Law on Contraceptive Pill Changes

Birth Control Pills

An online debate has emerged following the Korean government’s decision to try and reclassify contraceptive pills, making “the pill” available by prescription and the “morning-after pill” (i.e. emergency contraception) only available OTC (over-the-counter). This is a reversal of the status quo that, for the last 44 years, has made the pill an OTC medicine.

Korean netizens find the new policy fairly outrageous (considering the pill has been so easily available for such a long time), with many claiming that the new plan might have something to do with combating Korea’s low birth rate. Whilst female rights groups voice concerns that it might restrict people’s right to choose, anti-abortion groups worry that women might overuse the morning-after pill instead of visiting the doctor for a prescription.

Asides from the “woman’s right to choose” argument, one of the reasons Korean women get upset over the issue is perhaps cultural: unmarried Korean women rarely visit a gynaecologist. Even when seriously ill, a visit to a gynaecology clinic would be reluctant for fear of the disapproving stares around them. That’s not to mention the social pressure on Korean women to remain sexually naïve.

From Daum:

Do we have to reveal our sex lives to get birth control pills?

At 11AM, June 8th, I visited a pharmacy near Yonsei University, Seoudaemun-gu, Seoul. I asked for birth control pills, and the pharmacist handed me one, covering it so no nearby men would notice. The pharmacist commented on the government’s policy [to change the classification of birth control pills to prescription drugs], saying ‘It’s not yet settled. We have to wait and see,’ yet one of the pharmacists working at a drug store near Ewha Womans University recommended that ‘there’s no sign of hoarding up though; since the pills have a long shelf life, it’d be convenient to buy it in advance.’

Contrary to the serene atmosphere at the pharmacies, Korean women are showing strong reactions to the issue. There are heated debates on the internet. Ms Yoon (26), a graduate student, said ‘the government hasn’t said anything about the risks of taking birth control pills, and NOW they try to regulate them? What an irresponsible government!’ One of the associates of Korean Womenlink acknowledged the necessity of medical consultation in order to find a suitable birth control method. However, the associate insisted that ‘Birth control pills are essential for women in preventing unwanted pregnancies, demanding that they visit hospital every month is a serious restriction on the right of women to choose.’

Many voiced concerns about placing more obstacles on birth control methods – especially on the accessibility of pills – unmarried women are strongly reluctant to see a gynaecologist and some married women admit that they would be uncomfortable to see the doctor for pills. Ms Lee (30), a housewife and married for two years, said that ‘It would be a nightmare if I had to explain my menstrual cycle and sex life to a gynaecologist every time I needed the pill.’

In addition to that, birth control pills have a variety of usages other than birth control: menstrual pain relief, controlling irregular menstrual cycle, adjusting menstrual days, treating acne and so on. Ms Kim, a disgruntled corporate worker, said ‘Even teenagers take the pills, facing Suneung or field trips.’ Ms Park, a university student said that ‘If the policy is settled, there would be a lot of things I should be aware of.’ Twitter user sojung***, insisted ‘It’s absurd to let the doctors decide if I need birth control or menstrual control.’ And another Twitter user said that ‘Practicing birth control is as painful as getting strange gazes in a gynecology clinic. On women-only internet communities and Twitter, there are articles with titles like, ‘Let’s buy up birth control pills.’ Ms Choi, a corporate worker, pointed out ‘It is about 15,000 won to get a prescription for morning after pills. If we have to visit whenever we need the pills, the cost will aggravate.’

Comments from Daum:

산속물고기:

In short, the government is lying that birth control pills got suddenly dangerous and morning after pills became safe. Whichever pill it is, the doctors will be writing prescriptions. For the doctors, an effortless money-maker, for the consumers, it’s the spending of money with no significant reason.

하늘잃은 하얀새:

Are lubricants in condoms safe?? We asked the government to allow convenient stores to sell cold medicines [previously only OTC] and their response is this?

한결같은:

Do the doctors micro-examine patients’ individual health when they write prescriptions? The consultation should last less than a minute. Only gynaecologists will benefit from this.

