Sexual Education in North Korea
For today’s issue of the Eyes of Pyongyang, we hope to better examine North Korea’s sexual education curriculum. How would a society as closed as North Korea carry out sexual education?
Majority of individuals living in South Korea have probably received sexual education lectures at least once from their parents. Eventually, one picks up knowledge about sex and sexuality through official and/or unofficial ways. In such an environment, questions on sexuality could be answered through discussions shared between parents, friends and acquaintances. South Korea’s sexual education usually addresses the biological aspects, such as sexually transmitted diseases and natural impulses. Then, how would such educational theme operate in North Korea?
According to three defectors interviewed for this article, North Koreans hardly receive any sexual education. Prior to the 1990s, female North Korean students received education only on maintaining feminine hygiene and health, and child-care; education on pregnancy and birth was not made available. As such, North Korean students were unable to neither have their questions answered on sexuality nor access a variety of information on the subject. It was not until a trend of ‘banalization of sex’ spread amongst the middle school students that officials attempted to implement regularized sexual education. The content of such for this period consisted of: Differences between the male and the female body and sexually transmitted diseases; Aspects one should be cautious of when engaging in a relationship; menstruation and contraception. Sexual education consisting of both male and female students take place in biology classes in the last year of middle school. However, even such curriculum is limited to learning about the bodily structure of animals. In North Korean high schools, rather than examining the relationships between men and women, students are taught of the loyalty to the Kim leadership that should act as the basis of one’s relationship with others. In such a way, sexual education is explored through a revolutionary (political) lens that limits an individual’s understanding of sexual relationships even as students grow into adults.
Until the end of the 1980s, relationships between men and women were strictly limited in North Korea – however, with the wave of the relationship liberalization and implementation of co-educational schools in 1997, many youths of North Korea became very much active in the dating spectrum. Nevertheless, the lack of clear sexual education has posed problems for the society, one of the more serious being teenage pregnancies. This is supplemented by a lack of knowledge on sexually transmitted diseases, and the frequencies of sexualized violence and crime. Further, victims of such assaults often do not report incidents of sexual harassment due to the extremely conservative nature of the North Korean society.
In his interview, defector A stated that: “Having conversations about sex was frowned upon, even for those that occurred between a parent and a child. When I was younger, I asked my mother where babies came from – she told me that they were retrieved from under the bridges.” In any society, when men and women reach an appropriate stage in life, they open their eyes to the natural sexual interests and through this, build families. Every individual has the right to know accurate information about sex and sexuality. In North Korea, the curriculum for sexual education is not provided for appropriately; one can only hope that the regime will undergo a progressive change to allow an adequate standard of living for its population.