Gamsan Village and the Museum of Sex & Health

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THE RAVINE

In Gamsan Village, west of Jungmun, is a little ravine with little caves. Archeological evidence indicates that these caves were the homes of Jeju islands earliest human inhabitants. These caves offered shelter, were right next to the freshwater stream in the ravine, and near the coast where people could go fishing.

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I like the reflections of the cliffs of the ravine in the water.

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The first time I went to Gamsan village, it was raining, and I was looking for a good indoor activity, and the most interesting indoor activity I could think of on the southern coast of Jeju Island was to visit the Museum of Sex and Health.

JEJU’S SEX MUSEUMS

In spite of South Korea’s attitude towards pornography (which I mentioned in a previous post), there is not just one, but three sex/erotica museums on Jeju Island. The best known is (WARNING: these links are NSFW) Jeju Loveland, which has 140 outdoor erotic sculptures as well as an indoor exhibit, and the smallest is World Eros Museum. I figured I had time for only one, so I picked the Museum of Sex and Health.

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Some of the sculptures outside and throughout the museum are very sexual, but others, such as the one shown above, are tamer (I am limiting photos in this post because I want to keep it tame, but if you want to see more of the museum you can look here).

JEJU: CENTER OF SOUTH KOREAN SEX EDUCATION

These three erotic museums/attractions are part of Jeju’s heritage as South Korea’s sex edutainment center. Due to South Korea’s cultural values, people tend to say little about sex, which results in a lack of sex education. One of the first exhibits a viewer sees in the museum, to quote the Jeju Weekly:

The sliding door is made of paper with holes poked in it. A peek through the holes reveals a semi-comprehensible montage of a very bad porno. Music swells, recedes to a woman gasping. Nipples, pale flesh, springs of pubic hair; fade to black and the music returns.

“It’s for traditional Korean villages,” translator Byun Ik Su tells me. “The … sex was like this. Very shut away. People learned about the sex by … Yeah, poking holes. Looking in. No one talks about it. Lots of …” he summons the word. “Yeah. Shame.” I nod. “Lots of shame.”

During South Korea’s many years as a military dictatorship, people could not leave without permission from the government, which meant the furtherest most newly-weds could get from their homes for their honeymoons was Jeju Island with its subtropical climate (hence its reputation as ‘the Hawaii of South Korea’). Many of these newly-weds new almost nothing about sex, and since many of their marriages were arranged they sometimes didn’t even feel comfortable with each other yet, so many hotels on Jeju would include a little ‘education’ in their program to help them.

JEJU MUSEUM OF SEX & HEALTH: THE ORIGIN

The museum was established by Kim Ywan Bae. After he amassed the collection of sexual objects from around the world to fill the museum, most of them were not allowed to enter South Korea because they ran afoul of South Korea’s anti-pornography laws. He had to struggle with legal issues for five years. Finally, the government granted him a special exception because these objects were to serve an educational purpose in an official museum.

EDUCATION HALL

The first hall focuses on education. Most of it is in Korean, so I don’t know what the museum is saying, though I can tell based on the captions in English that, in the ‘diversity’ section, there is a display on ‘single’ people, a display for people with disabilities, a display for homosexuality (which is a big deal, since supposedly many South Koreans claim that there are no homosexuals in South Korea, even though a few South Korean celebrities have said they are gay), and for various other groups.

There is a cartoonish Q & A ‘How much do you know about sex?’ which was totally in Korean and thus incomprehensible to me.

There was a lot of educational content, such as sexual anatomy, STDs, menstruation, and the kind of things generally included in sex education.

Some of the things in the education hall did seem a little … out of place. For example, there was a section dedicated to smell … as in how certain flowers and herbs smell. Okay, I know flowers are the reproductive organs of plants, but still…

And the educational displays were broken up by, say, displays of Japanese anime figurines in sexual positions…

There was also an erotic (but not entirely pornographic) photo of a woman lying down, with a metal line around it. You were supposed to get a metal hook around the entire line and its curves without touching it with the hook once. As your hook went around, the woman would light up and moan. I got a little obsessed with this game, because I wanted to complete the loop at least once and … one time I got 99% of the way around. Most people who try don’t get past 20%.

THE SEX CULTURE HALL

After the education hall, I went upstairs to the ‘Sex Culture’ Hall, which introduced sex culture from around the world, starting with ancient Egypt.

The museum seemed to have a conflicting attitude towards sex, particularly in the culture hall (granted, I could only read the English language commentary). One the one hand, the content seemed to display appreciation of sexual expression from around the world … but then there were comments like ‘these people’ (for example, the ancient Romans) ‘were incredibly lewd, and their excessive lewdness ruined their culture’. I wonder, is that the curator’s opinion, or something that was put in to appease the South Korean government authorities?

The culture hall really made a point of Japan’s lewdness, including a very explicit diorama of what goes on in Japanese bathhouses (probably from before prostitution was outlawed in Japan).

This actually is not in the culture hall, but since it was my favorite statue, I'm putting in a second photo.

This actually is not in the culture hall, but since it was my favorite statue, I’m putting in a second photo.

There was also a section about pornography from imperial China. What impressed me was the neutral facial expressions on the people. Based on their faces, it seemed like they might as well have been knitting or something.

And then there was the section on … Joseon Era Korean Erotica! The museum claims that the Korean people found pornography distasteful, so they never made as much as the Japanese or Chinese, but that some erotic images were produced in the Joseon kingdom. Based on the examples on display, they really do seem to be ‘softer’ than the Japanese and Chinese erotic art.

And then there were … the dildos of the Joseon royal family. In the Joseon kingdom, a woman was only supposed to marry one man, and if she became a widow, she was supposed to never remarry. This might not have been enforced in all social classes, but it was definitely enforced in the Joseon royal family, so the royal widows had dildos to help them cope with the absence of their deceased husbands.

THE SEX FANTASY HALL

Then there was the ‘Fantasy’ hall, which was simply weird.

So there you have it … this is what a sex museum on a vacation island in “conservative” South Korea is like.

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10 Responses to Gamsan Village and the Museum of Sex & Health

  1. Kai Carver says:

    Fascinating!

    By the way, I am having trouble keeping up with your blog. I get emails for every post, and I’ve been enjoying following along, feuilleton-style. “S.K. in S.K.” is entertaining, like a low-key adventure story, informative, stylish, and in bite-size pieces. What’s not to like? Well, the frequency of posting has gotten a little high for me. Just fyi, so if you want to slow down a bit that would be fine by me. It’s of course of no importance, and I don’t mean to complain 🙂 Kudos for your impressive piece of work.

    Like

    • Sara K. says:

      Actually, I write them at twice the pace than I post because I want to get this all written down while my memories are still fresh enough (I’m currently writing posts about Seoul, and after that … I will be done).

      I can’t change the frequency now because I’ve written so far ahead and written in the links, and if I reschedule the posting dates, I’ll either have to go back and fix the links, or there will be a bunch of broken links.

      That said, I thank you for reading all of these posts, and I thank you for expressing your appreciation. It’s fine by me if you read them at a slower pace or choose to skip some posts.

      Like

      • Kai Carver says:

        I’ll just try harder to keep up! It’s somehow more thrilling to read you “live” as the blog is written (or rather, published) than to read through a finished (“dead”?) blog. And each post is thankfully short.

        By the way it would be nice to have a similar blog of your exploration of Taiwan… 🙂

        Like

      • Sara K. says:

        I’m afraid that will have to wait, since once this blog is finished, I’ll want to take a break from travel writing 😉

        And thanks for reading!

        Like

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