Friday, January 9, 2009

Like a Korean Virgin


Like a Korean Virgin

I am sitting at my MacBook listening to the Buddhist Television Network in the background with volume at #1 about to dive into an area that baffles. Being baffled is not a new or unexpected state for me, just one that well, baffles me.

As I have begun to form friendships and relationships here in Korea, an added benefit is direct sources of information that I would not be able to access otherwise. This reflection comes from one of those opportunities. My ‘informant’, who will remain nameless for obvious reasons, has no reason to lie or distort the truth. She is trying to help me understand her culture as best she can. I am grateful for her trust, respect and willingness to aid me in my continual process of learning. These days, the ‘textbook’ I am studying is about male-female relationships, sex, gender roles, norms and expectations. I say ‘these days’ to make myself feel like it will someday be something different.

Today I had the pleasure of penetrating the topic of virginity and sexual activity in Korea. I was flat out bowled over by what seemed obvious to my informant but oblivious to me. I appreciate her patience in this department since it took several restating of questions and answers to make certain I heard, understood and swallowed the information correctly. I also need to add that any conversation that includes sex, virginity and prostitution as its main focal points will both maintain and distract me continuously.

“So, I have been thinking about what you said yesterday about the whole women leaving the door open or not be allowed in a man’s room or apartment thing. It really has caught my attention since it is so far removed from American culture and norms. My question is; if men and women are not allowed to be in a room together alone before marriage then do they not have sex?”

“No, they don’t.”

“They’re virgins till marriage?”

“Yes. Most Koreans do not have sex before marriage.”

“Both men and women?”

“Yes. But more women are virgins than men.”

“How is that possible? Don’t the men have sex with women to not be virgins?”

“You know how in Korea all men have to serve in the military?” I nod my head. “Their senior and junior officers take them to get sex for pay. It is a regular part of what happens when boys go to the military. Many say they have not done it but we all know they have.”

“So prostitution is how most boys lose the virginity?”

“Yes. It is very normal in Korea. Most girls do not have sex before marriage. If they get married and the girl has already had sex with a man, they will get separated immediately.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Most men will not marry a women who is not a virgin.”

“Really?” For a guy who talks as much as I do, my vocabulary as an English teacher was becoming very limited to just one word; Really? “It is like Muslim culture?”

“Michael, it is Korean culture.” I am beginning to find out that the answer to anything that Koreans feel insecure or embarrassed about is; “It is Korean culture”.

I was about to say ‘Really?’ one more time but thought about it and tried some new words. “So you are telling me that women that are between 25-35 years old and not married are virgins?”

“Yes. It is very normal in Korea.”

“And boys that do not have sex with a prostitute in the military are also virgins till marriage?”

“Yes but many of them lie about it.”

“What percentage of high school students has sex before college?”

“High school students having sex?” She is now the one who is sounding like I was speaking a foreign language(OK, so I am, but you know what I mean!) . It was like she did not understand the question or it was a quantum physics equation.

“Yes. In America, it is very common for high school students to have sex before they graduate high school. In fact, most of them have more sexual partners in high school than I have had in my whole life.”

“Really?” See what a good English teacher I am? In a matter of minutes I have Koreans mimicking my phrases like natives.

“Yes. It is one of the reasons me and some of my friends that work with youth for a living do not want to work in high schools any more. The girls are too aggressive and we get accused of things that didn’t even happen.”

“Do you lose your jobs if that happens? If a teacher or counselor has sex with a high school girl, who gets fired?”

“The man! He loses his job, never can work with youth again and usually goes to jail for many years, sometimes even twenty-five years.”

“Really?”

“Yes. In 1997 I was accused of trying to have sex with a high school girl that was in a program I used to coordinate and I almost was arrested and prosecuted and I never even touched her beyond the way I would touch any boy or girl.”

“Really? So you can’t be a counselor any more in America?”

“I can. There was a lot of support for me and things were sort-of resolved without any legal or professional consequences but I resigned from my job because all the girls thought I was some kind of a sexual molester and I knew I could not do my job effectively any more. It was more about rumors and gossip than legal or professional. Girls were afraid to be alone with me after that.”

“Did you ever talk with her about it?”

“Yes. She said she did it because she didn’t want to be on the camping trip any more and thought by accusing me of trying to have sex with her, we would go home. Unfortunately for her, that did not happen and I almost lost my freedom and went to jail. I asked her about three years later when hired by the University of Cincinnati to conduct research on the effectiveness of the program. She said she didn’t even remember the situation. It meant that little to her.”

