This is the first part in a continuing series on the culture of romance and the sex industry in South Korea.
As the sun edges over the mountains that besiege Korea’s capital of Seoul, a young Korean couple, holding hands, discreetly enter a bawdy-looking establishment, with a lobby obscured behind tinted glass and a carport with cars draped with license-plate blockers. These buildings, commonly referred to as a ‘love motel’ are as the name suggests. A place for young couples and older adulterers to play.
With most Korean adults staying home under the watchful eye of their conservative parents well into their twenties and early thirties, the act of sex, being with a partner openly is frowned upon. SEOULfi wanted to explore how has this affected love, romance, and the business of sex in South Korea.
Prostitution is Big Business
With prostitution being big business in Korea and adultery being commonplace, it’s a great time to be a hotelier in Korea. What is not so hot at the moment is Korea’s birthrate.
With the average birthrate being approximately 1.1 (as of 2014), it has fallen considerably since the post-war era which was at a high of just over 6 (births per woman). And with the average age of marriage being 31 and edging up slightly each year; political leaders have begun to step up programs launched at the promotion of marriage and fertility. At a recent press conference, South Korea’s president, Park, Geun-Hye said, “The government as well as every citizen must work together on this.”
In Korea, the police are an unhealthy mixture of lazy, apathetic, and corrupt failing to pursue the criminal syndicates that organize the prostitution rings.
- 1/5th of all Korean women between the ages of 15 and 29 have at some point worked in the sex industry.
- Prostitution accounts for 4% of Korea’s GDP.
Koreans stay at home late into their twenties and early thirties, so romance is limited leaving “love motels” as a last resort.
In early May of this year, Yonhap reported that, South Korean police arrested two Chinese nationals for sex trafficking. The 33-year-old woman and 25-year-old man had been actively seeking visiting Chinese clients since last July. Through Chinese messaging app QQ, they were able to make $275,000 in profits from at least a thousand sex tourists, many of whom paid $228 per session.
The Wedding Culture
Korea is facing birthrate problem. The cause, less people are rushing to take that long walk down the isle. Many sociologists suggest some of the reasons for this low birth and marriage rates are tied to the costly Korean wedding culture and the taboo nature of unwed parenthood.
In Korea’s rush to urbanize and play to sport of conspicous consumption, many women have moved to the larger cities in search of better schooling, better jobs, better men, and more comfortable lifestyles. In their absence, a number of aging male farmers unwilling or unable to leave the countryside. In the wake of this countryside exodus Ann Taylor writes;
In the countryside of South Korea, there is purportedly a shortage of women, and mail order brides have become very popular for Korean men, who send for Vietnamese, Cambodian and Chinese women. These particular kinds of marriages are set up by marriage brokers. Unfortunately, a lot of these marriages, including those in which South Korean men and women are married to foreigners who aren’t of Asian descent, have a high rate of divorce.
SEOULfi would like to thank Vice for their coverage and reporting on this topic, some of which has been used as the basis for this story and Rhys James and Grant Armour for “The South Korean Love Industry“.
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