Comprehensive Sexuality Education

1. Context and background

2. Terminology

3. Laws and policies

4. Governance

5. Monitoring and reporting


1. Context and background

After the Korean War, which ended in 1953, the Republic of Korea’s population was primarily rural, with a high fertility rate of more than six children per woman. The country enacted a Birth Control Policy in 1962 and started its campaign to reduce the number of women’s unwanted births through a programme of information, basic maternal and child health services, and the provision of free birth control and family planning services. By 1984, the total fertility rate had decreased to under two children per woman, and it has continued to remain low. The Republic of Korea is currently a country with an aging society. From 2005, the Republic of Korea shifted to a pronatalist one. One of the Government’s main concerns, evident in laws and policies such as the Framework Act on Low Birth Rate in an Aging Society (enacted in 2005 and amended in 2014), is the low fertility rate and the increasing number of elderly people. The senior population is expected to make up one-third of the total population by 2050. 

The Republic of Korea has one of the smallest youth populations in the world. According to the yearly Adolescent Health Behaviour Online Survey, conducted by the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of youth who are sexually active is increasing. However, only half of adolescents are using contraceptives, which puts many youths at high risk of unintended pregnancy and STIs. While this rate has improved in recent years, it is still low compared to other high-income countries. The Survey also shows that fewer than three-quarters of all students have received any form of sexuality education – a rate that has not changed since the Survey first began in 2010. HIV infection rates have also been increasing in the country, with men in their 20s the most impacted. The public still demonstrates a high level of inaccurate information about HIV & AIDs, as well as discriminatory attitudes.  

Sexuality education in the Republic of Korea has a long history. In the 1950s, sexuality education was referred to as ‘sexual morality’, largely covering biological knowledge, and had an abstinence approach in relation to behaviour. In 1982, the term ‘sex education’ was officially used and the Ministry of Education mandated it to be taught in schools through related subjects. Relevant materials were developed and released for elementary, middle, and high school levels, together with teacher manuals. The 2000s saw a shift and change in the curriculum as a way of preventing sexual violence and prostitution. The 2004 ‘guideline for vitalization of sex education in school’ was released with laws for preventing prostitution and the protection of victims. In 2007, the School Health Act was revised and textbooks on health were introduced into schools. Sexuality education became more life-skills based. In 2015, the Ministry of Education released new National Sex Education Guidelines and distributed new materials and teacher manuals to all public schools. 


2. Terminology

‘Sex education’ is the term primarily used in the Republic of Korea to describe sexuality education. In the 2015 National Guidelines for Sex Education, the Ministry of Education states that: ‘for the happy life of students, sex education must be provided so that students can have desirable sexual values and sexual behaviour through correct knowledge and information about sex. It is necessary to help students develop sexual control ability through education on sexual values, sexual norms, and sexual behaviour so that they can escape from various sexual problems.’ While the term ‘sex education’ is not explicitly defined, it is clear what the Ministry of Education expects from the programme.

According to a 2015 Sexuality Education Report, sexual knowledge is ‘about the process of physical and mental change of men and women and the difference in desire and expression resulting from it. It refers to the sum of general and practical information and concepts about values, customs, and behaviours about sexuality. In other words, in order to form and maintain a desirable human relationship, accurate and correct knowledge about sex, sound consciousness and perspective, thinking, emotion and attitude are required.’

‘Sexual attitude’ is defined as ‘a response to the value or phenomenon of sex and physiological customs and behaviours between men and women. As a result of experience, it refers to a prepared mind and a tendency toward sexual activities. In other words, it refers to the attitude toward safety of the body, cooperation and etiquette between men and women, attitude toward the manifestation of secondary sexual characteristics, and sexual ethics.’


3. Laws and policies

3.1. Relevant international/regional agreements to which the country is a signatory



Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

Ratified in 1984

Acknowledges the need to guarantee sexuality education free from discrimination and stereotypes, conveying gender equality values.


Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Ratified in 1991

Commits to the right to access appropriate health-related information.


Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

Ratified in 2008

Commits to the highest attainable standard of health for persons with disabilities.


International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Ratified in 1990

Acknowledges that the right to sexual and reproductive health is an integral part of the right to health.


UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education

Not signed

Reaffirms that education is a human right. It highlights states' obligations to ensure free and compulsory education, bans any form of discrimination and promotes equality of educational opportunity.


The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action

Attended the conference

Calls for sexuality education, counselling and support mechanisms for adolescents, and identifies essential topics.


UN General Assembly 2016 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS

Includes commitments and calls to scale up and/or attention to scientifically accurate age- and culturally appropriate comprehensive sexuality education.


