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Sex and the “Special” Korean: Top 5 Obstacles to Keep Koreans from having Sex

Last Thursday was the Sex and the City 2 premiere in Daegu and what better excuse for us, expat ladies (thanks Carol Anne!) to have a girl’s night out. The movie (F.Y.I it’s subtitled in Korean) was all about ultra-glam New York  culture, gay jokes, Liza Minelli (spoiler alert!), bulging penises and above all, the sexy adventures of our four heroines as they jet-set to the Middle East, where sexual freedom wears a burkha!

As Westerners, were we excited to watch it? Hungry. It wasn’t only the opportunity to indulge in some fun sex-forward fluff, but the freedom to do it in the middle of Korea, where the subject of sex whispers of “taboo”. What’s up with Sex and the Korean, you might ask?…

Enter, the awkward and accidental girl chat with some Koreans:

“Only special women can have orgasms…”

This came from one of my Korean colleagues over a coffee break.   “Susan” (let’s just call her that) is a lively, funny and spunky married Korean woman in her late 20′s; but this time, she wasn’t trying to be funny or crack a joke with this line. She was actually very serious.

An inner monologue of questions raced through me.  Did I hear her correctly? Oh my. Is there a hidden camera on me- where was Ashton Kutcher? …And what did she mean by “special”?

Instead, all I could reply was…

 “What?”

“Only specific women can have them, ” she stated, determinedly.

Specific?Like sexual? …Did she mean “genetically different or altered”?…

My EFL thesaurus didn’t recognize the translation. Worse, Susan was definitely not kidding. Either that or she was withholding and feigning ignorance. 

A kind of medieval and dark-aged feeling swept around me.

Was it possible Korea’s ideas around sex was still in the developing country stage…

“No, EVERY woman can have orgasms…” I replied.

My response created a bit of confused frenzy among my colleagues.

Was my slut factor now being tested? For God sakes, I hadn’t been with that many men in my life, but this was certainly new news to them and they weren’t sure if they should believe me.

“No, I don’t think so…  I don’t have them.” Susan confidently replied.

Some of you may consider it un-American of me for not immediately disclosing  girlfriend sex advice, the way we do in the West.  But as a traveler, I wanted to be responsible. I didn’t want to up the fragile ecosystem of a foreigner’s life.  Besides, I’m an EFL teacher, not Dr. Ruth and it’s not like this is communist China!  Koreans are smart bookish and curious people. If they want information,  they will research it online!

… Or maybe not.

Susan’s story:

When Susan married, she was a virgin. In courting, if the touching ever got too sexual, she would cut it off immediately. Before her wedding (and its impending honeymoon) she asked a girlfriend what sex was like. Her girlfriend told her that sex was painful. Out of  fear, she put off having sex for over a month after marriage.  Feeling pressured to have a baby, she eventually capitulated and fortunately, the couple had a baby soon after. For her, sex was painful but whew, the job was over! No more sex.

Korea is not a sexually open nor liberal country. Susan says she is happy in her marriage, but her story and its naiveté isn’t an uncommon one in Korea. Public displays of affection are frowned upon; and sexual abstinence and chastity, until marriage are highly-regarded virtues, if not unconscious Korean laws.

Furthermore, Korean couples can go long periods without physical intimacy. Susan is just part of that a population of Korean wives turned off to pleasure-less sex and who can escape the obligatory act due to a husband, who works late and/or remotely. But, if husbands aren’t getting their sex at home, it’s also possible they’re getting it from somewhere else. (read Grand Narrative’s article here)

Statistically, every 1 out of 4 Korean men pays for sex; in addition, the nation’s divorce rate is climbing to match the U.S.

What is Skinship in Asia?

Skinship.

It sounds dirty, doesn’t it?

It means the brushing up of against skin or touching of skins.

The term was initially used in Japanese and Korean cultures to acknowledge the intimacy between mother and child. It encompasses a variety of physical misdemeanors from leaning your arm against another, holding hands, kissing, hugging, etc…

It’s a common (and acceptable) form of interaction between same-sex friendships in Korea. It’s even acceptable amongst men as holding hands can be seen as an act of close friendship. But with opposite sexes, Skinship is the Korean equal to foreplay. On the whole, by western standards, skinship amongst dating couples doesn’t seem as audacious as skinship between two men. But that’s where the cultural differences come into play.

Another colleague, “Jane”, is in her 40′s, married with two children. Jane admitted to having much skinship with her husband- they are intimate everyday, in fact! This shocked our group (and could also explain why there’s always a glowing smile on Jane’s face daily). Her bold confession signalled to me, a kind of hope for normal balance in Korean society, in regard to sex for the 30+ something crowd.

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Top 5 Obstacles to Keep Koreans from having Sex:

1. Purity doesn’t always allow for pleasure.

Could it have anything to do with a little over half the population practicing serious Christianity? Maybe.

