About the Author
Tae-il Shim is a pseudonym for a North Korean defector writer. He left the DPRK in 2018, and now resides in South Korea.
Hello there readers, and welcome back to Ask a North Korean — the feature where you ask our defector writers your questions about real life in the DPRK.
Today’s question is about how sex education is different in North and South Korea. Tae-il Shim, who lived in conservative North Korea for most of his life and now resides in the relatively-open South, compares and contrasts what is taught in the two countries about relations between men and women.
Got a question for Tae-il? Email it to [email protected] with your name and city. We’ll be publishing the best ones.
It breaks my heart when I think of how women in North Korea, unlike those in the South, don’t receive even the most basic sex education.
This might be a bit silly, but I remember one day in middle school when my classmate was playing around with this balloon.
He blew air into the long, oval-shaped rubber object — which was not blue, yellow, or red, but flesh-colored — and sent it flying toward his classmates.
When the bell rang and our teacher, a young woman, entered the classroom, the mischievous children were still running around the classroom trying to grab it.
After some effort, the teacher was able to put a stop to this situation and confiscate the strange toy. But it was clear that even she didn’t know what this thing really was.
Whenever I recall our teacher inspecting the balloon, I burst into laughter while at the same time welling up with tears at how pitiful life is for women in North Korea.
I wonder when the women of North Korea, who would still today mistake a condom for a balloon, will be able to enjoy a proper sex life. My anecdote is nothing other than the result of the tragic gender discrimination brought about by the country’s old-fashioned, backwards, brainwashed dictatorship.
Like everyone else in this world, I came into existence in the belly of a woman. After growing up with my mother and sisters, I met my wonderful partner with whom I would raise the next generation.
The basis of relations between men and women came to be thousands of years ago, when Adam and Eve came together by the inspiration of God.
I imagine that during our parents’ time, love and affection were shared in very much a similar way in both North and South Korea. In other words, it was pure and simple, greatly different from the many forms of dating one sees available to the youth of today.
Our parents’ generation still subscribed to the feudal custom of marrying someone chosen by one’s parents.
After the 50s and 60s, however, men and women were mostly introduced to each other not through the introductions of their parents but their friends. Or they met one another on their own.
From around the 70s and 80s, every city had a cinema. Those who wanted to go on dates without their parents knowing would go there to watch a movie with their date.
Strict rules of conduct are enforced in North Korean cinemas. People are barely able to engage in any simple yet affectionate physical contact before a screening ends.
As for marriage, while it varies person-to-person, usually couples will date for a few months before having an engagement party and eventually their wedding.
The reason that things happen so quickly in North Korea is that elders tend to think young people will find too many faults in each other if they date for too long. They also believe it’s likely the woman will get pregnant at some point — outside of wedlock, this is frowned upon in North Korean society — so her parents in particular will be pressing for an engagement.
I wonder when the women of North Korea, who would still today mistake a condom for a balloon, will be able to enjoy a proper sex life
It’s immutable that everything changes, and I expect that relations between the sexes will continue to evolve in the future as well.
Now I’m in far-less conservative South Korea though, I can’t help but worry about the excessive sex ed here, which comes through distorted publications and the education system.
While it may be difficult for parents to see this as long as it’s being pushed by school textbooks, elementary and middle school girls undergo a curriculum full of male genitals and condoms, and I can’t help but wonder if this is too much. It might be best for parents and not teachers to take responsibility for their beloved daughters’ sex ed.
Everybody should be provided with a proper basis for their future sex lives. But South Korea, which used to have a higher birth rate than Japan, is now at 0.92 children per couple, while Japan stands at 1.4.
There are many problems in raising children in North Korea as well. I feel only pity for parents over there, who go through the greatest pain to bring their children into the world only to be unable to provide their children with any parental help.
But even those North Koreans who defect to the South with their families worry about their children.
Their concerns stem from the discrepancy in views on love and dating between the children, who grow up in the free and democratic culture of South Korea, and the parents, who lived in the human rights wasteland of North Korea for decades.
I came to South Korea with my wife and 28-year-old son, and since day one I’ve never nagged him about anything.
I want nothing more than for my son to live well. When I became an adult I knew nothing about sex education, and I’m still haunted by the demons of my past. I told him to, as late in life as it may be for him, to enjoy human love as best as he can.
I believe a good life is one that ends with happiness in old age, looking on as the next generations press forward to an even better world.
I’m concerned, however, that he has become emotionally repressed because of his formative years under the excessive control, abuse, and monitoring of North Korea.
Anyway, while this is my way of approaching things — and I’m not saying I’m right or wrong — I have seen some families where excessive conflict between parents and children has led to severed relations and family members becoming like complete strangers.
Edited by James Fretwell
Hello there readers, and welcome back to Ask a North Korean -- the feature where you ask our defector writers your questions about real life in the DPRK.
Today's question is about how sex education is different in North and South Korea. Tae-il Shim, who lived in conservative North Korea for most of his life and now resides in the relatively-open South, compares and contrasts what is taught in the two countries about relations between men and women.