Commission on the Status of Women 2016 Resolution on Women, the Girl Child and HIV and AIDS

Includes commitments to make universally accessible and available quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health-care services, commodities, information and education.




The Asia and Pacific Ministerial Declaration on Population and Development (2013) (Asia Pacific)

Voted in favour

Commits to the design, funding and implementation of ‘comprehensive sexuality education and life skills’ programmes that ‘provide accurate information on human sexuality, gender equality, human rights, relationships, and sexual and reproductive health, while recognizing the role and responsibilities of parents.



3.2. Relevant national laws and policies mandating comprehensive sexuality education

The 1987 Prevention of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) Act mandates the state and local governments to ‘provide education and conduct publicity campaigns for the prevention of discrimination and prejudice against infected persons and for the prevention of AIDS’. Citizens should be provided with correct information regarding AIDS. 

The 1995 Framework Act on Women's Development (Act No. 5136) amended in 2010, states that heads of State, agencies and business owners shall take necessary measures, such as the implementation of education for the prevention of sexual harassment. The Act also states that school education and training institutions under the Framework Act on Education (amended in 2017) should instil the principle of gender equality and expand educational opportunities for women. 

The School Health Act (amended in 2017) states that: ‘The head of a school shall provide health education to its students and take necessary measures therefor for the purpose of the students’ physical development and the enhancement of their physical strength, the disease treatment and prevention, sex education, the prevention of misuse and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs or medicine, the promotion of mental health, etc. of the students.’ Schools are also required to employ a health teacher in charge of health education and the health care of students. 

The 2005 Framework Act on Low Birth Rate in an Aging Society seeks to improve the Republic of Korea’s fertility rate. As such, the Act charges the Ministry of Education with the task of educating the population ‘on the social meanings of pregnancy, childbirth and childcare, the sanctity of life or the importance of cooperation of family members’. The Act seeks to ensure that citizens understand the significance of issues concerning low birth rates in an aging society, and asks that they cultivate values that support marriage, childbirth, and family life. 

In 2011, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention made it a priority to improve health education for workers, youth, adolescents, young adults and the elderly, to lower the risk of transmitting HIV and other infectious diseases. 

The Ministry of Education’s 2013 Student Health and Safety Reinforcement Project Promotion Plan presented the 'strengthening of sex education' for students as a major project. 

The Ministry of Education introduced the National Sex Education Guidelines in 2015, which recommended schools to provide ‘sex education’ to all students for 15 hours per year. After receiving much criticism over the contents from national civil society organizations and Human Rights Watch, the guidelines were removed from the Ministry of Education’s website, away from public view. The guidelines emphasized abstinence, knowledge about the biological component of sex, such as pregnancy and childbirth, and reinforced gender stereotypes and sexism, favouring heterosexuality, marriage and normative family models. Controversial content included a ban on guidance or any mention of homosexuality, noting that it is illegal. The Ministry reiterated this point in 2017 with an official stating that: ‘It's too early to teach children younger than 20 about homosexuality’ and that homosexuality is not included because ‘there are opposing opinions lingering on this issue’ and that social consensus has not yet been reached. Other controversial content includes statements on gender identity as being binary, while other gender identities are described as a ‘disorder’; there is also a ban on mentioning masturbation, and mentions of various types of families (such as single-parent families) and relating them to family relationships are also not found or allowed. While the guidelines are no longer available, the 2017 revised version of National School Sexuality Education Standards Materials can still be found on the website of education districts. Though unavailable online, the guidelines are still in use. 

According to the Student Health Policy Division - No. 4446 of the Ministry of Education, a small section of the contents of the school sex education standard was revised. The statement states that ‘sex education’ should be conducted according to the 'School Sex Education Standards', and even when external instructors are employed, that it is implemented according to the 'School Sex Education Standards'. It is stipulated that the teacher in charge must provide on-site guidance.  

The Ministry of Education published a press release in 2020 committing to gender-sensitive education so that students can have an informed sense of gender issues, including of human rights and human relationships. 


3.3. Curricula

Mandatory or optional

The Ministry of Education requires all elementary, middle and high school students to have 15 hours of sex education annually. 

The 2008 National Curriculum states that ‘sex education’ is mandated to be provided by schools.  

Model of delivery

Sex Education is not a stand-alone subject and it does not have set hours for implementation. Instead, teachers are expected to incorporate the content within other subjects, such as health class. However, health as a subjected has a limited number of hours allocated to it in the school year. 

