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Sex Ed. Textbooks ① - The Whereabouts of the Vulva

Sex Ed. Textbooks ① - The Whereabouts of the Vulva

The Storyteller: Teacher JeongYeon

Sex Ed. Textbooks ① - The Whereabouts of the Vulva

Now on Another Planet Every person’s fate is like the history of a planet. No two planets are alike and each is distinct. Here we will introduce the planets of others to feed your curiosity. Find wisdom in real stories based on real peoples experiences, thoughts, and lives. JeongYeon tells you an interesting story…

What do you remember about sex education at school?

For me, a student with already interested in bodies and gender, sex education class was both stimulating and some what disappointing. While it was fun to learn about anatomy and genitals, pregnancy and childbirth, it was never enough to satisfy my curiosity.

I was able to fulfil that curiosity little by little after I entered university, majoring in Home Economics Education and exploring research and learning both formal and informal. In the process, I came to the conclusion that the sex education we receive at school is completely wrong.

Now that I’ve graduated university and am meeting students firsthand in the Home Economics classroom I have began to contemplate how to create a middle school sex education curriculum that could really change students lives.

What do you learn during Home Economics class?

In South Korea Home Economics is a subject that focuses on building relationships through healthy interactions with oneself, family, community, resources, and the environment, and developing independent living and practical problem-solving skills. Among the regular school subjects it deals with sex education the most. In the 2015 revised curriculum for middle school students the elements and outcomes regarding sex education for Home Economics are as follows.

These elements are then incorporated into the classes of middle school students across the country through the following process.

Through this process the curriculum impacts the textbooks, textbooks influence the classes and the classes then affect the teachers and students. The direction of a class can thus be influenced by the language and contents of the available textbook. The elements and outcomes are all composed of content to be learned in adolescence, emphasizing the growth of self-identity during mental and physical maturation.

But does the content of these textbooks accurately express these ideals? While the page design, sentence style, included pictures might vary depending on the publisher the basic focus and content of the textbooks are all very similar. Let’s take a look at the ‘Adolescent Sexual Development’ sections of representative textbooks used by schools around Korea.

JeongYeon’s Textbook Commentary Round 1 - The Female Body

What kind of language and expressions do these influential textbooks use when discussing the ‘female body’? Jeongyeon analyzed textbooks from three publishers (CheonJae Textbooks, BiSang Education, and JiHaksa) and discovered a few disappointing aspects.

CASE #1 The Whereabouts of the Vulva

What’s included in the textbooks

✔ Sections on male sexual development include both the internal reproductive organs (testicles, epididymus, vans deferens, seminal vesicle, prostate etc) and the external organs (penis, scrotum).

✔ Sections on female sexual development include only the internal reproductive organs (vaginal canal, ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes).

What’s not included in the textbooks

✖ Sections on female sexual development do not include any explanation, or even mention, of female external genitalia (the inner and outer labia, clitoris etc).

JeongYeon’s Comments Considering that the external genitals are very important in terms of sexual pleasure, understanding the body, and maintaining health I find it very problematic that this information is only provided for males, and not for females. Due to the structurally protruding nature of male genitals it is easy for boys to know how they are shaped and how they function. However, the nature of female genitals makes it difficult to understand their structure without purposeful effort and the use of a mirror. The vulva is undeniably a part of the female genitalia and educating students only about the internal genitals and their functions in pregnancy and childbirth is a direct violation of female adolescents “right to know” and understand their own bodies. Knowing the structure and function of the vulva would help students to understand their bodies and better manage their health. Above all, it is essential for women to properly understand the structure and function of the vulva in order to pursue their own sexual pleasure.

CASE #2 Menstruation… it’s a cycle. That’s it?

What’s included in the textbooks

✔ The textbooks explain ovulation, menstruation, the menstrual cycle and it’s expected date.

What’s not included in the textbooks

✖ Any kind of practical explanation of menstruation is excluded.

JeongYeon’s Comments The textbooks only include explanations of the most basic concepts and information to do with menstruation. Seeing as almost all female students will experience menstruation every month much more information is needed to ensure they understand this part of their lives. Through learning about physical changes in menstruation, such as swelling of the lower stomach, hormonal changes, and increased appetite, individuals can understand their physical health without doubt and confusion. Learning about methods of easing menstrual pain, such as hot packs, stretching, and painkillers, can also help students better handle menstruation. Students may need to know about the painkillers that can be purchased at the pharmacy, and those that can only be prescribed by a gynecologist. Textbooks should also explain the characteristics of different menstrual products, such as disposable pads, re-usable cotton pads, menstrual cups and tampons, and how to choose the best product to suit you. Furthermore, it’s necessary to explain conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome which can cause irregular bleeding, vaginitis, and vaginal secretions. Students require education to recognize irregularities in their reproductive systems, and to know when to seek treatment at the hospital.

Class Continues How do Korean middle school home economics text books understand ‘women’s sexuality’ and ‘women’s desire’? Read more in JeongYeon’s next lesson, ‘Sex Ed. Textbook ② - Masturbation is for Men?’

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