By now, dear readers, many of you are familiar with the fact that I am an English teacher in South Korea. However, this is only my day job. By night I am a sexual health vigilante, unafraid of open discussion and fascinated by gender issues and culture.
With that said, anyone who is uncomfortable now should skip this post because I'm about to go into detail about... you know... sex stuff.
For many foreigners, sexual health is something that can be overlooked because1) it's uncomfortable to talk to your co-teachers about it.
2) there is little information in English about health, let alone sexual health, in Korea.
3) some people don't understand why they should care.
But that doesn't take away from the importance of knowing how, where and who you should talk to if you or someone you know needs to get a tune-up, check-up, or just be prepared.
From my research on the matter, combined with information I've gleaned from the foreigner community and a little first-hand experience, you can put your mind at ease to any of the following questions which may be troubling you or your friends currently.
"How do I get birth control in Korea?"
This is probably one of the most frequently-asked questions among foreigner women when it comes to sexual health. Upon arriving in Korea, my first assumption was that the pill would be difficult to obtain, considering the seemingly conservative stance the Korean culture has on the social issues surrounding sex. However, birth control is, by far, easier to get in Korea than in the States, and at a way lower cost. Mercilon (pronounced mer-shea-loan) is available at any pharmacy (look for the sign 약국 or ask for the nearest yak-gook) for about 7,000 won (about $6.70 USD).
UPDATE: 피임약 (pee-im-yak) is the Korean word for 'contraceptive', which may prove to be super handy if you're looking to purchase the pill (thanks for the extra info, fellow Ulsanites!).
For you visual learners out there (or if you'd rather not say a word and just point to pictures), here's a picture of what you're looking for:
Inter-uterine devices (IUDs) are also fairly common in Korea, so if you're looking to get one, your local gynecologist should be able to perform the procedure.
"How do I get an STI test in Korea?"
The same way you get an STI (sexually transmitted infection) test in the States. Find a local clinic and go in. If you're looking for STI testing at a subsidized rate (like you would find at a Planned Parenthood in the US), good luck. A full STI screening could cost anywhere from 120,000 to 180,000 won-- completely worth the cost for those who can afford it, but Korea is definitely not handing out tests for free.
For women living in Ulsan, Lee & An in Sam-San Dong (located on 4th floor above the KFC) is an excellent and clean gynecology office that comes highly recommended from the foreigner community (wonderful English; no appointment necessary). You can visit their website here.
"What are Korean condoms like?"
After sitting down with a girlfriend and physically comparing the two kinds (giggle fits and all), the main difference between Korean condoms and non-Korean condoms is circumference (with Korean condoms being the smaller).
"Where can I find non-Korean condoms?"
If you find the Korean-brand condoms to be a disincentive for safe sex, never fear. You can find brand name condoms you’re likely familiar with in department stores such as Home Plus. Although the selection may not be the best, it could be an alternative to using something that doesn’t work for you (and if it’s not the right size, it’s not providing protection).
I haven't found dental dams in Korea yet, nor have I seen latex-free condoms (though I haven't looked too hard). If you're reading this and know where to find 'em, please leave a comment below.
Through research among forums it seems that emergency contraception (brand-named "NorLevo") is available at pharmacies but you need to have a prescription. Through the foreigner network I've learned that, fortunately, acquiring a prescription is not too difficult (simply requesting one at a doctor's visit will do the trick), but timing can be an issue, as 'Plan B' is most effective if taken as soon as possible, up to 5 days from the time of intercourse (as time goes by it loses its effectiveness so thte sooner the better). Although emergency contraception is just that-- for emergencies only and not a regular birth control method-- it's always smart to have one package on hand, just in case. And in Korea, Plan B has been reported by the foreigner network to cost anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 won-- far cheaper than in the States. So next time you're at the doctor's, make sure to ask for a prescription. You could be seriously thanking yourself later.
How about 'Plan B' (the 'Morning After' pill)?
How about 'Plan B' (the 'Morning After' pill)?
"Are abortions legal in Korea?"
In a word: no.
However, according to the Korean Law Blog, there are exceptions [emphasis mine]:
Chapter XXVII of the Criminal Code prohibits procuring and administering abortions. However, in 1973, the Maternal and Child Health and the Mother and Fatherless Child Health Acts established exemptions from this prohibition.
Even though the Korean legal system may punish those that procure and perform an abortion, prosecutors rarely prosecute those that perform or procure abortions because of the exceptions, the fact that doctors can fit their case into the exemptions, and the fact that the attitude of Koreans towards abortion has drastically changed since the imposition of the law.
Today, a woman that is pregnant in Korea that wishes to abort the fetus usually visits her local OB/GYN and the doctor usually performs the abortion or the doctor refers the patient to a clinic that will perform the abortion.
"Who do I call if I've been sexually assaulted?"
The crime rate in Korea is perceived to be extremely low by foreigners. Normal concerns—such as theft or street scams—are rare. However, it is unfortunate to note that out of the crimes in Korea, some of the most common are sex crimes.
If you find yourself in this situation, find a safe place and a phone and call the Women's Emergency Call number: 1366. Speak calmly and slowly as possible, and ask for English.
UPDATE: More information on sexual assault, sent from a fellow foreigner in Ulsan:
Emergency Contact Numbers
- 112 Police (call this first, possibly no English service)
- International Emergency Rescue 02-790-7561 (for English service)
- This is the place to go if the police don't understand or anything: Ulsan Women’s Crisis Center 052-244-3117 or 052-246-3117 (Located next to Dong-gang Hospital in Taehwa-dong or 울산 OneStop 지원센터).If the police aren't involved yet, this place will contact them (if you choose) and take you to the hospital for a check-up (which is conveniently located right next door.
- And for your blog audience all over Korea, here is a list of all the Crisis Centers in Korea.
Wishing you safety and health!
Questions welcome at email@example.com.