“You are lucky michael.”

“It didn’t feel that way at the time though. So this doesn't happen here in Korea?”

“No.”

“Out of 100 kids in high school, how many have had sex?”

“They don’t.”

“Less than ten percent”

“Yes, maybe.”

“And of adult women, how many do you think are still virgins before marriage? More then fifty percent?”

“Yes.”

“More than seventy percent?”

“I do not know exactly but more are virgins than not.”

“So a couple together for several years not married would never have been alone with a door closed or had sex?”

“Yes it is very normal in Korea.”

“Is this true for Japan and China too?” I asked this as a way to validate her statements and just in case what I had heard was completely untrue.

“No, just Korea.” She laughs for the first time. I am not sure if it was because she thought it was funny or she felt uncomfortable.

“I didn’t think so but figured I would ask.”

At this point, we both had to go. I was experiencing many different emotions including confusion, bewilderment, surprise, disappointment, erotic thoughts about having sex with a gorgeous thirty year old Korean virgin and a pinch of anger. I was bothered by all this- what it says about Korean culture, American culture, men, women, social norms and programming, and just plain old judgmental thoughts in my head.

It is now past midnight and this has taken up a large chunk of my mental process the rest of the day today. I was looking forward for the opportunity to write about this to get it out and have a chance to process it. I do not think it has achieved what I had hoped for. I still feel confused, disturbed and turned on by the fantasies in my head of these hot, adult Korean women in high heels, very short skirts that are virgins, real virgins. It is not necessarily a healthy set of emotions but the ones that I am experiencing at the moment. Tomorrow that may change, maybe not.

I can’t help but wonder who is the oppressed culture; Korean or American? At first glance through American lens, it appears that the Koreans, especially women are the oppressed people in these cultural, sexual norms. But I am flinching to say that I am sold on that to be true. The idea of not having any sexual pressure or expectations seems somehow very liberating and freeing for both men and women. If you already know you are not going to have sex with someone before marriage, it really clears so many things up right then and there. What freedom we would experience to be able to love and learn about each other with sex not even a concern now or the immediate future. Not even a discussion topic, nothing, nada, zilch. A complete non-factor in a relationship. Friendship and companion really are why you are together, not just what we say to cover up what we may be truly experiencing inside but playing the waiting game to appear evolved.

Who are the oppressed and who are the free? The virgins or the double-digit sex partners?

Either way, my Korean education continues. As a side note, I am starting to learn some basic Hangeul and it feels good!

24 comments:

alex said...

hi michael i love your blog!

i'm also teaching english to koreans (but online) and korea really is a very conservative society...

i also wondered of the same thing which is much better. depriving oneself of sex to wait for the right one, or have the liberty of doing it whenever you feel like it??

oh well...

BTW i'll be a regular reader!

michael swerdloff said...

Thanks Alex,
It is such an interesting conversation and it is difficult to see any clarity due to whichever social programming we were each raised in. It makes it hard to see the other side with genuine reality, not an idealistic fantasy of what is good or bad for us.

Personally, my friends and family would be shocked by this but i sense a conservative society has great advantages over the costs and consequences of choice individually or socially may be too distorted by the illusion o freedom. Of course this is written by a man who grew up in the USA, talk about distortion and illusion!

Peace,
michael

Anonymous said...

None of this is true. I have taughted Koreans for over 12 years. A large number of them have sex in their early twenties and some in their late teens. Perhaps later than the US but nonetheless. They have sex in DVD Bangs and all of those countless love hotels. They tend to have very limited knowledge about sex ed and tend no to use condoms. The abortion rate in Korea ages 18-24 is quite high. Don't believe one person telling you that the young Korean women are virgins. For the most part, they aren't. My girlfriend is Korean, age 26 and before me had sex as have many others. Ask around.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually pretty sure sex is pretty prevalent in Korea especially among the younger generations. ( Ilived there for a year)but as their culture is more conservative I'm sure its no where as high as ie in the US. Also as one person did point out, abortion rates are high in korea and abortion clinics are extremely common in korea. Also as someone mentioned before, the DVD places are so stereotyped as being places where kids have sex. As unreal stereotypes may be, they do come from somewhere.

Anonymous said...

From my understanding its about 50% have sex before marriage. Probably differs between rural and city regions (I'm in Seoul). Japan is more liberal than Korea (I have a Japanese girlfriend and lived in Japan). China probably a little conservative because of the whole communism. Your friend laughed when you mentioned Japan and China because Koreas think they are the best kinds of asians (then again as do all asians).

