Are Condoms Really the Danger?

The stories of sexually active teenagers as told through the EVE report and The Condom Them

Park Ju-yeon | 기사입력 2020/04/02 [19:51]

Are Condoms Really the Danger?

The stories of sexually active teenagers as told through the EVE report and The Condom Them

Park Ju-yeon | 입력 : 2020/04/02 [19:51]

“Results that are inappropriate for youth have been excluded. Prove your age to see all of the results.”


This is what you see on a portal site if you search for “youth” and “condom”. The voting age may have been lowered to 18, but it is still “inappropriate” for teenagers to learn about condoms. Are condoms really dangerous or inappropriate for young people?


▲ The cover and table of contents of the “2019 Teen Sex Survey” conducted by EVE. [English added by translator.] 

According to the “2019 Teen Sex Survey” published by the social venture firm EVE, 54.7% of a group of 1,348 youth between the ages of 10 and 19 said that they had had sex. If being sexually active is the experience of more than half of teenagers, then their stories need to be much more visible than they are now.


In addition, Seoul’s Gallery Vinci held “The Condom Exhibition – Neither Criticism, Nor Shame, Nor Boasting” (hosted by JaSaekGoGuMe and the youth feminist network WeTee) from January 30th to February 2nd. As a chance for teens to talk openly about sex, most of the participating artists were teenagers. Because they share a focus on teenage voices that have not been heard before, I’ve decided to write about the contents of EVE’s report and the message of The Condom Exhibition together.


Condoms aren’t dangerous, unsafe sex is


① Lack of places to have sex


Youth who are treated as if their even learning about condoms is “inappropriate” have a very difficult time finding a place to have sex. It is even harder to find a safe place to do it.


According to EVE’s “2019 Teen Sex Survey”, most teenagers who have had sex say they have done it at their or someone else’s home (53.3%), while room cafes, DVD rooms, public bathrooms, and emergency exit stairwells are also mentioned. To the question “Have you ever felt uncomfortable in the main place where you have sex”, 64% of respondents answered “Yes”.


▲ A work from “The Condom Exhibition – Neither Criticism, Nor Shame, Nor Boasting” (hosted by JaSaekGoGuMe and the youth feminist network WeTee), which took place from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 at Seoul’s Gallery Vinci.   ©Feminist Journal Ilda


Among the works on the display at “The Condom Exhibition – Neither Criticism, Nor Shame, Nor Boasting”, you could also find writings revealing experiences with unpleasant places to have sex: “The floor was really dirty. Even if you just brushed it with your hand, it would leave a smear of black dust. And we sat on that floor and had sex.”


② Unease after sex


Experiences of sex in an unclean or unsafe place are connected with feelings of unease. And anxiety about pregnancy also looms large. Eighty-two percent of the teenagers who’ve had sex reported unease afterwards, with 3.9% feeling so anxious that it interfered with their daily lives. 


The fact that, despite that, only 32.9% have been to an ob-gyn or urologist deserves attention. Among those who’ve been to a doctor, 30.6% said that the reason it was burdensome was because of the expensive fee, from which we can conjecture that teenagers, who often don’t have money of their own, feel that they cannot ask adults for help in order to visit an ob-gyn or urologist.


We can also guess that they have not been given sex education that includes content like, “If you suspect that you’ve caught an STD, you should visit a medical facility and get tested.”


▲ A work from “The Condom Exhibition” that uses actual condoms.   ©Feminist Journal Ilda

③ Barriers to the use of condoms


The fact that teenagers are not receiving decent sex education can also be seen in the area of birth control. Among teenagers who’ve had sex, 73.4% said they use a condom. The next most common method was pulling out (39.2%), even though this cannot be called a proper form of birth control. The most common reason for not using a condom was “It reduces sensation” (35.2%).


At the same time, there were also answers like “They’re a burden to buy because they’re expensive”, “I’m afraid that people will find out I’m having sex”, and “They won’t sell them to me because of my age”. This clearly reveals the problems of social stigma around teenage condom use and condoms’ low accessibility to teens.


What we are reminded of from these results is that what makes it dangerous for teenagers to have sex is our society’s limiting their knowledge about sex and access to condoms and other forms of birth control, so that the only kind of sex they can have is the unsafe kind.


Teens’ diverse sexual identities


Another noticeable thing about both the EVE report and The Condom Exhibition is how teenagers are escaping the biological sex dichotomy and heterocentrism.


In answer to the question of what sex they identified as, 48.2% of respondents to the “2019 Teen Sex Survey” identified as female, 45.4% identified as male, 3.6% identified as intersex, 1.5% chose “undecided”, and 1.3% chose “not applicable”.  In addition, 75.4% said they are heterosexual, 12% said they are bisexual, 3.9% said they are pansexual, 3.6% said they are homosexual, 3.4% said they are undecided, 1.1% said they are asexual, and 0.7% chose “not applicable”.


▲ The voices of queer teenagers were also present in “The Condom Exhibition”. ©Feminist Journal Ilda

But it was clear that we don’t provide teenagers with enough information while they’re going through the process of considering their sexual identity and exploring who they are, and information about sexual intercourse is especially limited.


Just like non-queer (heterosexual) teens, queer teens search the Internet using terms like “birth control information” and “how to increase sexual satisfaction”. When asked if the results that came up for these searches were satisfactory, 42.9% of survey respondents said “Yes”, which is noticeably lower than the 64.3% positive response rate among non-queer respondents.


Teens’ access to information about sex is already limited, but if you add the filter of queerness, there is even greater difficulty. I think it’s time we considered how we can conduct sex ed in a way that doesn’t exclude queer youth.


 “Neither criticism, nor boasting, nor shame”


“The Condom Exhibition – Neither Criticism, Nor Shame, Nor Boasting” was a space full of the voices of young people attempting to share their stories through the medium of condoms. JaSaekGoGuMe, one of the organizations that cohosted it, says their name comes from a phrase that translates to “me who thinks about autonomous sexuality”. This how they explained their motivations for putting on the exhibition:


“It seems like we’re distorting condoms – and sexuality, sex, feminism, masturbation – with the sexual beliefs that porn has created. We wonder whether sex isn’t being thought of as only provocative, vulgar, and racy, so we felt we needed to do a project that makes people think again.”


Through their condom exhibit, which “raises the issue of existing sexual discourse being produced mainly by and for adult men, and centers women/queer people/youth in order to find new language and desires”, JaSaekGoGuMe wanted to make society aware that condoms aren’t the problem.


▲ A scrapbook work from “The Condom Exhibition”. [The handwriting at the bottom is quoted in the paragraph below.]  ©Feminist Journal Ilda

The quote “It wouldn’t have been an exaggeration to say that, for me, discourse about sex was ‘non-existent’” (excerpted from a scrapbook work in The Condom Exhibition) will likely feel familiar to many people who aren’t teenagers. Walking around the exhibition, you can’t help but wonder what is really putting whom in danger.


The Condom Exhibition’s contents reflect the intense thought and questioning of the people who made it, their resistance to a culture that consumes teens’ sexuality through porn but excludes and prohibits the sexual expression of actual teens, and honest words about their experiences of sex. Through it, we can see the dynamic movement of those who are attempting to face their sexuality as a source of neither criticism, nor boasting, nor shame.


By Park Ju-yeon

Published Feb. 1, 2020

Translated by Marilyn Hook


*Original article:

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