Blame for infertility where it belongs

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Blame for infertility where it belongs


In the old days, giving birth to a healthy son was considered a sign of virtue for a married woman. A son was considered indispensable for observing the memorial services of ancestors and carrying on one’s family line. Women who could not bear children at all or who bore only daughters were often expelled from their homes and considered sinners. It was one of the seven vices that married women were not to commit. Therefore, married women relied heavily on faith and religious rituals to pray for a son.

It was a cruel time for women, who were forced to eat or follow whatever old wives’ tales dictated would lead to the birth of a son. Women in the Joseon Dynasty were often told that they could give birth to a son only if they were sincere enough to follow the advice of someone who told them to drink dirty water from the toilet. Compared to that, swallowing a raw, yellow rooster testicle or eating boiled bull testicles was nothing. The humiliations didn’t stop with their diet. They often wore clothes that belonged to women who gave birth to sons, or carried at their waist a small axe made from a knife they stole from the house where a son had been born.

The history of praying for a son by touring famous mountains and rivers dates back to before the Joseon era. The rocks that became idols for these prayers were called gija am, or “rocks for praying for a son,” and the supposedly holy spring water was called gija saem. According to “Samguk Yusa,” or “Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms,” King Haeburoo of Buyeo sired no son until old age. He was gifted with a son, named Geumwa, only after he visited famous mountains and rivers to offer prayers. The mother of Confucius supposedly bore him after offering prayers at Mount Niqiu. Therefore, his given name “Qiu,” and his courtesy name “Zhong Ni,” came from the name of the mountain.

To bear a healthy son, a husband’s role was also considered important. According to the medical text, “Donguibogam,” the health of an embryo depends on the health of both the husband and wife. For that reason, the book advises that men should avoid sex after eating too much, when seriously ill, or when overjoyed or sorrowful. In many countries, there are cases in which people prevented men with weak reproductive organs from impregnating women. In ancient Sparta, the law allowed an old husband who had a young wife to introduce a young man to his wife so that she could bear a healthy son.

Clinical tests on animals have proved that drinking has an adverse effect on the sperm count of not only the man who drinks but also his sons. According to the tests, alcohol makes the weight of the drinker’s testicles decrease and the sperm slow down. Without knowing the exact cause of infertility, many women prayed for sons, shedding tears in front of rocks in the old days. Today, men had better stop drinking first if they don’t want to see their sons and daughters-in-law agonize over infertility.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the Joong-Ang Ilbo.

By Kim Nam-joong
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