Anonymous said...

I have asked many university girls about the sex thing. I am in a very rural area. They tell me, or at least 10-12 have told me that they have all had sex, but have to lie about it. One on one they tell me this, but they wouldn't admit it to their friends. I know that lying is the most natural thing in the world to Koreans, but I believe these women. They have the same pressures that westerners have to perform sex with boyfriends. They also lie about being virgins when the right man comes along. I wouldn't believe this friend of yours.

sam59527 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brad said...

The way you are describing this topic sounds like you have never been to Korea. There are Love Motels literally EVERYWHERE for young couples to have sex in because they all live with their parents. These are also for the cheating husband too unfortunately.. Have you ever heard of a DVD room? There is one on nearly every corner and it's a place you can go with your gf/bf to watch a movie on a personal big screen while laying on a couch/bed thing and get intimate.

I understand why you are confused, but it all depends on who you talk to. The older crowd (which is more natinalistic) would find the thought of sex before marriage preposterous and say koreans dont do that, (or lie if they know better to keep face). Younger people say Koreans start to have sex in high school or as early as middle school in some cases.

Sex happens in Korea. Everyone knows it. So why do Koreans lie about it?? Because it is the most Confucious country in the world and image and reputaion is the most important thing that they have to keep in order to be socially accepted and respected. Some guys only want to marry virgins so the girl has to lie to keep him. Guys don't want to admit to the prostitutes they get. The whole country definitely doesn't want other nations to think Koreans are easy so they lie to foriegners. In one instance, I heard of a non-virgin woman getting denied a job because the supervisors thought that she was more likely to get pregnant and take maternity leave..

Like most Americans, I don't really care about the whole 'virgin' thing. And I can TRY to understand why they lie in certain circumstances.. but I still dont like it...

Anonymous said...

I am very much confused after reading this article. Either the writer was not close to Koreans or he had very limited persons or age groups to talk with. I am in Korea since last 4 years. In universities you can find many couples sharing same room/apartment in their twenties. I have seen many Korean girls changing their boyfriend every month. And about sex most of my korean friends have sex with their girlfriend very often. I am sure that the author was given wrong information.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Michael you have been seriously misled. My ex-g/f of 4 years was Korean was the best I've had in the sack in my life. I know alot of Koreans as well, and can even speak a little even though I've never been there. My ex lost her virginity at 18 and all her Korean friends in Australia ( and Korea) have lost theirs (all had recently come to oz when I met them). They just don't really talk about itvwith each other. I've been too Korean DVD rooms in oz (had no idea they existed), they have their on little hidden world in Sydney. I've had to deal with all the lies that they all tell each other and all that stuff with the older generation and family members. I even Had her much older male cousin get me drunk and try and trick me into admitting we were having sex. Luckily she had very sternly prewarned me about this kind of thing . Saying we would have to marry if I ever admitted it. If you really want to know the truth you will have to date a Korean girl, not just ask one questions. And like I said I know a lot of Koreans who don't all know each other. And it's more or less the same. Some are really conservative when it comes to sex though. And their views are quite different to westerners

Anonymous said...

The interesting thing that you said is that your "informant" has no reason to lie. When Korean girls talk about sex and their culture they have all the reasons under the sun to lie. The culture pressures they are under are intense. Even if your "informant" is telling you the 100% truth as she knows it, the amount of lies or information not being said by everone else distorts her perception, especially if she is a very naive conservative Korean girl. Korean girls don't talk about sex with each like western girls do. They would never share intimate details with each other about what they get up to with their partners. So the pools of widespread knowledge about what everyone else is doing can be very isolated.

Anonymous said...

