IES: S Korea



Koreans: (3+,3+,3+,4,






[Note: lack of data on contemporary North Korea]




Child[1] and even (informal?) prenatal[2] betrothal occurred in rural Korea. The “capping ceremony” was synonymous to betrothal (Landis)[3]. This occurred at age twenty in ancient times, and at the time of writing this had decreased to an incidental age of 10. North Korean child betrothal was banned by law in 1948[4]. Turn-of-the-century accounts suggest that “most impoverished families sent their daughters out as child brides, minmyŏnŭri, to be raised in the households of their future mothers-in-law (Kendall, 1996:p62, 181-2)[5].

Around the middle of the 17th century Hamel[6] noted:


“They make no love, because they are marry’d at 8 or 10 Years of Age, and the Young Maids from that time live in their Father-in-laws House unless they be only daughters”.




“Among the Okj[?]o, girls left their homes at the age of about ten to go and live with the families of their betrothed. At the time of marriage, however, they returned to their parents and the future husbands had to pay a bride price before the marriages were consummated”.


Taboo on and punishment of “masturbation” is seen in the Korean Americans (Turner, [1905:p3])[7]. Brandt (1971)[8] stated that “[c]hildren are, of course, aware of sexual matters at an early age, both through the conversation of their elders and because of the crowded sleeping arrangements”. The author observed that for the ages 12 to 14, “[t]here is considerable romantic longing for someone of the opposite sex, but both individuals are ashamed and pretend to dislike each other when they meet, sometimes using insults that provoke real quarrels”. Han (1949:p70)[9] relates that “grandparents as well as other older members of the family often pay complement on the child’s sex organ”. As close as the mother-daughter relationship may be the latter would not think of undressing in front of her mother. Nevertheless, it is her mother to whom she tells of her first menstruation. However, “[a]bsolute ignorance of sex on the part of a bride is considered to be a womanly virtue and a sign of complete chastity” (p120). Knez (1960:p81-2)[10] agrees that girls only after menarche (age 15) acquire some sexual information since they are then regarded as women socially as well as biologically. After the occasion, they are “[…] no longer allowed to play with boys […]”. “Parents are reluctant to educate their children in sexual matters”. The same was observed by Osgood (1951)[11]. Young men are often “introduced to sexual behavior” by a widow (Knez, p83).

While the country’s high schools “still generally lack a realistic sex education program”, the age of first intercourse has lowered “significantly”[12]. In one study[13] of 849 adolescents (with a mean age of 18.8 years), coitally active repondents began sexual activity [coitus] at about 18 years of age. Youn expected underreporting “[b]ecause premarital sex for adolescents is considered very undesirable in the Korean social setting”. In a study by Choi et al. (2000)[14], the average age of initiation of masturbation was 14.26 +/- 1.66 years. Seven and one half per cent of parents, especially mothers, rationalise circumcision of boys with the intent “to improve future sexual potency”[15].

Jung and Honig (2000)[16] found that paternal job satisfaction and relationship with own mother as well as educational attainment predicted fathering behaviours with respect to child sexuality and parental rules.

A study of Korean children and adolescence doing Japanese comics[17] includes data on the reception of sexual themes therein.



Choi et al. (2001)[18] [read in full: IES] for South Korea:


“Unmarried young men and women in the Chosun dynasty received a very limited form of sexuality education, focused on how to achieve pregnancy and produce better descendants. The most important lesson was instruction on how to select the right time, as well as the best position and behaviors, for achieving pregnancy. When newlyweds started their honeymoon, the bride received a calendar with information about the fertile time. In many instances, husbands were also given this information. In some traditional extended families, married sons were not allowed to sleep in the same room with their wife unless the family patriarch approved, based on the wife’s fertile period. […] The traditional silence of Korean society on sexuality issues and education has left its adolescents almost completely without guidance in dealing with the imported Western sexual cultures”.


