[Video] Social venture chief calls on Korea to nurture positive view of sex

By Catherine Chung

More schools requesting condom vending machines for teenagers, in a sign of change

  • Published : Feb 14, 2018 - 18:37
  • Updated : Mar 8, 2018 - 11:04
On Valentine’s Day in Korea, contrary to traditions elsewhere, it is the women who busily prepare for the upcoming date night. Homemade chocolates and candlelit dinners are just a few items on the extensive checklist.

While women here shower men with gifts on Feb. 14, men get the chance to reciprocate on March 14, known as White Day.

On Valentine’s Day, many local hotels and accommodations offer promotions and special packages for lovers.

“Rooms get fully booked around Christmas and Valentine’s Day. However, it is often the case that couples do not use the provided condoms or feminine cleanser,” a hotel manager in Seoul said anonymously, in a phone interview with The Korea Herald. 

CEO of Instinctus Gina Park (Photo by Lim Jeong-yo/The Korea Herald)

Many couples engage in sexual activity, but do not practice safe sex, as demonstrated by the rising number of Korean women giving birth out of wedlock. In 2015, a national census showed 24,000 unmarried women had given birth. One-fifth of them were in their early 20s.

More worrisome is that nearly half of sexually active teenagers do not use any method of contraception, often leading to unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases, according to Statistics Korea.

In order to tackle thorny issues surrounding the sex culture in Korea such as unsafe sex and teen pregnancies, Gina Park and her friend jointly founded Instinctus, better known as Eve, in 2015. The social venture introduced the very first business model of offering a free delivery service of condoms to teenagers in Korea.

(Shot and edited by Lim Jeong-yeo)

With the name taken from the biblical story of Adam and Eve, Eve is a social venture that “advocates safe, healthy attitudes on sex through the promotion of its organic, vegan-certified condoms.”

Partnered with various research facilities and sexual health experts, Eve takes on a fresh approach toward condoms, labeling them a form of “sexual health care product.” Aside from its organic condoms, Eve plans to expand its feminine health care product lineup by launching menstrual cups in the latter half of this year.

“Condoms are perceived to be some sort of a ‘negative sexual item’ that Koreans tend to get embarrassed to use or carry around with them. I hope we can help Koreans change their perceptions on condoms in a healthy way,” Park said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

Despite past governmental restrictions on selling condoms to teenagers, Instinctus fought legislators for two years to install condom vending machines for teenagers across the nation in March last year. The vegan-certified condoms are made with only plant-based raw ingredients.

Condom vending machines (Yonhap)

While a single pack of Eve condoms is normally sold at a price of 1,400 won ($1.30), it is sold to teenagers at the low price of 100 won in order to instill a “small responsibility” in Korean youths.

The condom vending machines are currently installed in four locations: two in Seoul, one in Hongseong, South Chungcheong Province, and another in Gwangju.

After installing the vending machines last year, Park shared many difficulties the company faced, “Conservative groups criticized us constantly for ‘promoting sex to teenagers.’ We are not promoting sex. We are promoting adolescents’ rights to practicing healthy, safe sex like adults.”

Compared to other Westernized cultures, Korea remains more conservative about sex. Any discussions of sex is considered taboo, and is often chastised when brought up in discussion. Such negative perceptions of sex, with some going extra lengths to label sex a “sin,” have created a dark underworld where many are hesitant to ever display their sexuality, sexual orientation or preferences.

The lack of openness about sex in Korea is in sharp contrast with what it has achieved economically over the last half century. Since the 1950-53 Korean War, Korea has grown into Asia’s fourth-largest economy and the 11th biggest in the world. However, the nation has failed to see similar levels of change in attitudes and perceptions of sex. 

Gina Park (Photo by Lim Jeong-yo/The Korea Herald)

Park said she made efforts in persuading the Seoul Metropolitan Government regarding her ideas and policy proposals. Park voiced her satisfaction that Seoul’s National Action Plan for 2018-2022 has finally incorporated her views on promoting a safe, healthy sex culture.

“I am so happy to see gradual changes in our cultural attitudes and perceptions of sex. More and more schools are making requests for installment of the condom vending machines,” Park exclaimed.

Changing large frameworks of mind is no easy task. “By promoting positive values (concerning sex), we can at least start taking baby steps into the next revolution of sex and its perceptions in the 21st century,” Park said.

By Catherine Chung (