강물보다빠르게:

I take the pill to adjust menstrual cycle for exams or school retreats; this news is ridiculous. If the pills have risks to be over-the-counter [OTC], then it’s equally absurd to have classified the pills as OTC drugs for all those years.

착한악마:

When a government policy changes on a whim, it means lobbyists have made a deal with the government.. How much in bribes did they receive to change their position so quickly? It’s a matter of time to fully investigate this.

파란하늘:

There must be something sinister behind this… We need a prescription even when we buy Kimite patches [a brand of motion sickness patches]

빗방울:

Are there fewer side effects when we get a prescription? It’s nothing more than taking money from patients. Or do gynaecologists give us an adverse drug reaction test or something? Otherwise, stop this absurdity..

나짐3:

Do I have to go to the hospital to buy them? I take the pill to keep my period from starting when I need to attend outdoor activities or trips. Motherfuckersㅡㅡ

김넥센:

The governtment is just trying to defend doctors’ incomes.

07:

This is probably MB’s policy to boost the birth rate. If you want to be on the pill, then disclose your sex life. If you don’t like it, get pregnant.

돈두꺼비:

Doctors and pharmacists do not think about patients! It’s an invasion of human rights^^

역의엔트로피:

It’s weird that we need a prescription to buy Kimite patches ke ke

지누션:

This is what the Korean government does..

Romantist:

Lee Myung-bak, this motherfucker’s administration doesn’t even allow us to fuck whenever we want.

산속물고기:

Using condoms is uncomfortable for men, and yet why are you blaming women? Males should blame doctors. You guys are aiming at the wrong target.

Incomplete:

Put on condoms correctly then.

현이:

Hey you dicks, if you’re not absolutely sure you pull it out within 0.1 seconds, you’d better rubber-up.

Ejilak:

It must be hard to make a living as a gynaecologist… Birth control pills have been OTC and now the government wants them to be prescription pills.. And why on earth did the government re-classify emergency contraception as OTC drugs? They’re zigzagging all over the shop… If birth control pills have risks, do you think emergency pills are any safer?

하늘:

This is a deceptive way of raising the birth rate.

산나리:

I don’t take birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. I only use the pills to control my menstrual cycle: when there are exams or trips coming up. Birth control pill ads have stressed on ‘beauty effects’ like treating acne, and it became so risky that it requires a medical prescription.. What’s all this nonsense?

Share This Article
Help us maintain a vibrant and dynamic discussion section that is accessible and enjoyable to the majority of our readers. Please review our Comment Policy »
  • Michael F. O’Brien

    I don’t understand how you can put on a condom so it would be uncomfortable, however, I do understand that a condom can and will lessen the pleasure.

    Does any of law have to do with the reported high numbers of female fetuses that are aborted in Korea? There won’t be enough young women available for all of the young men to marry when the time comes. Korean parents are not fond of interracial marriages.

  • k

    i dont know michael, my husbands parents didnt mind at all that he married me and im american. in fact they tell us all the time how much cuter our half white, half korean baby is then his sisters full korean baby. actually many koreans consider half white half korean babies to be prettier then full korean. after all thats what all the korean celebrities try to look like with their plastic surgeries, euroasian. anyway this is absurd to suddenly require a prescription for bc, it seems like the gov is trying to discourage bc to up the birth rate. however i find it shocking that women dont go to the obgyn out of fear of being judged…..that is just so….ridiculous. i honestly can not understand why koreans care so much about what strangers think of them and i dont think i ever can, not from that culture. sucks about the law tho, my sister in law was mailing me bc from korea.

    • Chucky3176

      I’m a Korean but I don’t find caucasion women attractive. To me, full blooded Koreans with slanted eyes and natural straight long black hair are more attractive to me. Just my personal preference, and I notice that’s the preference of lot of the white guys in Korea who I keep reading that white girls are not attractive to them anymore.

    • Stories of butts

      White people arent the only people in the world though.

    • Dan

      Did you ever think your story might be an exception rather than the rule? The majority of people of any given race still prefer (and marry) people from their own race. Even out of the Koreans who do think Eurasians looks better than Asians, many of them (and their families) still care about preserving bloodlines or being able to connect with their significant other on a shared cultural level.

