Back to School: Addressing the Shortfalls of Sex Education in South Korea

It is common in South Korea to warn women of the potential for exposure through up-skirt shots and crossed leg on the subway. Photo:

It was a day of casual embarrassment. Groups of middle school girls were forced to gather in the school auditorium and watch an old-fashioned video clip. Because the content was about sex, we felt a little embarrassed, but not sure exactly why. The video included some warnings about things girls should not do, such as not roaming around streets late at night or wearing shorts in front of “healthy” men. These were the only ways that women could avoid becoming the victims of men’s sexual misconduct. This was first sex-ed lecture of my life, held in a girls’ middle school. The important question is then, were the boys taught what not to do as well? Most girls already knew more than what they saw in the outdated video, but nobody really seemed to notice the connotation of imbalance in “proper acts” between men and women.


More than ten years have passed since my first sex-ed class. South Korea is still regarded as one of the safest countries in the world, but it might soon change as there has been a surge in criminal acts involving hidden cameras in public bathrooms or on the streets, whose contents are illegally uploaded online. With the advance of high technology, molka,meaning hidden cameras in Korean, are getting smaller and being used in ever more deviant ways.


According to South Korean law, smartphone cameras must have audible clicks in order to deter molka. It is of little use. The BBC’s Seoul correspondent, Laura Bicker shed light on the issue, writing about how compact hidden cameras are found almost everywhere in South Korea. Subways are the most common setting. Footage from molka then spreads quickly on the fastest Internet in the world.


‘up skirt’ shots and unsuspecting female subway passengers are the most common victims of hidden cameras. Photo:


While anyone can be a victim of hidden cameras, as a Korean Women Lawyers Association (KWLA) study finds, about 11 percent of those sex crimes happened among acquaintances, mostly as a form of revenge porn. Those porn videos are being distributed at a remarkable speed and cause great emotional pain for the victims. Completely deleting them is almost impossible due to loopholes in the law and overall difficulty of erasing content from the Internet. Based on the enforcement ordinance of the law regarding the promotion of information and communication network use and protection of information, the provider of information should keep the information of the uploader for at least six months, but most servers are located abroad so they are not technically violating South Korean law. This endless reproduction continues even after a victim’s death, and what is worse, content is considered higher value  in cases of posthumous work. Indescribable pain never ends.


However, this endemic voyeurism does not mean South Koreans are completely blind to the fact that all acts related with digital sexual crimes are wrong. When the former idol Ha-ra Goo was threatened by her ex-boyfriend with a personal video, a petition to urge the government to punish revenge porn gathered more than 210,000  signatures in just four days. Most people would acknowledge that watching revenge porn videos filmed with spycam is wrong. But then why do most people still watch them? Who are the people who constantly “feed those beasts?”


Ha-ra Goo, whose ex-boyfriend’s threats of revenge porn sparked public outrage


Ha Ye-na, the founder of Digital Sexual Crime Out (DSO) says that the cause of this enormous share and consumption culture of daily life obscenity lies in improper sex education in South Korea. She mentioned in an interview I accompanied that sex education in South Korea “is insufficient in teaching sympathy towards victims, especially women. Because watching those videos online is not seriously regarded as crime.” She and her organization have supported victims of revenge porn. She added, “I know revenge porn is a more global phenomenon compared to spycams, but our patriarchal society has aggravated the situation.”


Thinking back to sex education during my school days, this viewpoint makes sense. For decades, South Koreans, including my generation, have never learned about sex properly. Without fully knowing it, we learned shame first. While technology and home economics textbooks discuss sex as a sacred act for love and new life, socially, it was considered shameful. The obsolete video we forcibly watched was mainly talking about what women should do to not arouse men sexually.


What if those who experienced the cutting-edge technology that previous generations never imagined could also have a chance to learn proper sex education? Would the digital sexual crimes look different?


Technically, nobody can really explain why this endemic social crisis is happening, and there could be countless reasons behind it. But by the same token, nobody can deny insufficient sex education in South Korea has kindled the fire. Most people encounter sex through porn, not through sex education in school. This leads to distorted sexual awareness throughout society in general. Even up until 2015, the standards of sex education as issued by the Ministry of Education were way behind the times, limiting the purpose of sex as reproduction and preaching abstinence. Nothing has really changed after years of failed sex education of the previous and current generations. One issue in Korea is the age at which teenagers report their first sexual experience is dropping. As of 2016, the average was thirteen, yet teenagers still cannot even buy condoms publicly.


The perception towards sex among teenagers and society are changing rapidly. Hushing up sex even for educational purposes cannot solve the fundamental social problem related with sex. Letting adolescents know, talk and have a chance to properly consider what sex is would certainly lessen this abnormal voyeurism in South Korea. It is not too late to develop better-suited sex education for both men and women. There is certainly a role that parents must play, but it is difficult for the previous generation to tell their children that there is nothing embarrassing about sex. The burden should be on schools, where children spend a majority of their time, and it is truly embarrassing that the Korean education system cannot seem to understand that.


Women should no longer be taught that sex is shameful, and it is time for boys to be taught that engaging in non-consensual sexual activities is shameful. Perhaps if we modernize sex education in schools, Koreans will no longer need to be taught a simple tip to find a hidden camera when using a public bathroom.


Credit: Interview with Ha Ye-na was approved of being cited by the original interviewer and the interviewee respectively.

About Minhye Park 8 Articles
Before coming to Yonsei GSIS, Minhye studied mass communications at Sogang University. She formerly worked as a fact-checker at a Korean public broadcaster and is now a news assistant for foreign correspondents based in Seoul. She has published a feature story in the Korea Exposé.