DPRK official attitudes towards sexual relations

Although the Korea Times titles the article, “Privileged North Koreans Enjoy S. Korean Movies,” the article is about neither privileged North Koreans nor South Korean films.  Rather, this interesting article by Andrei Lankov is about official attitudes towards sexual relations in the DPRK. 

Quoting from the article:

When communism was a radical revolutionary movement, it was decisively in favor of sexual liberation. When communists took power in Russia in 1917, they immediately introduced one of the world’s most liberal family and marriage laws, de-criminalized adultery and abortion, and greatly simplified divorce while putting in place some safeguards for women with children.

However, in Russia this attitude began to change from the early 1930s. The worldview promulgated as Stalin’s era continued, came to view sex as largely reproductive, something that should be confined to the bedroom of a properly married couple, and not discussed in public.

So the dominant attitudes to sex in the Soviet society of the 1940s were not that much different from the America of those years. And this was the attitude that was exported to the nascent North Korean society.

In the North, this approach was soon taken to the extreme. From the late 1950s even the slightest references to sexual activity were purged from North Korean art. Only villains could be depicted as thinking about sex, while the positive heroes were always asexual. Divorce was made difficult, almost impossible.

It seems that the government control, along with the activities of the neighborhood watch groups, the infamous “inminban,” helped to maintain the officially endorsed standards of sexual behavior. The powerful few sometimes could have extra-marital affairs, but they were an exception.

I also know of some cases when women got pregnant from premarital sex ― like a female soldier who once “did it” with her boyfriend in the late 1970s.

But once she found out that she was pregnant, she knew she was in serious trouble: if discovered, a pregnancy would lead to a dishonorable discharge from the army, after which nobody would allow her to return to her family in privileged Pyongyang.

Fortunately, her boyfriend and his well-connected family stood by her, pushed all the right buttons and arranged for an immediate discharge from the army, followed by marriage (they have two children now, and live happily in Seoul).

And regarding prostitution…

Prostitution, common in North Korean cities in colonial times, was eradicated in the early 1950s, and former prostitutes and gisaeng (high-class courtesans) were either exiled from the major cities or “re-educated through labor.”

However, the situation began to change in the early 1990s when the old system collapsed under the weight of economic difficulties. This influenced everything in North Korea, including the sexual behavior of its inhabitants.

After all, Koreans can now engage in premarital or extramarital sex without taking too many risks: the state does not care about such matters as much as it used to, and finding a suitable place and time is also much easier.

The emerging “black market capitalism” was (and still is) dominated by women who have acquired a great measure of economic freedom and independence, meaning that they are less inhibited about having affairs with men they like.

The female merchants travel a lot, they are essentially beyond the reach of the state, and they feel themselves far more confident than ever before.

In a sense, the sexual adventures of these women can be seen as a sign of their liberation. However, these lucky women are a minority. Others have fared much worse. The social disruption and famine of the late 1990s pushed many women into prostitution.

Some of them can be found in Chinese brothels, but it seems that the majority have to ply their trade within North Korea, where their situation is even worse (but never reported by the media).

Nowadays, North Korea has a number of private karaoke rooms ― a development which would have been positively unthinkable some 10 years ago. Some of those rooms serve as a cover for prostitution.

They have even devised ways to advertise this to a passerby, so a patron can know if sexual services are available in the particular outlet. The code words are “selling beds” or, more poetically, “selling flowers.”

Another cover for prostitution is provided by the private inns which proliferated some 10 years ago and operate with a disregard of the strict laws governing internal movement in North Korea.

It seems that sometimes the same inns can provide a space for lovers as well ― as long as they can pay the rather high fees.

Additional thoughts:
1. I have posted a number of stories dealing with divorce in the DPRK.  You can read them here.  Apparently it is common now.  According to this article, divorce settlements compose the most cases in the DPRK court system.

2. Prostitution is visible in the DPRK as every guest to the Yangakdo Hotel can attest.  However these workers are all foreigners (Chinese) on contract.  Some tourists do claim to have successfully liaised with a local Korean, but these stories are rare. 

Read the full article here:
Privileged North Koreans Enjoy S. Korean Movies
Korea Times
Andrei Lankov
7/24/2009

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