Lectures on the lessons of love, studies in sexual awarenessWhy did Kim Ga-hyun, a college senior, sit in on a class on dating, sex, marriage and love?
“I used to have a boyfriend last year. I was so ignorant [about love] I didn’t have a boyfriend until very late in life,” Ms. Kim said. “As for sex, my parents were very conservative. It was something that was difficult to learn about directly.”
And why is Kim Seong-hee, a law student, taking the Psychology of Sex course? “Unlike law class, the class teaches something that I was always interested in and something I deal with in everyday life,” he said.
Colleges and universities are discovering, perhaps to little surprise, that students want to learn about sex. Sexual education courses are packed, especially now that registration can be done instantly, and easily, online. Professors say they’ve rarely seen students engage in such heated classroom conversations and debates.
More than half of Seoul’s 48 universities reportedly offer sex-ed classes. At SungKyunKwan University, 80 students signed up for the Psychology of Sex class and a similar number are registered for the Science of Sex and Psychology of Love classes. At Sungshin Women’s University, over 300 students enlisted for the Psychology of Sexual Behavior course.
Most of the courses are offered as electives by psychology departments. Though Korean universities have been offering similar courses for the last 10 years, far more schools do so nowadays, and to far larger classes.
“There was definitely an increase in the number of such classes,” said Park Kun-seok, a Hallym University professor who teaches the Psychology of Sex course at SungKyunKwan University. Mr. Park has been teaching the course for several years. He says the sex-ed boom is long overdue here.
“There are still few people who specialize in these kinds of subjects,” Mr. Park said. “There is strong demand for these classes, but there are few people who can teach them.”
Kim Do-hwan, who teaches the Conflicts and Self-Understanding of Young Adulthood course at Yonsei University, says what has changed is not so much the numbers, but the approach. “There were similar psychology courses in the past, but they did not deal with love directly,” he said. “In the United States, research into love started booming in the 1990s. But it wasn’t until recently that these kinds of issues could be taught at universities even as academic subjects.”
Although these classes vary in regard to method and subject, the trend is to avoid long lectures. Professors prefer to discuss case studies and use student presentations. Explanations are given directly and explicitly, and discussions veer into territory that few ordinary conversations touch on.
Some classes, such as SungKyunKwan’s Science of Sex course, show sexually-explicit materials and discuss intimate details, while the Psychology of Sex class starts by testing students’ knowledge about sex and the social aspects of sexual roles. In Yonsei’s Sex and Human Relationship class, students talk about their own successes and follies in dating ― presented as “case studies.”
“The lectures are centered on details and case studies. Students can relate to their own experiences,” said Kim In-kyung, a lecturer at Yonsei University. “We provide materials that students easily relate to. But they make their own decisions [about sex].” Ms. Kim even gave an assignment to those who never dated before: start dating.
In the Psychology of Sex class at SungKyunKwan University, more than half the sessions consist of student presentations. Kim Ga-hyun, the senior student, chose the subject of sexual misconduct for her presentation.
“My friend’s father was accused of sexual abuse and the father later committed suicide. I also heard of many cases of sexual molestation cases at work from older friends.”
So is there a compelling reason that students should be learning about these kinds of things in a classroom? Kim In-kyung, a lecturer at Yonsei University, says yes. “In the past we learned about sex through friends,” Ms. Kim said. “These days, highschool students go to school in the early morning and come home after midnight. There are no children playing in playgrounds. It is difficult for them to form human relationships with others. They have no choice but to study it at school.”
Having taught the course for over 15 years, she says she has noticed some changes. “Students used to be more conservative. In the past, students didn’t understand how a woman like me could be lecturing about sex, but now students are very open minded,” she said.
Students also say they often find the things they’ve learned about sex from friends are incorrect. No more than a few hours of an entire Korean high school education are devoted to sex education, despite the obvious interest young people have in the topic.
“People have many erroneous beliefs about sex,” said Gang Bok-gyu, a freshman in the Psychology of Sex course. “It’s difficult to learn about sex elsewhere.”
Professors say many students have misunderstandings about love and relationships, and that say they think they know, even though they don’t. Students often have wrong ideas and are surprised by the fact that other people worry about the same things they do, and finding that out makes them feel better, many instructors said.
“I expect to have a better relationship with my girlfriend,” Mr. Gang said.
“There was a student who broke up with his girlfriend three years ago and had suffered because he didn’t know why she stopped seeing him. Later the student told me that thanks to my class he understood what happened and was able to move forward,” said Lee Kyung-soon, who teaches the Psychology of Love class. What happened? The professor wouldn’t say.
Ms. Lee said there are many students who send her e-mail messages thanking her after succeeding in a relationship.
Mr. Park says students these days are better off because they are able to take these courses. “Not taking the course even though it’s available and not being able to take the course because it isn’t being offered are two different things,” Mr. Park said.
by Limb Jae-eun