Every week we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
This week Paul, P. asks:
How do North Koreans learn about sex? Is there formal sex education in North Korean high school?
To be honest, questions about anything related to sex in North Korea always make me feel awkward.
In North Korea, sex is restricted and its pleasures are enjoyed by a privileged few. As such there are only a few very limited, very exaggerated stories that get shared, as sex is not something that is talked about much in the open. Still, North Koreans are people just like everyone else, so things like affairs and abortion do take place. However, such behavior is the “forbidden fruit” that can destroy one’s wealth and power.
“In high school, if a boy held a girl’s hand, this could become a big issue”
North Koreans are never given sex education or an explanation as to why such pleasure is something they should not know about. When I was in high school, if a boy held a girl’s hand, this could become a big issue, and a very embarrassing one since everyone in the school would always find out. Plus, no one really told us what the big deal was. Was it because students who become sexually aware could cause problems? Or was it perhaps because sexual freedom could make it difficult for the dictatorship to continue?
North Korea is different from Muslim countries, as North Koreans purportedly believe in materialism, not religion. What, then, is the rationale behind their suppression of this basic human instinct? When I was in school, I never received any sex education at all. I was amazed when I heard that sex ed. is provided in most countries, and saw students participate in it.
After I left the North, I was especially shocked when learning how in many countries teachers would utilize models of genitalia to frankly about sex with students. For North Koreans, everything to do with sex is filthy and embarrassing and you are supposed to hide it. Boys therefore cannot understand the biological changes in their bodies and are not aware of why they start having desires for girls. Nor are girls informed about the changes in their bodies, except from their mothers.
“Whenever one of my friends had a wet dream, everyone gathered to console him over his ‘unknown disease’”
North Koreans are barely aware of the concepts of abortion or contraception. However, I suppose human beings cannot hide every aspect of their desires and we always need someone who can satisfy our sexual curiosity. There were always guys who were slightly older than their peers in the village that enjoyed telling filthy jokes. But even though the stories they told us were not accurate biologically, this was the only form of sex education we ever received. Whenever one of my friends had a wet dream, everyone gathered to console him over his “unknown disease.” I didn’t know where a baby came from until I had turned 13.
Due to such ignorance, I become very passive when it came to talking about sex and people often mistake my awkward attitude for naivety. Boys normally learn about masturbation around the end of their teenage years as they hear about it from their mature peers or older friends. The distribution of porn magazines or videos is abundant elsewhere in the world but is prohibited in our country, and would surely cause a sensation throughout our country.
I guess the North Korean government is afraid that people would be able to resist their authority if people were free to pursue their sexual freedom. If caught looking at or passing out porn, you and your family might be imprisoned – or in the old days, executed. In North Korean movies, there are hardly any scenes that shows actors kissing. Foreign films imported into the country are censored, and sex scenes removed.
For instance, there was a big difference between the version of Titanic that I watched in North Korea and the one I watched after I left – I assume you can guess which scene was cut. Porn videos that North Korean diplomats sometimes brought into North Korea upon their return therefore became the privileged class’s belongings, forbidden for ordinary people.
However, as government control became weakened due to economic difficulties, there were an increasing numbers of prostitutes on the street. What’s more, problems such as sexually transmitted diseases and abortions started taking place more frequently. There were also problems between rich and powerful men and women who try to benefit from having a relationship with them. The problems mentioned here might not sound unusual, as they happen all around the world, but when there is no sex education it can be very serious.
Of course, the extremely closed environment in North Korea worsens these situations. Due to such restrictions, homosexuality essentially doesn’t exist in the North; hardly anyone understands the concept. Not only can people with this preference not openly reveal their sexuality, but there is actually no way they can fully understand their own desires.
“People are gradually opening their eyes, discovering their own sexuality and finding out how repressed they are”
However, North Korea is going to face an inevitable time of transition. Due to the inflow of Western culture and other environmental factors – such as the rise of prostitution following times of economic hardship – people are gradually opening their eyes, discovering their own sexuality and finding out how repressed they are. Despite the taboos, many people are seeking sexual freedom; rumor has it that 80 citizens were publicly executed recently with the reasons for these executions supposedly including the distribution or watching of pornography.
I hope that one day freedom, and education, will arrive in North Korea.
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Editing and translation by JM Seo
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