      I do agree about the OB/GYN point though.

  • mouse

    Yeah, Korean men need to stop forcing women to have unprotected sex and Korean women should have access to birth control.
    Why do you think the abortion rate is so high?

    Anyway, I’m calling bs on the school trips and exams excuse. Seriously?

    Also – the morning after pill doesn’t always work. My daughter is proof of that. So good luck ladies, it really only does take once!

    • An anonymous boy…

      The morning after pills effectiveness is only 89% at best. That means 1 in 10 who use it correctly will become pregnant. It’s effectiveness reduces the longer one waits.

      • mouse

        Exactly – So women should not rely on that. :)
        The Pill is actually awful on women’s bodies which is why I don’t take it, because the side effects and awful – but there are a variety of other birth control options I wasn’t aware of until after so I’m using the Patch now with my boyfriend because we aren’t ready for another kid! haha
        I hope that women are more proactive.
        The condom issue is big though for STDs. And getting tested!

    • Noori

      School trips excuse could make practical sense, considering most Korean women only use pads, not tampons. If they have to go swimming, then the pill can be an easier alternative.

    • Stories of butts

      I call bs on the school trips and exams excuse too, just seems like the most flimsy excuse to not say theyre having sex on the interweb… which is weird.

  • Brett Sanbon

    Well, I dont know much about birth control but if I were a girl I would fight to keep it otc. Korean boys should too. Do you really want to go into that DVD 방 without knowing if she is on the pill?

    When I first came to Korea I went to a 7 Eleven and tried to buy some night-time cough syrup and band-aids… Even for “otc” you must go to a pharmacy.

  • FYIADragoon

    Well if they’re trying to impede the growth of pre-marital sex then this should have a positive effect.

    • mouse

      Not really. Most Korean girls don’t even use BC to begin with.

      • An anonymous boy…

        I don’t think that is true. I remember a study that puts the contraceptive rate at 70-80% in 2000s.

  • Umm

    After reading this I think a bigger issue is the fact girl’s are too afraid to see a gynecologist or a doctor. Also the fact that they’ll be judged by others for doing so.
    I can understand why the pill should be prescription medication. There are a lot of different combinations of the pill and they don’t all work for everyone. With a doctor’s help it’s much easier to find what works for you. However, if it’s a monthly visit that’s needed, that’s ridiculous. Most people I know get a yearly prescription or tri-monthly injection.
    All the same, I know young girls wouldn’t be able to visit the doctor without their parents finding out.
    About girls not being protected; the pill isn’t enough unless you’re in a trusting relationship, it doesn’t protect against STDs. I had my boyfriend get an STD check before we slept together. He might not even know that he’s carrying a disease.

  • An anonymous boy…

    I am all for women’s rights, but in this case I think it is good idea to make their access harder to get. Condoms while not the only choice are very effective at preventing STDs and HIV infections and it would be nice if this spurred their use.

    If we compare the US to Japan were the US has higher us of contraceptive pills vs Japan that boast a higher use of condoms (80% usage) due to differing politics: one can see the HIV ratio is one of the lowest in the world in Japan. This is just a correlation and doesn’t in fact imply that Condoms are the reason:

    Using WHO 2009 HIV estimates and google pop estimates I get the HIV ratio at:
    0.39% of the US population.
    0.006% of the Japanese population.
    0.02% of South Korean population.

    South Korea’s is 3 times higher and the US is 65 times higher than Japan. I like to believe these numbers are strongly associated with Condom use, but no one has done a cross cultural study to my knowledge to determine this.

    • Ruaraidh

      Interesting, I’m sure I remember reading a study that said STD rates in Japan were heavily under reported. Though to be fair this would have been at least 5 years ago now.

      • An anonymous boy…

        I don’t know about that, but I do know four years ago, a study questioned the accuracy of global HIV statistics saying they were underestimated by the US CDC and WHO. The WHO defended their numbers though.

        Also I do know awareness of STDs such as HIV is relatively low in Japan due to their culture. I think in South Korea this use to be a problem as well, but I’m not sure now.