About masturbation:


“The Korean Research Institute of Sexuality and Culture (Kim et al. 1997)[[19]] reported that 70 percent of female high school students agreed that “masturbation is natural to release sexual desire.” In contrast with their positive attitudes, however, only 15.2 percent of the survey participants had experienced masturbation. For those who had masturbated, the frequency of masturbation was once a month (44.2 percent), two to four times per month (23.1 percent), and five to seven times per month (5 percent). With respect to self-reported feelings after masturbation, 35.6 percent felt guilty, 21.0 percent felt nothing, and 6.3 percent felt good. When asked about their response to a sexual urge, 41.9 percent “just endured,” 10.5 percent exercised and/or engaged in favorite habits, 6.2 percent masturbated for relief, and 35.7 percent answered they had no experience of sexual urges. Meanwhile, 49.9 percent of male high school students reported masturbating, whereas 46.3 percent endured the sexual urge. There was a significant gender difference in masturbation”.


“Yoo, Oh, and Soh (1990)[[20]] asked about parents’ attitudes toward masturbation to see their relationship to their children’s masturbation. In 75.2 percent of the parents showing positive attitudes toward their own masturbation, there was a linear trend by age: 77.8 percent in the parents in their 50s, 75.9 percent in their 40s, and 56.1 percent in their 30s. In terms of religious adherence, Buddhists were least positive about masturbation, 54.5 percent, compared with Protestants, 76.9 percent, and Catholics, 91.7 percent. In terms of negative views toward their own masturbation, more than 60 percent of the male and female respondents said, “It is against moral standards.” The second reason showed a significant gender difference: 25.0 percent of the males answered, “It’s harmful to sexual activity,” whereas 12.5 percent of the females offered a religious reason, saying that “it evokes guilty feeling.” Certainly, their attitude on masturbation was related to that of their children’s masturbation. Those who feel good about their own masturbation showed positive attitudes toward their children’s masturbation as well. Meanwhile, their reasons also revealed a significant gender difference. Half of the parents said children’s masturbation is good because it shows “good evidence of physical development.” But, in terms of gender difference, masturbation is a “unique method of resolution of sexual tension,” answered by 13. 6 percent of the males and 33.3 percent of the females, a “relief of physical tension” by 4.5 percent of the males and 13.3 percent of the females, and a “relief of psychological tension” by 11.4 percent of the males and 2.2 percent of the females”. [read in full: IES]


Age Stratified Patterns


There does not appear to be much data on the age of the Wharang (wha, flower; rang, shining purity) boys (Rutt, 1961[21]; cf. Leupp, 1995:p19); they were “often in their mid-teens” (Murray)[22]. It was said that the use of flower boys, or hua lang, was officially instituted by a Silla king in the year A.D. 576, as a replacement of female shamans[23]. “During Silla period the cross-dressing ‘hwarang’ (= ‘flower boys’) were cultivated by the king for military duty, but also for dancing etc. Later on became involved in (cross-gendered) prostitution. Also a tradition of ‘boy-wives’ who would be brides to older men, but who could later on marry as ‘true men’.”[24]







Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Apr 2005


[1] Han, S. (1977) Korean Fishermen. Seoul: SeoulNationalUniversity Press: “[…] the parents try to betroth their son or daughter to someone appropriate as early as possible even before the children have come of age”; Dallet, Ch. (1874) A History of the Church in Korea. Vol. 1. Paris: Victor Palmé: “When children reach the age of puberty, it is their parents who arrange their betrothal and marriage without consulting them, without considering their tastes, and often even against their will”.

[2] Moose, J. R. (1911) Village Life in Korea. Nashville: M. E. Church: “The betrothal takes place in early childhood, and I am told that friends sometimes make the engagement, under certain conditions, even before the children are born”; Yi, K. (1975) Kinship System in Korea. New Haven, Conn.: HRAF: “The pregnant women promise each other the betrothal of their children, when one bears a male and the other a female”.

