The majority of Korean single women choose not to seek medical help even if they experience symptoms of gynecological disorders including STDs, as they fear social prejudice against unmarried women who are sexually active, a study showed on Monday.
Of 1,314 unmarried women surveyed by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, 53.2 per cent said they have experienced symptoms, such as abnormal vaginal bleeding or pelvic pain. However, almost 57 per cent of those who developed the symptoms chose not to see a gynecologist.
Also, of 708 teenagers surveyed by the think tank, 42.1 per cent said they had experienced such symptoms, but only 23.5 per cent of them chose to seek medical help. The women who didn't see doctors either took no action or purchased medicine such as antibiotics at a pharmacy.
Researcher Lee Sang-rim, who participated in the study, said young women, including teenagers, should be encouraged to see gynecologists regularly regardless of their marital status. Some gynecological diseases such as vaginal infections can cause infertility if left untreated.
"This should be done as a way to support women's reproductive health," she said. "In order to do this, the public perception on women's health and sex life must change."
Some of the women surveyed for the research said they were not comfortable with discussing their sex life with doctors ― especially male doctors ― while being single, while others said they were worried about being seen as unmarried and pregnant to other patients at the clinic.
More than 50 per cent of the surveyed adult women and 64 per cent of the surveyed teenagers said people would "think oddly" of single women who visit gynecology clinics.
"I think the general perception of single women seeing gynecologists is that they are either pregnant or have some kind of sexually transmitted disease," said a university student who did not want to be named.
"While many young people are sexually active before getting married, I think the norm is that unmarried women are still expected to act as if they are virgins and not openly talk about their sex life. You are only allowed to talk openly about sex once you are married."
Researchers said parents and teachers should be educated on young women's reproductive health to tackle the issue, and more preconception care ― medical treatments one receives before getting pregnant ― should be covered by the national health insurance.
"Public sex education should also include a section about women's reproductive health," the report said. "Gynecologists should also receive a training on how to treat young, single women with the necessary consideration and care."