North Korea is a very secretive place and most people around the world tend to secretive about their sex lives thus it would follow that not much is known about the sex lives of North Koreans, which is the case. Some of the information that does sneak out is conflicting. Even today, women are prohibited from wearing short skirts or many North Koreans have never seen pornography. Infractions invite admonitions from the public standards police. Seo Kyong Hui, a former kindergarten teacher told the Los Angeles Times that when she left North Korea in 1998, "I was 26 years old, and I still didn't know how a baby was conceived." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2005]

In an article about defector recalling his teenage years, Maya Oppenheim wrote in The Independent: Jimmin Kang “passed the hours with his girlfriend. In the week they would go on walks alongside the riverside and on the weekends they would go the cinema. However, there was a limit to the intimacy of these dates. “You can’t kiss in public places, it’s not illegal but it’s not cultural practice,” he recalls. ”You’re also not supposed to have sex before you are married.” Inevitably, young people found ways of being intimate with each other. “Parents are often at work all day so couples will go to their house. When I was young a saw a couple having sex in the park”. [Source: Maya Oppenheim, The Independent, September 9, 2016]

“North Koreans screw, just like anybody else,” Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea, a nonprofit organization that helps North Korean defectors, told “Apart from being born and dying, having sex and having kids is the most human thing possible. And it’s very humanizing to think about. The North Korean people have been so ‘othered,’ so put in this political framework, that we forget that they fuck. Some of the guys probably ejaculate too early. They do all the human stuff.” [Source: Luke O'Neil,, April 9, 2018]

Luke O'Neil wrote for Playboy: Sex education is mostly unheard of, and women in particular are expected to maintain a sense of “innocence.” But it is “not uncommon for young couples to avail themselves of a sort of black market for hourly room rentals, often hosted by an older woman with an apartment near a busy market or train station. “They’ll hawk it out, basically,” says Park, “and people passing by will ask to hang out at their place. They’ll make sure they’re busy for the next few hours and you can do whatever you want in their house. It’s a sort of love motel.”

Contraception in North Korea

Contraceptive prevalence rate (percent of women aged 20-49): 78. 2 percent (2014)

Elizabeth Shim of UPI wrote: Contraceptive use among women in North Korea of childbearing age is higher than the global average, although birth control is illegal in the country. According to the United Nations Population Fund, the contraceptive rate is 70 percent for the relatively isolated country, or 36th in the world. The rate, which applies to North Korean women between the ages of 15 and 49, is higher than the average for the Asia-Pacific region, which is 69 percent, and higher than the global average, which is 64 percent. [Source: Elizabeth Shim, UPI, November 16, 2016]

“Methods of contraceptives used in North Korea include surgical sterilization, condoms, birth control pills and intrauterine contraceptive devices. The report states the majority of North Korean women who use contraceptives opt for intrauterine devices, including the "Loop," which can be placed to closely fit around the contours of the uterine cavity. Contraceptives are banned in North Korea but are available in the unofficial markets that have grown in the country. A female North Korean defector told VOA contraceptives and birth control treatments are expensive, but more women are becoming "westernized and liberalized," a trend that is bumping up demand.

Presenting a different view, Luke O'Neil wrote for Playboy: “Sex education and information about sexual health and functions are nonexistent. Contraceptives of any kind are rare, though South Koreans occasionally send balloons filled with condoms over the border. (It’s unclear if this initiative has led to any significant change.) The pill can be found on the black market for a price, and as in other poor countries, abortions might be performed by surgeons off the books or by citizens who’ve learned how to do them. [Source: Luke O'Neil,, April 9, 2018]

Dating in North Korea

Ji-Min Kang wrote in NK News: “When it comes to relationships, Pyongyang tries to instil "love for revolutionary comrades" over romance, but people reject it. When I lived in Pyongyang we couldn’t travel around the country and didn’t have any freedom of speech. But although the government succeeded in getting rid of these basic human rights, it couldn’t prevent its people from falling in love. North Korea was going through a lot of dramatic changes during my 20s. Due to economic difficulties following the famine, the national borders had started to become more porous and western culture was starting to make its way in. In this environment, young people no longer stuck to the ultra-conservative norms of the past when it came to dating, although this was something the government wasn’t very happy about. [Source: Ji-Min Kang, NK News, the Guardian North Korea network, April 22, 2014]

“While the North Korean government wanted people to see their lovers as “fellow revolutionary comrades”, the truth was that this feeling never truly existed for many of us. We pretended to have that quality only because we were forced to. In this way, North Korea’s traditional and conservative attitude towards love and sex has long been based on completely different foundations to the conservative dating culture you might see in strongly Christian communities. And because they were values we couldn’t define or understand, we accepted them only because we were forced to.

