South Korea room salon interior from YouTube

Room Salons: The Real Moral Scourge on South Korean Society


South Korea takes morals very seriously. From Enes Kaya’s TV fall from grace over alleged adultery to pop star Yoo Seung-jun’s apparent dodging of his military duty, South Korea is unforgiving when it comes to immoral behaviour. Christian groups protested against the recent gay pride festival, claiming to protect a “land of great moral value throughout its 5000 years of history.” But they turn a blind eye to underground room salons, where these moral values come crashing down every other weekday and prostitution is carried out with little scrutiny.

Having recently been the guest of honour among South Korean businessmen, I was ‘treated’ to a night at the room salon in all its glitz and glamour. After a meal of barbecue and a lot of soju a designated driver came to pick us up, whisking us to the heart of Gangnam, the business hub of Seoul.

A valet greeted us, and we were led down marble stairs surrounded by fountains. My boss winked at me, reminding me that there was to be “No corporate credit cards in here”; accounts would be settled later. We were escorted to a room, the whiskey and snacks already laid out on the table. The parlour’s manager entered and called the girls in.

One by one, six surgically-enhanced women in their late twenties strutted in awkwardly in stilettos and lined up, presenting their assets. The manager enumerated them and said, “Pick a number”. Thoughts of the gay sauna sprang to mind, a meat market of fresh flesh, where one must pick a prey for the evening. Being the foreigner, I was given the honour of first pick. I personally felt no attraction to any of the women and merely replied “none.” I saw my party nod in satisfaction. They were thinking I must be a seasoned customer, for my taste buds are exquisitely expensive, a connoisseur that does not pick worn-out rags during the first round. My boss exclaimed to the girls, disposable by nature, to “Get out!”

The second group came in. In front of my drooling colleagues, I decided to pick the least plastic girl. The rest of the party also picked one female companion each. Drinks and chit chat aside, one thing was clear: for my married colleagues, there was absolutely no moral dilemma in here. There was no hesitation, let alone questioning as to why we were here: to have sex with a pretty girl.

Beer, more whiskey, small talk, hand feeding, fumbling, karaoke. Our session drew to a close, but not before the special service that awaited us. No sooner after we left the room, each of our girls took her designated companion upstairs, into a motel-style room. At this point of intoxication I had no fear in stripping down, as did my partner. We showered and proceeded to the bed. But trying to make me cum served no purpose. She was sorry and tried as hard as she could. I told her politely there was no use, and left it at that.

Being gay, I find the overall experience amusing in hindsight, knowing that I was never actually there to have sex with the women. I don’t feel guilty for going. I do though feel regret that I successfully performed what was expected of me, setting a precedent for future visits. The next day in the office, I am now ‘friends’ with my boss. Female colleagues wonder why we have become so chummy. All I can do now is be wary of “dinner with the boss” invites.

South Korea is self-repressive. From office environments to pressures of marriage, being yourself in the open is frowned upon. The room salon illustrates how South Korean men let it all out in the comfort of another world, in the expensive basements of Gangnam, a dark underside of South Korea where anything goes. As one of my managers — married — puts it, “I am a single man on weekdays”. This seems to be the unspoken rule in male-dominated company life which exempts them from qualms about immoral behaviour or adultery. So pervasive is the culture of money for sex that I have yet to hear of any male South Korean office worker friend that has not participated in after-work sexual gratification.

Last week, before the annual Queer Parade, there was significant opposition to homosexuality, mainly based on moral grounds. One pastor argued that one of the main issues with homosexuality in South Korea is that the average gay person has 1,000 sexual partners and are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Either he is ignorant of what is happening in these salons, or he is turning a blind eye to the real moral dilemma facing the country. Homosexuality apparently threatens the moral fibre of the nation, but men frequently cheating on their wives with prostitutes receive barely any attention from these righteous groups claiming to defend family values.

The same small far-right groups follow a selective and fundamentalist reading of a religion brought to Korea by Western missionaries but at the same time label homosexuality a dangerous Western import. But the real problem these groups should focus on takes place in the basements, highrises and back alleys of Seoul and beyond: Prostitution, adultery, and deception embraced by straight men are the real moral scourge on South Korean society.