Koreans like to live upto an image of their country being the most perfect. They drink together , man and woman, and sleep in the same bed.And they'r not in a relationship, mind you. But if you ask them if they had sex they look at you as if you're crazy saying she's my sister. Every body is their brother and sister. sometimes you wonder if you're not normal when you talk to koreans about sex. I'VE known koreans for a long time and I know boy friend and girl friend means sleeping together. They travel together.But if you ask them directly if they have sex they clamp up and bring out the usual excuse.long ago, about one hundred years ago a young korean man told me if a guest came to the house for dinner and had to stay the night then the wife or daughters old enough had to please him. Then this culture died under Japanese rule. A LONG TIME AGO WOMEN were also very conservative, not being allowed to meet men outside the house , or even go out. Now with Korea having got rich women want liberation, but it has to be done under the blanket of Korean culture. I SUSPECT under military rule koreans had to work very hard , men and women working together, not being allowd to go home sometimes. Therein may have come the free sex culture. But koreans deny this. That's the paradox. I am not an American . I am an Indian. SO I UNDERSTAND WHY Koreans have to lie . In India too we do not discuss sex and do not have sex before marriage as a norm. But I know MANY Indians go against the norm. BUT AS culture goes we do not have sex before marriage, but India is such a restrictive society. IF A GIRL goes to live in another city away from her parents she usually lives with an aunt who watches over her. IF SHE stays in A COLLEGE hostel she might stay with a friend who watches her and will tell on her. If a girl doesn't have an albi she is already suspect. SO WHAT I am trying to say is if a girl is not conservative she has already fallen. MODERN women who live alone are considered to be like their American counterparts. Indian women drinking are considered to be a little free where morals are considered. So Koreans ACTING VERY FREE AND THEN saying they're so pure doesn't make sense. Either you're here or you're there. YOu cannot stradle the fence.

Anonymous said...

err...actually korean students in my campus surely have sex if they're dating.

Dave said...

I taught in Korea for 5 years at an institute and at a university. I had two Korean girlfriends while I was there and girl and guy friends.

Is it conservative? Yes! Do they have sex before marriage? Yes! In Seoul, you get away with a lot more than in small towns. Families in small towns tend to be very conservative - girls are kept on tight leashes - I found them neurotic from having no autonomy. I felt sorry for my colleagues at the institute - all 20 somethings using matchmakers to find husbands. My assistant coordinator who was 33 and from what I could tell a virgin one day invited us to her wedding the next month - they do things fast in Korea.

Anonymous said...

2 things about your interview subject. One, that girl probably was a virgin herself and so she probably had personal values dictating that she and everyone else should not engage in sex before marriage. She was projecting from her normative values to a report about objective reality in saying that Korean women don't have sex before marriage (going illogically from normative to objective, especially when it comes to nationalistic issues, is something Koreans do quite well and often). Second, she probably believes Korean girls are virgins til marriage because she has not been told otherwise. Koreans are very closed and non-communicative about sex. Even when it comes to women talking to other women, nothing gets passed on. She has not been told by any of her friends about sex, despite that most of them probably aleady did it, because those friends don't want to lose face... however, rest-assured, most Koreans do have sex before marriage. Probably, on average, most have sex in University (maybe slightly later than westerners)... But you won't get a straight answer from them about it. Rather, as someone else suggested, just look at the teen pregnancy and abortion rate in Korea.. it's actually quite high...

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael came upon your blog after being curious about koreans' perception of sexuality after seeing a korean drama. LOL. they seem very proper and prim with customs, no sex in the drama yet there's a kissing scene or more of a peck. i was wondering why won't you go all the way through eh? at first i myself concluded that koreans are just like their counterparts in china and japan. sex is a free thing. but after reading the comments it is but the lying thing puzzles me. anyways im from malaysia and am a muslim. at 26 im still a virgin along with my other 2 unmarried sisters. are we those stereotyped muslims wearing a full head-to-toe hijab? we're not and we do dye our hair as "rusty" as the other "envied" ones wud call it,plus being raised along with the more westernised society, like western music and movies and what not. but we do pray and all.regarding virginity, as to personally "why I do it" as I grow older I think it's because I love God honestly. Though I don't cover myself the thought of wearing a short sleeve makes me feel guilty because I've done many wrongs religious wise so I don't dare add my sins up. and also the second factor may be due to the feminism in me. I just don't trust men and why the hell would I lose "myself" to some tom,dick and harry that might leave me when im no longer of use? May be funny to you but I'd rather die a virgin then being fooled by a man. nowadays we work to feed our mouths ourselves so no worries about financial side.so you see nowadays with education and stuff "virginity" is a choice. to me at least. heck there are muslims who aren't virgins anymore but it's their choice to do so. so the word "conservatism" to me should hardly be applied anymore in our modern society. If you believe in a certain creed you follow it. If you don't, well, you just don't. oh well that's my opinion.thanks! nice post!

p/s: gahhhhh i was hoping my fave korean actor is a virgin LOLLL. too bad =p

michael swerdloff said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences and ideas. I appreciate anyone offering their thoughts without anger or trying to convince others they have the ONLY answer. I also find it interesting how each culture has its own methods for hiding who they are and what they want others to believe about them,whether it be virginity, wealth, religion, marriage, etc.
Peace,
michael

Anonymous said...

