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Korean Military: Sex (Part 1)

November 27, 2009

As has been mentioned in the past two articles in my series on the Korean military, I spent a year as a civilian English training officer on a Korean Air Force base.  During that time, I got close to many of the students–both enlisted and officers–that came through my classroom (usually for 3 months at a time). I hung out with them, partied with them (from time to time), and learned as much as I could from them.

One of the things I learned about was their attitudes towards sex, especially sex for sale. I’m going to start out this article with an account of one of my classes. This class was composed of eight enlisted personnel, ranging in rank from 하사 the US Equivalent of E-5 (Technical Sergeant) to 상사 US Equivalent of E-8 (Senior Master Sergeant).  One day, I asked the class “What would you like to talk about today?” during a conversation segment. One Master Sergeant addressed the class: “How many of you have been to see a prostitute?” He raised his own hand to indicate he had. Every member of the class did the same except one Technical Sergeant. We made eye contact and he simply smiled and said “I’m still a virgin.” I was surprised to say the least, and I told the class this. I explained that in the United States, there is a major stigma attached to frequenting prostitutes, so much so that some jurisdictions have been known to publish the names of offenders in the newspaper as a deterrent to others. I asked how many of them were married. All the same hands went up again. “Is this a big secret from your wives?” They all emphatically indicated “Of course!” I asked if this was common in the Air Force [to cheat on one’s wife with prostitutes]. It was explained to me that “everyone does it” and it is a part of “Air Force culture.”

Now, just because a group of people make a pronouncement like that, doesn’t mean one should take it as gospel. So I spent the next six months querying various groups of personnel that I was close enough to. About eighty percent of the enlisted men I queried agreed that “everybody does it” and included themselves in that number. The other twenty percent said “Yeah, almost everybody does it, but I don’t do it.” Reasons for not doing it were primarily either “because I don’t cheat on my wife” or “because I do not frequent prostitutes.”

In addition to the above information, I actually had one student do an hour long lecture on the sex industry in Korea, for me and the rest of his class, in fulfillment of a class requirement (they were tasked with “teaching a subject they knew well”). He talked about how there are red light districts in every city, even the small ones. He talked about how the best prostitutes are in Seoul, and how quality and selection are proportional to city size (there are better pickings in Daejeon than Jinju, for example). He talked about the different types of facilities available (massage/singing room/room salon/etc) and their pros and cons. He showed video of a Korean documentary where they took hidden camera footage of sessions with prostitutes in a red-light district. It was an enlightening hour.

This is part one. The next part is coming in about ten days.

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