But what about the other half? Are they able to break through the societal stigmas about sex even if God isn’t holding them back?
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2. Living with the Family

You don’t need to wear a chastity belt in Korea; you just need to live with your parents.

In Korea, children live with their parents  until they get married.  Most Korean families feel strongly against letting their children live on her own. To be a “free woman” living alone, strikes negative impressions on the Korean mind.

This explains the plethora of “DVD rooms” (rooms where couple rent a room to watch movies), jjimjilbangs and love motels, where couples can find time and space away from parental supervision.
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3. One road, one friend… one experience 

While boys boast about sexual conquests, girls have been known to impart advice and confide raw truths of the experience. However, Korean girlfriends don’t chat openly about sex the way Westerners do. When they do,  some stories plant seeds of  fear, naiveté and reluctance, as Korean girlfriends disclose their awful truth… sex was physically painful.
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4. Misinformation


Susan felt traumatized in middle school, when she thought she was pregnant just for hugging a male friend! In her school sex education class they learned “How babies are made”. The act of sex was explained as a man and a woman lying together, holding each other…

As a society uncomfortable with speaking about sex, teaching “the birds and bees” to youth in an accurate and informed way, is often avoided.

Information is either slightly withheld or altered to sidestep the discomfort of teaching such a topic. Contraception and contraceptive pill ads/commercials are rare and unfortunately, this important aspect of sex education is not openly introduced or spoken about either.
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5.  A busy and high-pressured schedule overrides a hormonal one.

The average Korean schedule in general, doesn’t seem to allow for much freedom outside of work or study:

• The average teen school schedule is 15 hours/day (and on Saturdays). With the overwhelming pressure to make high marks in school and high-test scores for college, teens really have little time to act on their hormones. School, afterschool hagwons and church are the only places Korean teens can meet and socialize with each other.
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• At age 18, Korean males must pay their duty to their country and enlist in military service for 2 years.
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• College life appears to be the only window of opportunity.

 

“Do you know what a clitorus is?” I asked Susan.

Everyone looked baffled. Perhaps there was a Korean translation for clit that I didn’t know about, so I drew it on the board, only to gain reactionary gasps and giggles among my peers.

“Well, no I don’t think I have one of those!” Susan proudly replied, relieved that her answer negated possessing the extra body part.

There you have it… maybe it’s true and some Koreans are born a little special.

Article by Christine Kaaloa

Christine is a solo traveler, blogger and YouTube vlogger, who shares travel advice, trip planning and survival tips and tricks on how to travel alone as a woman, live and work in South Korea and to follow your passion for travel.
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13 Comments

  1. Ellen Park says:

    Oh, btw, “your SECOND?! boyfriend” thing was probably meaning “WHAT? you mean you have two boyfriends at the same time”, no? I doubt she meant to imply “loose girl” haha

  2. Ellen Park says:

    Hi :)
    I just stumbled upon this website while trying to find out some info on Bangkok’s ping pong show… haha I was curious as I see them often in the night markets.
    Anyways, as a Korean girl of 25, I would like to make a comment on this interesting article from my own experiences.

    It is true as some guys in the comments mentioned, most girls lie or never talk about sex. I have very close group of 6 girls from college(the supposedly “nerdiest” university in Korea) whom I’ve been hanging out from 19. We all had boyfriends except one girl, and it was only at the age of 25 that we started talking about sex, that is 6 years since we’be been best friends. Only three of the six talk about it time to time, because one has never had a boyfriend before, the next is very conservative so we think she hasn’t had sex yet, and the last one recently got married but has not brought up the topic yet to the rest of us. The three of us only talk to each other about sex, never to other three.

    The very little reliable information available plays a big role too. Since most girls have trouble finding someone with vast experience in sex to talk to, they rely on little resources from their few very trusted friends or “the internet”. Like in Susan’s case, that friend can be very important! I had to use internet too sometimes when my down there was itching or didn’t feel any orgasm, but what I read were all SO WRONG, now that I look back. Yes, the internet says that many women do not experience orgasm at all in their lifetime. And the tips to getting one are really stupid. Also, most girls don’t even think about playing with yourself so they don’t know about their body. The boys have similar amount of knowledge topped with what they see from porn so they only know how to maximize their own pleasure – which also leads to girls freak out from the first time’s pain. Likewise, many girls believe that birth control pills will make you infertile forever and this sort of information is what we get on the internet.

    An average, conservative Korean parent will scold and ban their daughters from coming home late or going on trips to other cities or sleeping over at a girl friend’s house because it could be an excuse to stay out with their boyfriends. The friend that just recently got married confessed that the fact that her husband agreed on her going on trips with her friends sealed the marriage deal because her own parents didn’t let her. Most girls live at home, it is very hard to have a legitimate sex life until you are married. (I tried to move out once but my mom threatened to cut all ties with me forever……….this situation may change if you are over 30) We have lots of love hotels rented by 2~3 hours and DVD rooms equipped with a sofa-bed and a box of tissue instead. In this kind of environment, i think it’s harder to feel very comfortable for the girl to relax and enjoy.