Cover Image: the interior of a South Korean room salon (Source: an advertisement on YouTube)

  • 8675309

    Of course your indictment of Korean hypocrisy is mostly spot on, but in the same way you won’t see right-wing churchgoing all-Americans in the U.S. giving up regular jaunts to the strip clubs or casinos whenever they feel like it, the Koreans aren’t likely to give up their peccadiloes either anytime soon. Oh, and not all Korean men do it. That would be saying that everyone can afford it, which of course isn’t true.

    • Kyrei

      Yeah, similar things happen in other countries, and not all me do it. What is your point?

    • Anonymous_Joe

      I don’t know whether the right-wing, church-going Americans frequent strip clubs and casinos, which are both legal activities in their jurisdictions, but prostitution is illegal in Korea.

      • 8675309

        Illegal? For anyone who’s lived in Korea for awhile, you’ll quickly learn that ‘illegality’ is a highly nuanced word that mostly depends more on the situation and location than absolutes. That said, it isn’t that much different in the U.S. where most ordinances are enforced only within the city or county limits, which is why you won’t find a casino, bordello or strip club operating legally in a city like Chicago or Cook County, where the city ordinances, codes and zoning laws are legendary. But travel just a couple hours south downstate to a place like Joliet where the tax base is scattered, and you’ll find the infamous gambling boats operating offshore with impunity. Same with Korea.

      • Anonymous_Joe

        8675309: “For anyone who’s lived in Korea for awhile, you’ll quickly learn that ‘illegality’ is a highly nuanced word that mostly depends more on the situation and location than absolutes”

        For anyone who has lived in Korea for awhile, they’ll quickly learn that ‘illegality’ depends more on the person who is doing the ‘illegality’. Korea does not have “rule of law”; Korea has “rule by law”. In Korea, “nuanced” means “based on relationship if not payoffs.”

        “But travel just a couple hours south downstate to a place like Joliet where the tax base is scattered, and you’ll find the infamous gambling boats operating offshore with impunity. Same with Korea.”

        That’s because those it’s not illegal to operate those gambling riverboats. In fact, they specifically legalize and license those gambling riverboats. Those riverboats are legal and licensed.

      • 8675309

        Payoffs were common 20 or more years ago. Nowadays, not so much. Things quickly change in Korea, so what was the norm even six months ago, may not be so right now. And btw, those riverboats are only legal b/c the city found a loophole in state law that doesn’t cover offshore activity. That said, the analogy still sticks b/c just like Illinois, laws are not uniformly enforced everywhere in Korea – especially outside of the Capitol area and major business districts.

      • Anonymous_Joe

        No, the analogy doesn’t work. As you noted, those riverboats are legal in those locations. The river is outside of the city’s jurisdiction; therefore, the city cannot make laws governing that territory and has no way to enforce laws in those territories. Prostitution, however, is (ahem) “illegal” everywhere in Korea. Police and authorities have jurisdiction, and the ability and duty to enforce the law.

        Argument by analogy is only so valid as the situations are analogous. These situations are not analogous.

        As for as “things quickly change in Korea”, that only goes so far as the veneer of crappy apartment buildings built with shoddy workmanship. The corruption is so entrenched that it’s institutionally supported, and Koreans themselves will ostracize those who dare to expose it rather than suffer the embarrassment to Korean culture.

  • Korina Pappas

    Severe moral rules plus hypocricy! A deadly combination equal to a nuclear weapon of massive destruction! No matter religion, race nor culture. Repressed sexual frustration, socioeconomic strict rules and twisted religious belief in women’s infiriority always lead people to neurotic behaviours, which, if remain untreatable, become psychotic. And psychotic males having significant social status are beyond dangerous; they’re a “virus” on the loose in a global scale and they should be commited to a treatment a.s.a.p.

    As a woman myself, I’m appalled by the fact that, even after decades of fighting for our rights, women still fall victims: to men,to sexual violence, to domestic violence, to unwilling pregnancies, to “proper” marriages, to vanity over-dose!

  • Jino Kim

    This is definitely a crying shame especially in the business sector of mid-aged business man. Those who live with those values shall always have that shitty mind. As a fellow Korea, I am deeply ashamed.

