Older Koreans open up about dating, sex and sensualitySipping a warm cup of jujube tea, Lee Hui-sook (not her real name) turned on her computer. She logged into her personal Weblog and started to type in her thoughts of the day.
“To know you,” she wrote. “It’s bliss to my heart.”
She stopped writing, pondered for a while, and then smiled, adding a small heart emoticon after the period.
Like a typical young girl in love, she was writing in her online diary of her tender feelings toward someone she had recently met. But the writer isn’t so young. She is in her mid-60s, but is still young at heart and very much in love.
“My heart was always achingly cold, but you came by my side one day turning it warm and secure,” she continued to write.
Ms. Lee has lived alone since she divorced her husband several years ago. Then she met “a gentleman” in his late 60s through an online chat. They have not had the chance to meet yet but their frequent talks in the cyber world has been enough to ease her loneliness.
“I am a bit embarrassed to speak because my children might think it’s unseemly for an old woman like me to get excited like a little girl,” she said.
But she is only one of some 5,560 subscribers to more than 10 online clubs (according to a search on the Daum portal) for people aged 60 and over looking for a significant other.
As with Ms. Lee, many of the users use assumed names and would only speak anonymously. But most were open about their search for that special someone, despite having been bought up with the Confucian virtues of propriety and chasteness.
“It is natural for anybody to have the desire to look for a person they want to love,” said Yoo Ji-in, a dating counselor specializing in senior couples at Happy Sailing, a match-making agency headed by veteran actress Kim Young-ran.
“But it’s a pity that it takes more time and courage for senior citizens to come forward and admit they are ready to date someone,” she added.
“But once they are [ready],” Ms. Yoo said, “everything is about the same. A boy meets a girl. They both clearly know what they want.”
One of the most impressive cases she saw was an 82-year-old man whose children persuaded him to start dating. The shy octogenarian became the oldest member on her list, but he was still working, led a comfortable life in the city and “looked as young as a man in his 60s.”
It was only after he was introduced to a 65-year-old woman that he realized he was still attractive and the first date went very well. They are planning to get married soon, Ms. Yoo explained.
Another couple, both in their 60s, got along so well on their first group blind-date that Ms. Yoo did not realize they had left the party early together for a more private date.
“It even surprises me sometimes that elderly couples have become so enthusiastic compared to the past, but that the stereotypes we have of these people are still strong,” she said. Ms. Yoo said she herself, at 57, may be viewed as elderly in Korea’s tradition-based society.
“But I am still working giving dating advice,” she said.
Some elderly couples are also being more open about their sexuality, a topic society typically ignores when it comes to their generation.
Park Sang-jin and Choi Haeng-ji, a married couple in their 60s, are very outgoing and healthy and say they actively enjoy their silver years.
The couple sat close to each other at a lecture they attended at the Museum of Sex & Health on Jeju island. The lecturer talked about the importance of maintaining a sound relationship, both mentally and sexually, despite traditional values focusing more on being “dignified.”
“We agreed with what the speaker said,” Mr. Park said, smiling after the lecture. “They were helpful messages for all couples, old and young.”
The museum also hosts events designed to help couples appreciate each other.
Hwang Jin-su, a branch head of Motorola Korea and his wife participated in a beginner’s swing dance competition on a recent evening on a ferry sailing on the Han River. It was an event for senior couples as part of a campaign by the museum to “appreciate your spouse’s body more.”
“It was really fun to learn to dance in front of so many people,” said Mr. Hwang.
But there were people who still felt uncomfortable hearing “sex” spoken out loud as the instructor encouraged all participants to do so.
Others flushed with embarrassment when the instructors asked whether they “had sex regularly?”
“It is so important for couples of all ages to learn to become an attractive partner to maintain a healthy life,” said Bae Jeong-won, the instructor and the head of the Museum of Sex & Health. She said she could tell whether a couple is having regular sex just by the gestures they make toward their spouses. “Let’s start that by saying ‘I love you’ more often and hugging your spouse more.”
While some listeners looked impressed, others cocked their heads to one side in apparent doubt.
“Although I came here willing to be more open-minded, some of the instructors went too far,” said Seo Yeong-seok, 57, a participant. “I was too embarrassed to sit through their speeches.”
by Lee Min-a
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