Hi mike i read ur blog an the comments and think this topic requires even more info before yu can understand the whole thing:

Here is what i learnt from my korean exchange friends and my gf who was a virgin before she met me.

My gf and i are in early 20's and to her and her friends virginity was a bigger deal then to generations after her which she tells me is starting to lose it in highschool more often then when she grew up.

For her she says all her classes were continually evaluated with the certain fraction of top students moving into a class with more top students and then the process repeating until at the end of school tr best were in select classes and would go to their choice university most likely. She made it continuously to the top and says her whole life has been increasing competition. Inaddition extracurricular outside activities were necessary so her schooling didnt end until 10pm most nights. As a result her friends and her didnt have time to think about sex and time spent with boys for fun was limited though she had a "boyfriend". She said she could not be distracted by it and also the huge shame meant she never made time to explore it. However she knew of girls who were put in lower classes and without pressure to fight for top schools and more free time to just hang out and date were known to leave school and transfer elsewhere after pregnancy.

Atleast in her perspective the majority of the school was always competing to get the best school for the best limited number of jobs...

From many koreans i met they seem to lose it in college when they are away from family. Also they say college is a big party in korea after all the stress of highschool and many first years is just about drinking. Finally my gf and her friends are immigrants and didnt lose it until they came to north america and some still havent or say they havent but they are super religious.

Oh and none of her or her friends are ugly-- a little abovr average to hot range

michael swerdloff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
michael swerdloff said...

Great comments and insight. Thanks for sharing. It is important to understand when reading this piece two factors:

1) I am a writer and enjoy writing, not all of this was intended to be presented as fact or non-fiction. It is creative writing based on real experiences.

2) I was only in Korea for a short time whenI wrote this piece. If I had written it six months later, it would have a different tone.

The essence of the piece is the concept that Koreans place great emphasis on virginity AND the illusion of virginity as well. Values and mores are shifting but the presentation of a virginal Korea is still what they want the rest of the world to believe, true or not.

My question is why are so many people so angry about the higher virginity rate than North America? Why is this such a sore subject? Isn't it time we let go of the need for others to be the way we think they should be?
Peace, michael

Anonymous said...

I couldn't help but laugh at this blog. The girl you interviewed either has no clue or is just another typical lying Korean female. 70% virgins until marriage? Try more like 10-20%. It has been documented that 70% of college work in a room salon, work as do mi to make cash. They may not do it every night, but many do it once a week or once every two weeks.

I am Korean and I've never encountered a Korean virgin. Rarely have any of my friends encountered them either. And amongst my friends and myself, we've slept with thousands of Korean women, maybe even close to 10,0000

Korean girls all lie about their sexual promiscuity. They even lie to their female friends about it. Even look at the high school movies in Korea. How many of them have the female characters all trying to hook up with someone. Is this a reflection of the media trying to get high school students to have sex, or is it more a reflection of what happens in Korean society? I'd say the latter since open sexuality in Korea is still admonished or a stigma, but most of them still have sex with multiple partners before marriage. You can easily find Korean girls who have had sex with over 20-30-40 men. If that's just a minute part of the population, why is it so easy to find them. But they know guys aren't incredibly stupid but do assume that they are pretty damn stupid, so they don't say they are virgins, but when you bed them, they all put on this act saying you are only the second or third guy I've ever slept with in my life. If you don't believe the above statement have a group of friends hit on a girl, sleep with her but without her knowing that you guys are all friends. She'll say the exact same phrase to each and every one of these guys.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Michael. You keep asking why the comments are hostile. I've read through the comments, and don't find them hostile at all. You may find that they are since your article was attacked, but it was attacked since the statements you posted in your article were incorrect. Or maybe you find it hostile due to the false perceptions you've had about Korean (or asian) women all your life as Americans seem to think they are.

Korean women in general, I'd say are more promiscuous than the white women. It's that Korean women are masters at lying and deceit. It's funny how I see these Korean women in America have white boyfriends but they bang so many Korean guys during their relationship, all the while the white boyfriend thinking they are wholesome and virginal.

Anonymous said...

To extend on above, these Korean women also do it to their Korean boyfriends, husbands, fiances, not only their white boyfriends, husbands, and fiances.

Anonymous said...

I have a caucasian friend who has an asian fetish. He only tries to bed Korean girls. I asked him why only Koreans. His response are Chinese girls and Japanese girls are too hard to bed, but Korean girls are pretty easy to do so, even easier than caucasian girls.