A new report found that over half of Korean men are paying for sex.
Over half of men in Korea said they purchased services from a sex worker at least once in their life, according to the poll of 1,050 men, taken by the country’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, released earlier this week.
Such findings perhaps even understate the situation, as buying sex is nearly a national pastime for Korean men, and the country has around a quarter million sex workers.
Indeed, the nation’s job market is dominated by men. While women can get entry-level jobs in major Korean companies, they tend to drop out after they have kids or get married or pregnant, and men are usually the ones to rise up the ladder into management. A 2015 poll of 3,000 Korean firms found that a whopping 80 percent of women did not come back to work after their maternity leave. The pay gap between men and women is the largest in the OECD — a group of mostly developed countries — and women in the workforce earn just 63 percent of what their male counterparts make.
This economic environment pushes large numbers of Korean women into the sex trade. Few other jobs can pay the bills for low-skilled women with lower levels of formal education, and corporate Korea does not allow many women to get high-paying jobs. Many women support aging parents in a country where care for the elderly is expensive, and many are also supporting children. For them, often sex work is the best of few options.
With a large supply of women in Korea’s sex trade, there’s also a massive demand. Much of this is because of a corporate culture whereby droves of office workers often go as a group to brothels and hostess bars to drink and sing Karaoke with sex workers and sleep with them in a separate room at the end of the night. Some believe this concept of a package of entertainment, socialization and sex comes from Japan, as the island nation colonized Korea in the early 1900s.
Companies also get entertainment budgets. They are supposed to use the funds for department dinners parties to promote unit cohesion, but with a little creative accounting, the money is often used to go to hostess bars, called “room salons,” for an evening of drinking, singing and sex with women in the flesh trade.
The survey found that 26 percent of men who had purchased sex had done so in the past year, and had done so around eight times per year on average, the study found.
Over half purchased sex when they were between 20 and 24 years old, and more than a quarter did so between ages 25 and 29 years old. Those between 30-34 years old were tagged at 10.2 percent, and men under 20 clocked at 3.9 percent, according to the survey.
A quarter of those participating in the survey said they purchased sexual services out of curiosity.
Over 19 percent purchased sexual services before major life events such as going away to serve in the military — required of most Korean men. Around 18 percent said they bought services from working girls after a drinking party and 10.4 percent said the major factor was peer pressure., the survey found.
And despite an ongoing police crackdown against prostitution, the number of establishments offering sex for sale increased from 1,858 to 1,869, since the last poll was taken back in 2013.
It’s possible that the number understates the real situation, as many are likely reluctant to answer honestly about such personal questions as whether one has purchase sex. Moreover, while buying sex is nearly a national pastime for Korean men, at the same time the issue is considered awkward to discuss publicly.
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