Sexual revolution: S. Korean court abolishes punishment for extramarital affairs

Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak
It’s time to engage in extra-marital sex without fear of prosecution, South Korea’s constitutional court has ruled, effectively ending a 62-year ban. Condom stocks soared immediately after the ruling.

South Korea, until Thursday, was one of the few non-Muslim countries which struggled with the law on this matter. North Korea and Taiwan are among the others.

The Constitutional Court believes the law is an attack on personal freedoms. This means anyone tried since October 21, 2008, when the court had upheld the ban, could get a second shot at justice, while current charges can be thrown out.

The number of charged stands at 5,400 people in the period between November 2008 and January 2015, according to the prosecutor’s office.

The most that South Koreans had previously risked was two years in prison, but that figure probably sounds less impressive than the number caught in the act and prosecuted since 1985. That stands at 53,000. Prison sentences, though, turned out to be quite rare.

The lifting of the ban has begun to take effect on certain areas of life straight off. Condom manufacturer Unidus Corp. benefited from it greatly, as its stocks went up by a whopping 15 percent.

The law prohibiting adultery has been the topic of heated debate ever since its inception in 1952, owing in part to South Korea’s constantly changing social trends.

Now the tide appears to have turned the way of the people, with a big win for extra-marital sex. Seven judges out of nine ruled in favor. Six are needed to kill a piece of legislation.

Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

"Even if adultery should be condemned as immoral, state power should not intervene in individuals' private lives," said presiding Justice Park Han-chul.

"[The law] excessively restricts citizens' basic rights, such as the right to determine sexual affairs," the court also stated.

This was the fifth time the constitutional right of the state has been under review in the matter. What opened the case up again were 17 complaints since 2009 by individuals charged with adultery. Their cases were to be dropped pending the outcome of the court’s deliberations.

Adultery once led to harsher punishment only in the event of the accusation being filed during divorce proceedings. The case would be dropped in the event of the aggrieved spouse electing not to pursue it. With time, this increasingly coincided with financial payouts. Therefore, legal experts in South Korea no longer see the adultery ban as a truly useful tool.

And the view of the law’s overall inappropriateness extends today even to more conservative members of society.

"Adultery must be censured morally and socially, but such a law is inappropriate in a modern society," Ko Seon-ju with the civic group Healthy Families told AFP.

"It used to be an effective legal tool to protect female rights, but equal rights legislation has improved… "Adultery is an issue that should be dealt with through dialogue between the partners, not by law," she also said.