative, private lessons for their students, and in the #MeToo era, demand for better sex education is growing. Despite the election of a more progressive government in 2017, teachers who spoke to Quartz this year say that many of the teachings of the 2015 guidelines are still in place.

The Guardian and the Korea Herald obtained a copy of the guidelines, and reprinted some of their contents:

  • “Females sexually respond to one specific male, whereas males can have sexual intercourse extensively with women they are only sexually attracted to.”
  • “Women have to work on their appearance and men have to work on improving their financial capabilities.”
  • “For men who spend a lot of money on dates, it is natural he would want to be compensated for the money spent. In such cases, unwanted date rape can occur.”
  • “People of the opposite sex should not be alone together by themselves.”
  • “If sexually harassed on the subway, step on his foot as if by mistake.”

“The guidelines are forcing students to be female or male according to the standards the government came up with,” Kim Sung-ae, a high school teacher and vocal critic of the South Korean sex-education curriculum, told the Guardian in an article published Friday (Dec. 28).

In response, some parents have opted to send their children to private classes, and teachers are hosting after-school discussion groups to address topics like menstruation and LGBT issues, the Guardian reports.

Tutoring companies are also cashing in on the outcry: Per the Guardian, a private sex-ed school in Seoul saw its enrollment more than double in 2018. Each two-hour session costs parents about 50,000 won ($45).