  • Jang

    The Kill Pill = OTC
    Preventative Pill = Must have Prescription
    Abortion = Illegal for image sake but widely performed “under the table”. The law is ignored much of the time and like most laws in S. Korea barely regulated.

  • Anne

    Oral contraceptives do have potential side effect which can be dangerous- VTE, depression, break through bleedings, going through the doctor will ensure patients get the right pilla suited for their age/risk whether or not
    They consider regular cycles/acne risk/weight gain/ increased blood pressure to be a problem since some OC can cause these, or whether they’re older, in which a progesterone only would be recommended to avoid blood clots. I think making it a prescription medicine is taking into consideration safety.

  • Elle

    As far as I know, Anne, breakthrough bleeding while taking the oral contraceptice pill is not a danger to your health – merely an inconvenience.

    I think the problem here isn’t the governments change in legislation but Korean society’s attitude to sex and contraception. I myself take the pill not because I am sexually active but because I need to regulate my painful and irregular menstrual cycle. I think that “field trips” and such are also a valid reason for wanting to take this medication. Ultimately these things should be the choice of the women involved and they should not have to alter their decisions based on societal or familial pressure or the attitudes of people who think they have any right to pry into the sex lives of others.
    In short; prescription is a good idea because these medications do carry side effects and speaking to a medical professional for assessment can only benefit those prescribed them, however fearing disapproval from society for seeking this prescription is utterly unforgivable and more telling about society than it is of the government.

  • Simone

    I live in Europe, and here oral contraceptives require prescription. The prescription issued by your family doctor/gynecologist/ family planning clinic is valid for 6 months. I find this system works quite well, because although widely used, oral contraceptives do not come without risk especially in certain groups of women, or women who have certain disease present in their medical history. I understand women how are angry about them needing a prescription but two check-ups a year will do nothing but good especially in managing the appearance of adverse effects and associated risks, not to mention the early diagnosing of other potentially life threatening disease. I think women in Korea should stop thinking about what society thinks about them and start thinking about themselves.Having the oral contraceptive over the counter might be the easiest way but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best way
    (…this post is just my honest opinion )

  • Pingback: Korean Gender Reader | The Grand Narrative()

  • Gio82

    It appears that Korean women need to be given a decent sex education lesson at school and stop being so prudish about there own bodies. Your Gynecologist should be there to help you not make you feel uncomfortable. No one likes going to the gynecologist but it is important and something that we must do to ensure that we are healthy. Do you now how many different kinds of contraception pills there are on the market? Do you know how they affect your body? Do you know the risks of taking the birth control pill? A professional is there to help you discover what is right for YOU not what is right for everyone else. Peoples attitudes need to change toward this, hiding the birth control pill from strangers at the pharmacy, what a joke!

  • Pingback: Horror Stories(?) About Korean OBGYN Clinics | The Grand Narrative()

  • Laura Little

    Alright, I’ll fess up to having gone to a gyno in Korea. Me and my CRAZY American upbringing led me to seek one out for the yearly pap smear/well checkup. So let me shed a little light on why women in Korea REALLY don’t go. No lube, strangely large speculum (I mean, come on, I’m a woman, not a breeding cow), and some intense aggression and speed. Needless to say I bled for weeks afterwards and have never been so incredibly violated in my life. LADIES OF KOREA, you need to demand better all around healthcare for women, and let this debate on BC start your fight.
    PS – there are more long term options than the pill if they can’t resolve this (IUDs, Implanon, Depo Provera) – please find a way that works for you.

  • Paige

    There is no need to have an exam for birth control, the government and many doctors act like your sexual organs will explode if you use birth control *gasps*!(needless to say the majority of them are men). It’s stressful going to the gynecologist with the “get on the table and spread ’em” type mentality. (not trying to bash men) Don’t say what’s best for MY reproductive health when you don’t have any idea how it what we go through and how it works.
    Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/11/22/us-birth-control-idUSTRE6AL67X20101122

Personals @ chinaSMACK - Meet people, make friends, find lovers? Don't be so serious!»