Cho Yoon-kyung, a sex consultant for the disabled, says deep-rooted discrimination against disabled people undermines the sexual rights of the mentally or physically-challenged people.
By Park Si-soo
In a cozy studio in Junggye-dong, northeastern Seoul, Cho Yoon-kyung was laboriously tapping a computer keyboard with her right forefinger, wriggling and twisting in her wheelchair.
What she was writing about was a reply to a question posted on a website she has run since 2004, offering a range of tips, counseling and advice on sex and other related issues to the disabled. Cho, 38, is suffering from a severe form of cerebral palsy.
Running the website for the past seven years, she found out that so many disabled people are ignorant and ill-prepared in having human-to-human relationships, including sex.
Named “Bright Clamor of the Disabled,” the website is the sole Korean language-only site of this kind with more than 2,700 members.
Cho said many disabled people have some “distorted and wrong idea of sex” due to long-term isolation at home or rehab centers without the opportunity to contact the outer world.
Lack of opportunity
“A question raised by a mentally challenged man was about night clubs. He asked me whether it is allowed to have sex at a night club. I explained to him the nature of night clubs to get him to discard the notion of a night club as a place for sex,” Cho said.
These kinds of questions of which their presence elsewhere could stir up stormy criticism are uploaded daily on her website, she said.
“This reflects how much handicapped people are ignorant of sex, which is the basic desire of human beings regardless of health conditions,” she said. “At the same time, it shows a lack of opportunity for them to learn about sex in an appropriate manner.”
Their questions range from how to find a healthy partner for an affair to tips for safe the use of masturbation devises.
She said disabled people have the same — even stronger — interest and desire to have sex — either for fun or reproduction — as healthy people.
Yet their natural craving for sex is ignored in the real world.
“Sadly, it’s a dominant idea that people with disabilities are sexually inactive,” she said. “Even some say having sex is not a must-do for them.”
Adding to their woes is the lack of buildings friendly to the disabled.
“It’ still hard to find buildings and places where people on a wheelchair like me can freely move in and out,” she complained, calling on the government to come up with a legal solution. “They should go out to meet friends and communicate with society. This is the ideal way to learn what a sexual relationship is and experience it and other social activities. But the environment is still tough for them.”
The welfare ministry unveiled a package of welfare policies for the handicapped in May last year, one of them was transforming 88 percent of all buildings to allow them safe access by 2014.
Dream for the disabled
Cerebral palsy sufferer Choi Dong-soo runs a wheelchair tour at a redlight district in Seoul in this photo captured from the documentary movie “Pink Palace,” released in 2005. This film portrays discrimination against the disabled in Korean society — even in red-light districts.
With only a handful of human rights activists paying attention to sexual rights of disabled people, many mentally and physically challenged people rely on prostitution or watching porn ographic films.
“Having sex may not be a big thing for healthy people. But it’s a ‘dream’ for the disabled,” she said.
Cho said she opposes the illegal way of buying sex. Even so, she said she would overlook it “if they can,” pointing out a deep-rooted and still robust discrimination against the disabled in Korean society — even in red-light districts.
“Even prostitutes are hesitant to sell sex to them no matter how much they are ready to pay,” she said.
This discrimination is well portrayed in the documentary film “Pink Palace,” released in 2005, based on cerebral palsy sufferer Choi Dong-soo’s venturous trip to a red-light district in Cheongnyangni, northern Seoul, to have the first sexual experience of his 48-year life.
In the 74-minute film, Choi on an electronic wheelchair spends ten hours getting to Cheongnyangni from his home in Yesan, a city 140 kilometers south of Seoul, with enough cash he would willingly pay in exchange for the much anticipated moment.
He knocks on the door of brothels one by one. But none of them offers him a warm reception. One prostitute even told him, “You can buy nothing no matter how much you would pay.”
Seo Dong-il, director of the award-winning film, said in an interview: “The film was produced to highlight the bias (against disabled people) that they are sexually inactive and even cannot have sex.”
Nearly 2.42 million people are registered as disabled as of June 2009, with 95 percent of them disabled due to disease or accident, according to state statistics.
With no efficient measures to counter the discrimination and bias, “sex volunteers” have emerged as a possible solution.
As the name implies, sex volunteers refer to a group of healthy people who are willing to sleep with disabled people as part of social welfare program. Other services offered in the program include helping masturbation and an affair between a disabled man and woman. The direct sex service is not punishable here, law experts said, as long as the service is offered for free.
But ethical debate over it is heating up.
Supporters view it the same way as other welfare activities for them, while opponents call it “pro bono prostitution.” Fueling the debate was the movie “Sex Volunteer,” released last year.
It’s based on two years of interviews with physically disabled people in countries from Japan to the Netherlands, about their sex lives and the group of people offering sex to them.
Activists for the disabled here say such service is “hardly seen, but exists.”
The government appears to have little interest in the issue. A welfare ministry official said, “Our work is centered on rehabilitation and pregnancy, not sexual desire.”
Rep. Yoon Seok-yong of the ruling Grand National Party is one of the high-ups supporting the sexual rights of disabled people. “Sexual desire is one of the key desires of human beings along with the desire for food and sleep,” Yoon said. “It should be respected equally for all.”
“장애인도 XX하고 싶다”
서울 중계동의 한 조용한 사무실 안. 전동 휠체어에 앉은 조윤경씨가 오른쪽 검지를 사용해 열심히 컴퓨터 키보드를 두드리며 그녀가 2004년부터 운영하고 있는 인터넷 웹사이트에 올라온 질문에 답을 달고 있다.
그녀가 운영하고 있는 센터 “장애인 푸른 아우성”는 장애인 들에게 성생활과 관련된 상담을 해준다. 조씨는 뇌성마비 장애인이다. 그녀의 센터 회원은 2,700여명.
지난 7년간 센터를 운영하면서 그녀는 장애인들이 섹스를 포함한 인간관계를 맺는데 너무나 무지하고 준비가 되어있지 않다는 것을 알게 되었다고 말한다.