Luke O'Neil wrote for Playboy: “Dating in North Korea is a conservative affair. A typical date for a young couple might be a stroll along the river. Rollerblading and other sports are popular as well. Public displays of affection, such as holding hands or kissing, are rare—except among the bolder, relatively liberal urban youth. The policing of sexual behavior occurs across cultures, yet people always find a way to subvert it. [Source: Luke O'Neil,, April 9, 2018]

“The lack of social media and dating apps means dating and keeping in touch have to be done the old-fashioned way. “The first date is walking in the park,” says Rowan Beard, a tour guide with Young Pioneer Tours who lives in the border city of Dandong, China and has traveled to North Korea more than a hundred times. “They won’t hold hands. Hand-holding is done mostly between older and married couples. Younger couples would be too shy for that, but they’ll find a park bench and just talk. On the third or fourth date they’ll go to a restaurant. I’ve rarely seen North Koreans kissing. When I bring travelers along and they kiss in public, my North Korean friends will come up and say, ‘Wow, you guys are so open. I would never do that!’”

“There’s a rural ideal to it,” Michael Malice, author of Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il, says. “They’re also very chaste. It’s not like going to college and everyone is getting laid.” Interactions between young people are indeed still modest, Beard says. “It’s the Asian culture of doing everything you can to impress your parents. For most of my friends there who are in their late 30s, when they were dating, it was very conservative. They didn’t have sex until after marriage. That’s how it still is, mostly. But a lot of my friends who are bit younger than me are curious about sex. The ones who haven’t had sex yet ask lots of questions about it, like what it’s like with girls in China and other countries.”

High-School-Age Dating North Korea

Ji-Min Kang wrote in NK News: ““I still fondly remember my teenage years, which I honestly don’t want to ever forget. Although I’ve become highly individualistic since then, I was once so innocent that I was willing to sacrifice everything and devote myself fully to my first love. She was a girl who went to the same high school who was a little younger than me. Her parents were good, close friends with mine. She was also friends with my younger sister. But, despite our good relationship, she ended up joining the military and I was left behind. [Source: Ji-Min Kang, NK News, the Guardian North Korea network, April 22, 2014]

“I met my second girlfriend through a mutual friend and, to my surprise, she asked me out. Looking back on those days I have absolutely no regrets and I loved my second girlfriend dearly. In my high school days when I was highly sentimental, my fellow students and I would go on dates in the park only when it was completely pitch black outside. High school students weren’t allowed to freely date in the open. In this kind of environment, we had no choice but to see each other hidden behind the trees or in basements of apartment blocks late at night – or among others at group events like birthday parties.

“But when you graduate from high school, there is less reason to be secretive. At this age, couples go on to spend a lot more time together without having to care about about what other people might think. Dates at theatres, parks and even on the benches at the square right in front of Kim Il-sung were all possible!

“When I lived in Pyongyang, the best place to meet girls was at the social club. In North Korea, social clubs were hosted for the masses, and for the young generation on holidays. Big club meetings and dance parties took place at numerous places, including Kim Il-sung square. Guys dressed up to go to the dance parties and they would always be thrilled and excited about the events. And it was here, as you can probably guess, that many young men and women would meet.

“When a guy would see a girl he liked, he’d ask her to dance with him. And if all went well he wouldn’t forget to ask for her phone number or workplace. If she liked the guy and if she was single, she would give him her phone number. However, for many men one serious problem relates to North Korea’s extremely long period of military service. Most men are unable to date for 10 years following graduation from high school because of this lengthy period of military service. During this period they hardly have any chance to meet women. So, after military service a culture of introductions emerges for many men in their late 20s.

