If you thought Koreans were conservative…

Then a visit to the Museum of Sex and Health will certainly change your mind. Or at least confuse the heck out of you. It’s the “Mecca of Sex Health, Sex Education and Sex Culture,” according to the brochure. “The first, and largest Sex Museum in the world (79,080 sq.).”

The name of this museum caught my eye the first time I perused the map of my new home-to-be, and finally this weekend I had a chance to visit. It did not disappoint in its weirdness.

My friend K, a Canadian of my same vintage, and I took the bus to the south end of the island, on an impromptu tour, and it ended up being our main stop. We had a taxi driver take us there from a small fishing village, and it was more than a bit embarrassing to explain to him where we, two middle-aged women, wanted to go. He had a good laugh, before overcharging us for the short ride.

The museum is set up to be a major stop for tour buses, and the grounds were immaculately groomed, with palm trees (not native to Jeju), neatly trimmed shrubs, and huge statues of male and female genitalia. I’m not talking coy, abstract representations, I’m talking 10-feet tall marble, vein-covered erect penises, complete with pubic hair. Naked torsos celebrated all types of positions, and bare naked ladies were everywhere. Pornography or art? In the eye of the beholder, apparently. And there was plenty to behold, even before entering the stately glass and marble building.

Once inside, the orgy, so to speak, of erotic imagery continued, from somewhat educational displays to downright hardcore porn. Without the benefit of English text, it was often hard to tell the difference. The Konglish brochure offered these helpful pointers: “What is sex for us? Sex can be beautiful, healthy and enjoyable, but it can also be scary, taboo and shameful.” It went on to say, in red letters: “There is a difference between adults’ genders and teenagers’ genders!!” Yes, double exclamation points. Allow me to add my own: WTF?!?  Neither the brochure nor the exhibit actually illuminated what this difference between adult and teenage “genders” might be. Koreans claim homosexuality doesn’t exist here, yet the most popular male pop stars are extremely effeminate. Many men wear quite girly looking clothes, and no one bats an eye. Maybe homosexuality “doesn’t exist” here because there is already such a blurred line between the sexes. I have several students in my 5th and 6th grade classes that I still can’t tell whether to call he or she.

The brochure also promised: “Enjoyment!! Straightforwardness!! Variety!!  Not sure if they were talking about the museum, or sex. Exhibits included a full-sized photo of a naked reclining woman with a metal rod surrounding her cutout form. The game was to run a round, metal wand around her form without touching it to the rod. It was accompanied by a soundtrack of the woman moaning loudly, as if approaching orgasm, I assume. As the wand got closer to her pubic area the moaning, which you could hear throughout the museum, got louder. If the wand touched the metal rod, the electrical connection would be broken and the recorded moaning stopped. K and I both tried it, but it was impossible to keep steady while trying to hold back from laughing.

There were also phone booths were you could listen to phone sex (free!), a display of rather grungy, well-fondled sex toys, porn videos looping over and over, hundreds of renditions of the Kama Sutra positions, and – my personal favorite – a chaste white gown made entirely of sanitary napkins.

Of all the culture shock that I’ve had to weather in the past six weeks, this had to be some of the weirdest. This is a culture in which it is considered “unseemly” for women to wear sleeveless tops – even in the heat of summer – or tops that reveal any hint of cleavage. To get around the sleeveless ban, women wear sheer mesh cardigans or blouses over the sleeveless tops. Yet, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear hot pants or mini skirts and high, high heels, or short tunics, leggings and stilettos. And don’t even get me started on the fetish wear passing as actual school girl “uniforms!”

The Museum of Sex and Health offered a different look at Korean culture, one that I’m sure many Koreans haven’t seen as well. Or at least, not without blushing.

You can check out the museum online at http://www.sexmuseum.or.kr.

A few of the less X-rated sculptures:

And the just plain bizarre:

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