[Viewpoint] Contraception education a priorityI had a slightly traumatic experience with birth control. During a class in middle school, my teacher talked about the unfortunate outcome of unwanted pregnancy by giving vivid examples. Then she asked us what we should do. “We have to practice birth control more effectively,” I answered. The teacher then gave me a harsh scolding, as if it was sinful for a young student to even know what birth control means.
The correct answer, according to my teacher, was “We have to be prudent in our behavior.”
Controversy has been brewing recently over the release of morning-after pills. The Korea Food and Drug Administration announced last week the reclassification of some drugs. Under the changed regulations, birth control, which before could easily be purchased at pharmacies, now requires a doctor’s prescription, while morning-after pills will be sold without a prescription. The general response of most women is negative. They are unhappy to see the unexpected changes.
Many women complained that birth control pills will be classified as prescription medications. The religious community and parents protested the reclassification of morning-after pills as ordinary drugs that can be sold without a prescription. They expressed concern that youngsters will increasingly engage in promiscuous behavior.
The Korean Medical Association demanded that both birth control and morning-after pills must be classified as prescription medications, while the Korea Pharmaceutical Association said both should be sold without prescriptions. A public hearing was scheduled to listen to the different opinions. I asked the Korea Food and Drug Administration about its intention. “It is to serve the women’s right to health,” said an official. And he presented lengthy documents. The following is the summary.
To prevent pregnancy with birth control, oral contraceptives need to be taken as a cycle for 21 days then stopped for seven days. Long-term administration of such method will affect a woman’s hormone levels, the KFDA said. Serious side effects such as blood clots, myocardial infarction and strokes could occur.
The morning-after pill, in contrast, has 10 times the quantity of hormones than one birth control pill, but it requires just one administration, thus the concerns for the side effects are lower. Because the morning-after pill needs to be taken as soon as possible to heighten the effectiveness of preventing unwanted pregnancy, it is more appropriate to allow easier access to serve the public interest.
Taking it habitually is a problem, but unwanted pregnancy is the worst outcome, thus the government should not require a complicated procedure for a woman to be able take the pill. In many advanced countries, birth control pills are classified as prescription drugs, while the morning-after pill is classified as over-the-counter medicine.
Through the documents, I was able to learn that not only pregnancy and giving birth but also contraception are dangerous to a woman. “There is no healthy method of preventing pregnancy through an oral contraceptive,” the official said. “Birth control should be a man’s duty.”
And yet, men do not want to talk about it. When the issue was discussed at the editorial writers’ meeting of the newspaper, male writers have very few words to say.
Then, what do women in our society know about birth control? They probably have taken the oral contraceptives without understanding that they were harming their bodies. Furthermore, birth control pills were often used to coordinate menstrual periods, not to prevent pregnancy.
Both men and women are ignorant about birth control in Korea. Sex education is still about chastity, no different from that of 40 years ago, and no one teaches the youngsters about birth control methods.
And yet, 50.7 percent of male students and 29 percent of female students have experiences with sex according to a recent survey by the Health Science College of Ewha Womans University. But they both showed that they lack knowledge of sex and contraception. The survey showed that the understanding is lower for men.
In another survey of female students in Gwangju, more than half of the participants did not know about their own menstruation periods, the indicator for their fertile period. They didn’t understand the fundamental basics of birth control.
In this era, will sex education focused on chastity really be enough to protect the healthy sexual experiences of women? In fact, grown-ups in our society are not any better in their knowledge about birth control because they have never learned it properly.
In France, specific birth control methods, including how to use a condom, were taught in schools starting in middle school. Recently, the abortion rate went down about 9 percent in Illinois, in the United States, and an analysis concluded that the decrease was the outcome of the recent anti-abortion movements and birth control education.
Of course, it is necessary to have sex education to promote “prudence in our behavior,” but what’s more urgent to our youngsters is very explicit birth control education.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Sunny Yang