    But still, it’s not all that bad, “Susan” is not the average at least.

    • @Ellen: Thanks so much for sharing your experience and comment! As a westerner, I always think I’m misinterpreting certain aspects of the culture and I get informed up to a point. It never feels like a whole picture and this leaves me with even more questions, as the difference between Korea and the West is vast in regards to the topic of sexual freedom.

      I find the conservative attitude both, refreshing yet shocking. Sometimes, I wonder if Korean men are less horny than Western ones. In the U.S. kids are having sex from 14yrs (maybe younger) and teen pregnancy and disease is a problem to the point, sex education, condoms and birth control is spoken about openly. Films and tv sell sex to their audiences too. “How to talk to your lover, get or fake an orgasm, get multiple orgasms, turn your guy on,” etc… are articles you’ll find littered in glamor/fashion magazines like Cosmopolitan, Vogue, etc… at your local grocery check-out counter. And girlfriends (eek!)– sometimes, we have this saying that “gfs are scariuer than guys, when talking about sex”. Guys discuss “conquests” & generally, they lie. But girls are honestly gritty– they’ll complain about a guy’s penis size, if the guy was ‘a bad lay’ or give praise if their guy is “sensitive and giving” partner…

      I agree, the internet can be a bad source of information. Often, information is subjective vs. informational and factual. We all have to be smart about the information we take in.

      P.S. I will stand by what I said: I’m not meaning to be insensitive, but I do think many more women are able to have orgasms. More than they think. With or without a partner. But women need to explore that on their own. They need to talk openly with their partner about maximizing her pleasure. ;-) That’s been more of the western approach.

  3. Curious says:

    Korean women lie about their sexual life… Of course there are some women that actually save themselves for marriage, but from my knowledge, the vast majority engage in premarital sex, but most will never admit to it.

    Remember that more than half of the women are not christians, and they do not have the guilt trip of practicing sex, they are just afraid of being stigmatized. I am korean, and I’ve never had any problems with sleeping with my ex gfs. Actually, I’d like to add, most college girls will go out and have one night stands, and keep it a secret.

  4. Blah says:

    There is a lot of talk about Korean culture being conservative, etc., but the reality is that people have sex everywhere, all the time. I lived in Korea for a while. I had sex with many, many Korean women, none of whom I married. Other Korean male friends did the same. There is a severe lack of sexual understanding, because it’s not “polite” to talk about it. But it’s happening. As in the states, only the prudes and religious nuts are saving themselves for marriage and even then it’s rare. Just ask the Christian girl from Pusan I slept with daily for 3 months.

  5. Joel says:

    Great post. Glad I dont need to worry about fishing in that pond.

  6. Amanda says:

    oh ‘susan’… that poor thing. she don’t know what she’s missing!
    But I agree, I think its very interesting and you wrote an exceptional post.
    Even my 30-year old, beautiful co-teacher, is still a virgin. She lives vicariously thru me hehe

  7. I think tons of countries, except for Europe is guilty of conservatism to some degree. But, oh my god – really? I guess if it’s a nationwide belief system – i can respect that. However, I’m apt to think there are some women who are actually curious, but meeting static instead of progress. However, as you said – the info is there, look it up.

    • @Nomadic Chick: Conservatism around the world is completely respectable and refreshing, but sex education is important. Guess I also found it a somewhat astounding to think of women near our age group, lacking such information in a first world country; whereas, in the U.S. we’re stigmatized if we don’t have enough sex (or sexual life). No one is praised for sexual abstinence; quite the opposite in fact.

  8. Laura Cancun says:

    Wow. Very interesting article. I would never have guessed that a culture with so much knowledge and technolody would know so little about the human body.

    I will, however, praise their moral values before marriage.

    Mexicans have no problems talking about sex. There is, however, a lack of knowledge regarding birth control.

    Did you ask what made those women “special”?

    • @ Amanda: Yes, that was a tempting line for me to not cross! I also didn’t cross it because I”m Asian. If I “looked” foreign, certain things are loopholed and assumed. For me, there’s an unconscious Asian pressure that’s actually similar to Korean– to not fall below the eyes of what’s considered respectable to another Asian. I was raised with a bit of that virginity/respectable mentality. My mom would prefer me to still be a virgin!
      @Laura Cancun: That would explain why Mexicans always seem to have big families. I wonder if for Mexicans it isn’t sign of prosperity to have a big family? Koreans don’t have big families. The thought is- more kids, more expensive (and apparently, the more dutiful sex!) I hear the government even has ads out encouraging Korean ppl to have more babies!
      As for the “special” women, she was leaning a bit towards overly-sexual (and there’s a bit of negative connotation to it). *ie I was teaching a Teachers English class & explaining something- I mentioned my “2nd boyfriend…” and that teacher was like ” your SECOND?! boyfriend”. Was a little shocked by her response. Yup. after my 2nd, I was a little “loose”.

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