Who should teach kids about sex?

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Who should teach kids about sex?


Illustration by Bae Min-ho

A slew of sex crimes committed by teens in recent years has raised public awareness and anxiety about the quality of sex education provided by schools. Five months ago a case in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi shocked the entire country when police revealed that six middle school students had repeatedly raped a 14-year-old female classmate over a period of two months.
Adding to the public’s dismay was the fact the boys showed little remorse and did not seem to understand the severity of their crimes. One boy claimed that he merely wanted to copy scenes from a pornographic film he’d seen on the Internet.
In other words, many kids are now getting their sex education from triple-X porn sites rather than their parents, peers or teachers.
The Gapyeong case is bad but it’s not unique. Numerous teen-on-teen sex crimes have taken place during the last few years as more teens and preteens engage in sex and commit sex-related crimes.
“The reason these boys do not realize the severity of their crimes is because they have been overexposed to sex through the media or the Internet at a young age but they do not have a clear understanding or set of values relating to sexual activity due to our passive sexual education programs,” said Sung Gyeong-won, head of the Korea Institute for Sex Education.
According to National Police Agency data, one fourth of sex crimes involving teenage victims are perpetrated by teenagers and 13 percent of them involve preteen assailants. These numbers are much higher than in Japan and the United States, both countries that already have standardized sex education programs in their elementary, middle and high schools. According to statistics compiled by law enforcement agencies in the three countries, six out of100,000 teenagers in the United States committed rape in 2005. In Japan the figure was 1.1 out of 100,000 and in Korea it was 11.5. Korea’s incidence of teen rape is almost double that of the U.S and ten times that of Japan.
Part of the problem is that Korea’s sex education programs have been stuck in the past and have not kept pace with the rapid development of Internet technology. We live in an age where adolescents are frequently exposed to sexually explicit material via the Web.
“Korea is a high-tech society and half the kids aged three to five can access the Internet. However, the sex education provided for these kids is elementary, failing to acknowledge their curiosity,” said Sung.
“It’s really easy to get access to the adult sites,” said K, a middle school student living in the Gangnam area who wishes to remain anonymous. She added that teenagers often go to chat rooms with provocative titles if they want to engage in cybersex or hook up with a partner.
The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development currently mandates 10 hours of sex education a year for every grade from elementary through high school. In reality, the ministry admits that in just under half of the 10,063 schools they surveyed these sessions are conducted for less than eight-hours. Circumstances are worse for children from low-income families who do not live in Seoul, as schools outside the capital have fewer teachers or counselors who are able to provide sex education. Free sex education programs in youth centers are also out of reach, as most take place in Seoul. “I’ve attended seminars on sex education organized by the Education Ministry but I don’t feel it was enough to properly educate my students and answer questions that are actually relevant to their lives,” said A, a teacher at a middle school in Gyeonggi.
Many youth facilities in Seoul are being turned into recreation centers for adults offering aerobics, golf or swimming lessons. Only a handful of youth centers, including Naeil Women’s Center and Aha Sexuality Education and Counseling Center for Youth, have exhibition halls or interactive programs dedicated to sex education for teenagers.
The quality of sex education falls short as well. “We show outdated videos and these fail to address the real questions that kids ask, like different methods of birth control or how to deal with peer pressure,” said A.
In a survey of 1,026 elementary, middle and high school students conducted by the Welfare Education Research Center, the vast majority said they received sex education through print-outs or videos, with only 6.5 per cent saying that they had interactive sex education through one-on-one counseling or seminars.
“Most of the time, our gym teacher turns the sex-ed tape on and goes outside and then comes back in when the tape has ended. Meanwhile, we sit in class and make fun of the tape,” K said.
This is partly due to the fact that sex education isn’t an independent subject. At present, sex ed material is loosely scattered around physical education or biology classes. In Japan, the required minimum of sex education is 70 hours per year; sex education is a separate subject. The United States has “health” classes, which include sex education, and these have been set apart as an independent subject since the start of the 20th century.
Addressing this need, the education ministry is looking at making sex education an independent part of the curriculum with a possible revision to the existing bill concerning elementary, middle and high school welfare. The move was proposed by National Assembly Representative Lee Ju-ho in 2005, after a case in Milyang, Gyeonggi in 2004 when around 40 high school boys gang-raped several female middle school students over a one-year period. If the plan is successful, it will be the first time since 1963 that sex education will be revived as an independent subject.
Korea’s sex education started out as “chastity education” during the 1960s; sexual morality was more important than biological or social aspects. It was only in 1983 that the education ministry issued a sex education guidebook for teachers which took a more factual, scientific approach to sex education.
“Children get bored if we concentrate too much on the science. On the other hand, because teachers in charge of a variety of different subjects collectively teach sex education, if the focus is on social issues the content will be mangled and will differ from school to school,” said Sung.
Opinions about the fate of sex education as an independent part of the curriculum seem to be divided but many, including civic groups and teachers, see the move as a step forward. “I think we [the students] are all curious about sex but our curiosity is just not met at school or at home,” K said.

By Cho Jae-eun Staff Writer [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]
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