[3] Landis, E. B. (1898) The Capping Ceremony of Korea, J Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 27:525-31, at p525-6

[4] Goodkind, D. (1999) Do Parents Prefer Sons in North Korea? Stud Fam Plann 30,3:212-8, see p213

[5]Kendall, L. (1996) Getting Married in Korea. Berkeley [etc.]: University of California Press, and references

[6] Hamel, H. ([1918]) The description of the kingdom of Corea. Reprinted in Transact Korea Branch Royal Asiatic Soc 9:129-48

[7] Turner, L. (nd) The Social and Psychological Role of the Korean Sorceress. “There is no circumcision and genital handling or masturbation by the child is tabued whenever observed”.

[8] Brandt, V. S. R. (1971) A KoreanVillage Between Farm and Sea. Cambridge, Mass.: HarvardUniversity Press. See p135

[9]Han, Ch. C. (1949 [1970]) Social Organization of Upper Han Hamlet in Korea. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms. Relevant pages include p69-70, 118, 120

[10] Knez, Eu. I. (1960 [1970]) Sam Jong Dong: A SouthKoreanVillage. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms

[11] Osgood, C. (1951) The Koreans and their Culture. New York: The Ronald Press Company. “Sex education has no formal place in the child’s life and although sex occupies a major place in youthful discussion, it is not shared between males and females”

[12] Seung-Duk, K., Eun-Joo, K., Hye-Kyung, S. & Aeree, S. (2001) Viewpoints of Korean senior high school students on school-based sex education, Asia Pac J Public Health 13, Suppl:S31-5

[13] Youn, G. (1996) Sexual activities and attitudes of adolescent Koreans, Arch Sex Behav 25,6:629-43

[14] Choi, Y. J., Lee, W. H. et al. (2000) Masturbation and its relationship to sexual activities of young males in Korean military service, Yonsei Med J 41,2:205-8

[15] Oh, S. J., Kim, K. D., Kim, K. M., Kim, K. S., Kim, K. K., Kim, J. S., Kim, H. G. et al. (2002) Knowledge and attitudes of Korean parents towards their son’s circumcision: a nationwide questionnaire study, BJU Int 89,4:426-32. “As perceived by Korean parents the other major benefits of circumcision are improved sexual potency, penile growth, and the prevention of premature ejaculation; mothers, rather than fathers, believe these to be true”.

[16] Jung, K. & Honig, A. S. (2000) Intergenerational comparisons of paternal Korean childrearing practices and attitudes, Early Child Developm & Care 165:59-84

[17] Yi, S. H., Lee, K. Y. & Chyung, Y. J. (1993) Adolescents' subscription of Japanese comic books and their envy toward Japan, Korean J Child Stud 14,2:65-78

[18] Choi, H. et al. (2001) South Korea, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed. in chief) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Vol. IV. New York: Continuum. Online ed.

[19] Kim, S. W., Lee, Y. J., Park, S. J., Kim, S. R., & Song, E. I. (1997) A study of high school girls’ sexuality consciousness: Their sexual behaviors and problems of sexuality (vol. 97, no. 102, abstract in English). Seoul: The Korea Research Institute for Culture and Sexuality

[20] Yoo, K. J., Oh, B. H., & Soh, E. H. (1990) Parents’ attitude toward masturbation, J Korean Society for Human Sexuality 2,1:63-76

[21] Rutt, R. (1961) The Flower Boys of Silla (Hwarang), Royal Asian Soc, Transact Koran Branch 38:1-66. Reprinted in Dynes, W. R. & Donaldson, S. (Eds., 1992) Asian Homosexuality. New York & London: Garland, p187-266

[22]Murray, S. O. (1992) The Wharang of ancient Korea, in Murray, S. O. (Ed., 1992) Oceanic Homosexualities. New York & London: Garland, p103-9

[23] Schafer, E. H. (1951) Ritual Exposure in Ancient China, Harvard J Asiatic Stud 14,1/2:130-84, see p159,n

[24]Winter, S. (2002-3) An Overview of TG in Asia. as accessed April 27, 2005