How did the arrest of a South Korean actress make condom stock skyrocket? Good question! In South Korea, an anti-adultery law passed in 1953 saw over 52,000 people arrested in the last 40 years. The crime of adultery was punishable by two years in prison. Yes. Prison. Some proponents of this law claimed it helped keep marriages intact and families together. Others felt that this law would protect women by making husbands less likely to cheat. Those in opposition said that the government had no business being involved in the sex lives of consenting adults. In February of 2015, this crazy law was finally overturned in a 7-2 decision by South Korea's nine-member Constitutional Court. Within hours, stock in companies that make condoms and pregnancy tests soared.
South Korean Star Does Time for Adultery
It wasn't until actress Ok So-ri was arrested for an affair with a singer (not her husband) that the seeds of change were planted. Her husband, radio talk show host Park Chul, thought she should spend two full years in prison for her infidelity - even though most people charged with adultery do not serve time. Ok So-ri was sentenced to eight months. Reasonable people can disagree on adultery and what should happen to those who engage in it. Yet, I think we can all agree that involving the federal government in something so intimate is an invasion of privacy and a waste of government resources.
This began a huge movement to have the antiquated law overturned. The Constitutional Court of Korea, which initially said overturning the law would harm the morality of the country, eventually ruled that the law itself was unconstitutional. The official statement was that the law "infringes people's right to make their own decisions on sex and…freedom." The statement went on to say that the law "Violated the principle banning excessive enforcement."
An Unexpected Economic Boost
After this bombshell ruling, stock in Unidus Corp. (they make latex goods, including condoms) skyrocketed by 15% in a single day. Hyundai Pharmaceutical Company's stock also soared. They make morning-after pills and pregnancy tests. Was this in anticipation of increased infidelity? Did people really rush out of their homes to stock up on adultery supplies like condoms and pregnancy tests? Either way, it seems clear that extramarital sex is good for the economy - not that I necessarily condone that sort of thing. If there really was a spike in condom sales, could that mean that the anti-adultery law was actually keeping spouses from cheating? Does its repeal mean that South Korea is about to become the extramarital sex capitol of the world? Or does it just mean that the government is finally butting out of the sex lives of married people? Maybe we should just be happy that cheating spouses still think condom use is important.
South Korea Isn't the Only Country With Government Intrusion
Even in the United States, government intrusion into the sex lives of citizens is nothing new. While we don't have adultery laws, there are laws prohibiting "indecency," or sodomy. They can be found in the legal history of every state. When the U.S Supreme Court determined that sodomy laws were unconstitutional in 2003, 14 US states still had them on the books. To be clear, this means that anything other than penis-in-vagina sex with consenting adults was a crime. Lucky for me (and everyone I went to college with), arrests for alternative sex acts were rare. Let's think about this for a minute. Giving your own husband a blowjob was a crime punishable by arrest, fines, and jail time. Many people would also say that sodomy laws are nothing more than a tool that gives cops a pretext to harass homosexuals.
Are laws against adultery a good idea? Is it possible that they actually keep marriages together? I don't see how. According to their divorce settlement, Ok So-ri's marriage was already distant and "loveless" before her affair began. The law did allow for a punitive spouse to seek government supported revenge; that's not exactly a positive outcome. Let's congratulate South Korea on their progressiveness, and hope that the repeal of this law leads to more condom sales and less jail time for all concerned.