Comprehensiveness of content


Materials to be used for Sex Education emphasize the functions of family and procreation coming from a 'heterosexual'-centred marriage. The content covers descriptions of the reproductive organs and what changes adolescents undergo during puberty. In the materials, reproduction is described as the combination of a sperm cell and an egg cell. Sexual relationships are only vaguely referenced. Explanations about the reproductive organs end with 'pregnancy, the beginning of life and birth', reflecting the idea that the only purpose of sex is reproduction. Contraception is taught with the focus on the prevention of pregnancy. 

The high school workbook contains six sections: human life and parenthood; relations with the opposite sex and parental roles; how to cope with sexual issues; sexual behaviour and responsibility; sexual health; and understanding and preventing ‘illegal sexual acts’. Contents include definition of the differences between biological sex and cultural notions of gender, with illustrations of sexual organs and genitalia. However, there is no specific mention of the sex act, and there are no references to sexual minorities. The textbooks mainly deal with coping with unintended pregnancy and sexual dysfunction, with no content on conflicts and negotiations in sexual relations. In terms of consent, the textbook 'emphasizes that only rejection is through effective rejection' and strongly promotes restraint and abstinence. The meaning of mutual consent and agreement through effective communication is not discussed.  

In the middle school textbooks, 'pregnancy, prenatal education, childbirth, sexually transmitted infectious diseases and AIDS, and contraception' are discussed with an emphasis on abstinence. Adolescent pregnancy, abortion, and adoption are framed negatively and said to lead to ‘lifelong guilt, suffering from guilt and shame, confusion about self-identity, giving up all happiness’ and serious consequences such as ‘discontinuation of school, abandonment of infants, loss of dreams’. There is no information on social services or reproductive health services. The content also covers the prevention of sexual violence prevention with suggestions such as, ‘Refrain from and avoid clothing that stimulates sexual impulses’ and ‘When you are alone at home with a friend of the opposite sex, do not create a situation where you are alone’. Sexual violence is described as only ‘between the opposite sex’.  

The elementary level materials place significant emphasis on gender roles and on marriage and family. For example, one learning activity asks students to differentiate men from women based on clothing. Lessons on genitalia cover only their reproductive function. Children are also taught how to ask for help in dangerous situations.  

Learning resources

The Ministry of Education provides National School Sexuality Education Standards Materials for High School, Middle School, and for Elementary School (upper grades) and Elementary School (lower grades). The materials include workbooks for students, slides for each class, and a teacher manual.


3.4. Teachers

In the Training Material for Sex Education guidelines provided to schools by the education offices of each city and province, the Ministry of Education states that ‘sex education is not intended to be an opportunity for teachers to share their views on sexuality’ and that ‘teaching about homosexuality is not permitted’. The document also forbids the use of terminology indicating a variety of sexual orientations and orders schools to remove information about sexual minorities from their current curriculum. The Ministry reiterated its decision to exclude any mention of homosexuality in 2017.  

Most of the Sex Education staff in schools are health teachers, as prescribed by the School Health Act (amended in 2017).

In 2015, the Ministry of Education started the National School Sexuality Education Standard Delivery Training and held a briefing session for Sex Education managers across the country. The supervisors and the teachers in charge of the curriculum received training. In addition, each education office produced materials for delivery training, posted them on their homepage, and delivered them to each school. 

According to the Ministry of Education’s press release in 2020 education on the prevention of violence, such as sexual harassment and sexual violence is compulsory for all teachers, for more than 4 hours per year. Similar training on sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention education is mandatory in in-service teacher training. No information could be found on pre-service training. 


3.5. Schools

Information was not found.


4. Governance

4.1 Responsible ministries

The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family all have roles to play in Sex Education. However, most of the responsibilities lie with the Ministry of Education.

4.2. Level of responsibility/decentralization and autonomy

An official from the Ministry of Education stated that: ‘The fact that the guideline does not contain sexual minorities does not necessarily mean that teachers should not do the related lessons.’ This suggests that teachers are responsible for teaching content that is not included in the guidelines provided by the Ministry.  

Though schools are recommended to provide 15 hours per year of sex education to students, surveys conducted by district education offices and the Ministry of Education show that this most schools do not achieve this goal

4.3. Government budget allocation

No information was found.


5. Monitoring and reporting

The Ministry of Education conducts student evaluations on compliance with the National Sex Education Standard every December. The annual Adolescent Health Behaviour Online Survey also measures the percentage of students who have been taught Sex Education at school. Further details on monitoring and evaluation were not found. 

Last modified:

Fri, 07/07/2023 - 23:40