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Korean Military: Sex (Part 2)

December 7, 2009

This is a continuation of my post on sex in the Korean military, my third topic in the Korean military series.

At one point, one of my classes invited me out to a brothel, which I declined. They said “Its okay, come on, Archer! [my military callsign] Like eight of us are going!” I told them to have a good time. Another time, another class invited me out to sing with them at a singing room. When we got there, they said “Archer! We’re going to get some ‘helper girls.’ What kind of helper girls do you want?” Of course, my first questions was “Well, what kind of helper girls are there?” “Two kinds: the young, beautiful ones, and the older, less beautiful ones.” I said “Why would you want to get the older ones?” “The young, beautiful girls only sing. They won’t let you touch them. The older, less beautiful ones will get crazy with you!” They got the older ones. I quietly asked a couple questions as we filed into the room, and learned that older helper girls need to “do more” to get the business. If they didn’t let customers touch them, they wouldn’t be able to compete with the younger girls: its how they stay competitive. If they don’t have looks, at least one can get some action, of sorts…

So the helper “girls” (they appeared to be in their 40’s) came. They sang. One in particular seemed to zero in on me and kept trying to feed me fruits from the fruit plate. They nasty-danced with the guys. It was made clear to me that we could go to full makeout sessions or maybe more if the guys were interested. The guys didn’t like them too much and sent them away after an hour, calling a service to have two more sent over. Alas there were no more available, and that was it for helper girls that evening.

While sex was commonly discussed by the enlisted men, it was a big secret when enlisted (or other) women were present, and never discussed or alluded to. While I have talked about the enlisted quite a bit, this is not to say that officers did not engage in this sort of conduct. A friend who was a 1st lieutenant recounted with disgust the story of his Captain taking him and several other young officers to a singing room, renting the services of helper girls, and having sex with one of them in full view of the other officers. Taking a cue, one of the other officers did the same. My friend watched uncomfortably; he felt he had no choice.

Not just junior officers engage in this behavior. Once I went to a singing room with some senior officers (Lieutenant Colonels and a Colonel)–all married–and at the end of the evening, as we filed out of the room, the colonel asked us to wait for him while he went back into the singing room with the owner (a single woman in her 40’s). We all waited about 20 minutes. I asked the other officers “What is he doing?”, but was met with shrugs and guilty smiles. Then I peeked in the window, to confirm it for myself. They were kissing.

I asked my students about being married and cheating on their wives. Was this a big deal to them? Most considered it a vice: they acknowledged it was wrong, but because it is considered a part of military culture, “everybody does it.” It seems to be socially accepted by men and tolerated by wives. I say this because questions about what has happened when men are caught usually involve a big fight and tears, but nobody has ever reported a divorce resulting from it. Anecdotally, I’d estimate about 80% of married military personnel pay for sexual services. This is based on informal “show of hands” polling of about 50 enlisted men.

If I was still in Korea, I’d ask women about their opinions regarding this. I’d be interested to know if the answers change according to age. Is the older generation more or less tolerant?

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