A course called “Gender and Culture” at Sejong University has been attracting public interest for its mandatory dating assignment in which students are randomly paired with a classmate of the opposite sex to spend at least four hours together.
The course came on the public radar when its teacher, professor Bae Jeong-weon of the humanities department, talked about the course on the tvN variety show "You Quiz on the Block" in February.
The course covers various theories on love, how to find a perfect partner, ways of breaking up and overcoming heartbreak. The focus on love and dating is a departure from the lackluster sex education students receive at high school in South Korea, Bae says.
“For so long in South Korea, sex education in high school has been equated with genitalia, solely focusing on the act of sexual intercourse. But when it comes to sex and gender, sexual intercourse is only one aspect of many,” Bae said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
“Sex education is comprehensive and is essentially a discipline about human beings and relationships," she said, saying that the aim of her class is not matchmaking.
“I heard that similar courses are offered at Dongguk University where students get bonus points when couples are formed, but I don’t do that for my course.”
Instead, Bae’s class primarily focuses on the art of human relationships.
In that regard, the aim of the mandatory dating assignment is to learn through practice how one should spend time with a stranger of the opposite sex for several hours, guided by sound values and principles.
Meeting someone who is not your type
“When we go on a date or are offered a blind date from a friend, we tend to prioritize the person’s physical appearance to judge their attractiveness,” Bae remarked.
“All human beings are attractive. But often, we don’t even give ourselves a chance to discover that about the person just because he or she does not match our ideal type at all.”
Given a very pronounced tendency in South Korea to judge a person based on physical appearance, Bae attempts to preclude that from becoming an obstacle by randomly assigning a partner.
The result is that the students have no control over who they get to date over the next four hours.
“To earn a grade, students have to spend time with a stranger. But often, my students unexpectedly find themselves having fun and clicking with this random partner that they were not initially attracted to,” Bae said.
So when her students reflect on their dating experience in a report which they have to submit at the end of their dating assignment, Bae shared that her students would often write about “the need to also go out with someone who does not necessarily match their ideal type.”
This kind of realization can broaden their perspectives on relationships, and also, help them pick the right partner and form healthy relationships down the line.
Confronting warped views on the opposite sex
Bae also aims to reduce fears among her students about the opposite sex.
“People were more willing to date in the past, as there were less misconceptions about members of the opposite sex,” Bae said, pointing out increased levels of animosity and misunderstandings between men and women in recent years.
For example, many female students in Bae’s class are afraid of dating violence and are extremely concerned about getting stalked or even killed after breaking up with their partners.
Bae attributes this to negative media coverage which disproportionately focuses on aggressive men.
“These abusive men are just the minorities in our society. But the media tends to focus on these few bad men, provoking fear amongst women”
Meanwhile, men also feel uneasy about women, as they worry about being falsely accused of sexual violence or harassment.
Bae recalls that some of her male students would ask her in class, “What if my date consented to sex but denies it the next day and sues me for rape?”
Although the frequency of false accusations of sexual assault is low, Bae explains that the media tends to report and exaggerate unverified cases which are circulated widely among both men and women.
This gives rise to heightened anxiety for both men and women, making them decide not to date at all.
Bae believes that the only way such misunderstandings can be resolved is for men and women to actually meet and interact with each other.
As students spend time together on their four-hour date, they come to dismiss the distorted beliefs they had previously held about each other. Most importantly, they realize that their classmate is just “another human being with kindness and good heart,” she said.
“There is inherent goodness in human beings, regardless of their sex and gender. And I want my students to see that through this assignment,” Bae added.
Sex education is a story about human beings
When asked about one thing she wants her students to take away from her course above anything else, it was respect for human beings.
“The essence of sex and gender can be boiled down to human beings. So it is really about learning how to form healthy relationships with another human being and learning to respect one another,” Bae said, underscoring the main message of her course.
Bae said that on a personal note, she wants more men and women to date and fall in love.
“I want that positive energy from when couples date to transform the world to become a better place,” she said.