  • Nima Nahvi

    Whoever the author of this article is (im assuming its the same person who experienced this ordeal) you could have and should have said no to your boss and refuse to be a part of this. Since you hadn’t I dont think you have a right to criticize others

    • Patrice Boivin

      when others do something wrong you can criticize them. One doesn’t have to be perfect in order to have the right to criticize corruption. It’s about the corrupt behaviour, not about the person criticizing.

    • Chase Chae

      Exposing the corrupt society to the public by being part of it on purpose should be also considered as dedication to achieving the goal. And come on, who can say no to Korean boss unless you are rich enough to quit your job anytime soon?

  • shannie4888

    It’s no surprise that these well-dressed, sophisticated, accomplished men are performing dirty deeds behind closed doors. Anything that looks too good to be true usually is. As for the conservative, bible touting, rotten to the core so called Christians, their behavior is typical, but in time they too will have no say over what must be. The US legalized same-sex marriage and yes there is still more to do, but it was bound to happen. The younger generation in Seoul is a lot more understanding and liberal minded than those old farts, so I know they will move the gay rights movement in the right direction. Also, Seoul moves ridiculously fast and in a place like that, change will come too, maybe sooner than we think.

  • withyou

    This is absolutely totally definitely true, plus korean men don’t know what is wrong with that!!

  • It’s certainly a reasonable topic for an article to discuss the culture of company outings to prostitution businesses or extramarital affairs, although the latter surely isn’t limited to straight men, or men in general, or to transactional sex in room salons.

    However, Chris P.’s use of pejorative language to describe sex workers is both stigmatising and discriminatory, and his suggestion that compared to being homosexual, the buying and selling of sexual services is somehow morally inferior per se is ludicrous and a blatant attempt to throw the rights of sex workers under the bus.

    I am extremely disappointed that this piece of titillating garbage – pardon my French – is apparently what KÉ considers journalism that “goes beyond the clichés and superficial analysis”.

  • real77777

    Explicit “Paid Comfort Prostitute” should be used since world don’t understand Japanese subtlety. Japanese/korean/taiwan solders had to pay about 1 week worth of wage. Paid Comfort Prostitute were mostly Japanese. Starving people sold kids even in japan. In “1944 USA war report”,prostitute ate good and “were able to buy cloth, shoes, cigarettes, and cosmetics” luxury items. Korean recruiters were used in Korea(some tricked). Two KOREAN brothers dominated the ownership of SE Asian comfort prostitution station. In 2013 diary of Korean manager in SE Asia was discovered which showed he hep transfer huge amount of money for the prostitute. Some low level japanese/korean solder abducted/raped but these were CRIMES which were against Japanese policy. Some japanese military criminals were executed by Japan. Japan apologized many times because today’s sentiment considers paid prostitution tragic. wiki List_of_war_apology_statements_issued_by_Japan
    Japan helped/settled Korean Annexation in 1965 with $500 million(us$50 billion after inflation).
    After Aoyama disclosed there are huge potential for gas/oil around water off japan, China/S Korea intensified campaign of Japan bashing with lies, hate, and distortion.
    USA, Japan, Korea China etc. used a military prostitution and had atrocities.
    Japan had to create Recreation_and_Amusement_Association prostitution station so less rape by USA occupiers.
    I want to spread the truth so go read my blogs and if there are any errors let me know so I correct them.
    Google “real7777 wordpress apology” “real7777 comfort” for details, pictures etc. It also has lots links to wiki, youtube, and other truth.
    Korean scholars on Comfort Prostitute google “scholarsinenglish blogspot”
    2014 American journalist Michael Yon concluded koreans lied. google “real7777 wordpress michael yon”
    1) 2007 report for german/japan war crimes, USA spent $30m,7 years, and went through 8million pages, NO evidence.
    2) Korean claims 200,000 abducted sex slave, Michael says there is NO evidence of Korean men fighting to prevent it.
    Direct quote google “real7777 wordpress michael yon”
    Even today, S Korean prostitutes are forced by debt and Korean traffickers. “Korean Feminist Association alleged that from 514,000 to 1.2 million Korean women participate in the prostitution industry“

  • JohnnyBlaze

    mmm …daddy like.. reminds me of mi-a-ri

  • anon

    this needs to go on internationalsexguide lol