Smart is the New Sexy: Why We Should Know
June 18, 2020 by Yoon Chung
Let’s be honest—sex education in school used be a mildly exciting affair when we were ten. But I’m sure most students―especially those educated in Korea―would agree it didn’t take us very long to realize that these programs were merely repetitive formalities. What we “learned” about sex in eleventh grade was the same as in third grade, the same repertoire of gender equality and naming parts of reproductive organs. The reserved social climate represses direct and truly informative communication regarding the subject, forcing students to rely on misguiding sources such as porn to get into the nitty-gritty of sex.
This May, Chiwon House broke away from all conventions to host an atypically pragmatic sex education RC program, featuring guest speaker No Ha Yeon from Lala School, a sexual lifestyle consulting agency under the slogan, “sex ed can change the world.” Its mission is to empower people with knowledge and enable them to enjoy healthy and autonomous sex lives. Facilitating active communication with students through Zoom and KakaoTalk, Ms. No turned what could have been another passive and formal lecture into an opportunity to learn by asking and know by heart.
The lecture began with a simple question: “What are the three things we need for sex?” The correct answer is consent, safety, and contraception. As obvious as it seems, very few students came up with “consent,” the more immature answers including “a partner” and “a recording device,” the latter of which caused an indignant uproar among the students. We were adults, but still had to rebuild our ideas of sex from the ground up, starting from the very basis: “Sex-Consent=Rape.”
Of course, we've all been taught the simple mantra: no means no. But what exactly counts as a “yes?” The first thing we need to remember is that partners have the power to withdraw consent at any given moment, even during the very act of intercourse. Second, partners must be in an equal relationship in which “both parties are comfortable with making and refusing demands.” An unequal social position between partners or a lack of sobriety or conciousness on one side easily leads to coercion and rape. Last but not least, a certain degree of enthusiasm is required. For example, a mumbled “okay” while avoiding eye contact is clearly different from “I'm down” with a wink. We need to keep in mind that reluctant or coerced consent is not consensual at all. In other words, consent is not a question of a verbally straightforward “yes” or “no,” but of the time and place, the power relations between partners, and their body language.
Regarding safety, Ms. No went into detail about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Instead of listing the medical names and physical manifestation of each disease in textbook-style, she gave us a comprehensive list of easily recognizable early symptoms such as warts, unpleasant odors, spotting, colored discharge and abdominal pain. One crucial fact most students didn't know was that some people―especially men―are non-symptomatic to certain diseases, which is why regular checkups are essential in avoiding the trap of unwitting transmission.
The second half of the lecture, however, was easily the most memorable. It began with a step-by-step tutorial on how to use condoms, in which Ms. No demonstrated how to open a condom without damaging it, how to leave space for the sperm at the front, and how to safely withdraw without “spills;” all with an actual condom and a plastic erection. She also stressed the importance of alternative contraceptives to maximize our options, as some people suffer from “condom allergies” from reactions to latex. The rest of the hour was devoted to a lengthy Q&A session centered around the students, who made full use of the anonymity of the online platform and freely asked about everything from orgasms to vaginismus. Despite the forty-minute time limit, Ms. No candidly answered most of our questions, which I appreciated as one of the questioners.
In a brief interview on the overall quality of the lecture, freshman Lee from the English department assessed, “The best thing about this program was its practicality. As an adult, I wanted to know more about the realistic aspects of sex and how to do it 'right.' That's why I applied for this program. It promised to teach everything we wanted to know, and mostly, it did. We have a right to learn how to engage in responsible and safe sex. Lala School doesn’t shy away from that responsibility.” Although some parents and instructors worry that giving detailed information about sex would encourage promiscuity among students, a study by the Committe of Obstetrics and Gyneology has revealed that knowledge doesn't incite more but merely well-advised sex, helping young adults be sexually healthy. For the sake of our physical and emotional well-being as well as maintaining a power balance in romantic relationships, it's time for standardized sex education in Korea to get real. With the innovative program, “Smart is Sexy,” Yonsei and Lala School have taken a step towards pioneering changes in our sexual culture for the better.