“Sometimes, relatives set these guys up with other people they know. And when North Koreans meet someone on blind date, they have to take it seriously. So after military service, many men end up marrying the women their parents set them up with. This can mean that many North Korean husbands tend to be abrupt and not attentive at all.”

'Pleasure Brigades' of Kim Jong il

At the other end of the spectrum is Kim Jong Il, the leader of North Korea from 1994 to his death in 2011. He was reportedly entertained and received sexual services from a group of attractive young men known as the Pleasure Brigade or Pleasure Squad. Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul's Dongguk University told the National, the young women in the Pleasure Brigades were employees of the state whose work in many cases equated to other forms of mandatory service, such as military duty. "Unlike a capitalistic country, [Pleasure Brigades] are managed on a state level," Mr Koh said. "They are not only for Kim Jong Il, but also for other senior cadre. They serve at official functions of the ruling class." [Source: Sunny Lee, The National, January 28, 2010]

Sunny Lee wrote in The National: “It is not known how many women work in this way for Mr Kim and the rulers, but various South Korean media estimate 2,000. Apart from sexual services, the women provide massages and dance and sing. Mi Hyang” — a North Korean defector who said she was a Pleasure Brigade Member and published an account of expereince online — described how she was recruited. "I was 15 when two officers in their forties visited my school. They inspected all the female students and put aside some of them, including me, and made a detailed record of my family history and school record. I was asked whether I ever slept with a boy. I felt so ashamed to hear such a question.

“"Those over 165cm [tall] are excluded because Kim Jong Il is short," she said, adding that the candidate's body should not have any scars or blemishes and their voice should be soft and feminine. They also undergo a thorough medical examination. Across the country, 30 to 40 students are chosen annually as final candidates, including 15 males who serve as farmhands or household servants to Mr Kim. The new recruits undergo six months of training before they are "interviewed" by Mr Kim, who then decides whether he likes them. If they are chosen they can serve him until the age of 25, when they retire from duty. Before Mi Hyang met Mr Kim, she was required to write a pledge of allegiance with blood from her finger vowing to "To serve loyally".

“During their service to Mr Kim, which usually lasts 10 years, servants are not allowed to contact their families. Mi Hyang's service was cut short when her family was accused of treason and ordered to be executed. Mr Kim, she said, instructed that she not be killed. "I was told that he gave an order not to kill me. Perhaps, I owe him my life," Mi Hyang said. Shortly after that she fled. Mi Hyang said she never slept with Mr Kim. She also said he gave her a new name. "He said my original name sounded like a countryside girl and gave me a new name, 'Mi Hyang', which has since been registered in all my official records."

Kim Jong Il Parties

Kim Jong Il was known as something of a playboy before he became supreme leader. According to an often heard report he imported a bunch of beautiful young Swedish women to keep him entertained. Not one is sure what these women actually did but during the late 1980s they danced nearly topless at a party for eastern Bloc diplomats to celebrate Kim's birthday. Although Kim did not attend it is believed he watched the proceedings from a closed circuit television.

Kenji Fujimoto told the Washington Post he attended a “pleasure party” in 1994, shortly after Kim Jong Il became leader, is which he ordered his top aides to dance to American disco music under strobes lights and a disco ball and told a group of young women to strip naked. “Kim Jong Il told the women to take off their clothes,” Fujimoto said and then Kim Jong Il said to his aides, “You can dance, but don’t touch. If you touch you are thieves.” “Mr. Kim himself would not dance,” Fujimoto continued. “Kim Jong Il liked to watch.”

Kim Jong Il like to have beautiful women sing before him and his court. Sometimes he would ask the singer to box with other women. There were also reports of Kim stripping to his underwear and conducting an orchestra and watching wild animal fights with his friends. He also reportedly put together “pleasure teams” that included women bands that girated in front of guests drinking Eternal Youth rice liquor.

Partying with Kim Jong Il

Peter Maass wrote in the New York Times Magazine: “In a memoir she wrote with her husband, ''Kidnapped to the North Korean Paradise,'' the South Korean actress Choi Eun Hee “recalls being woken one morning at 5 at the guarded villa where Kim had placed her. Her controller told her to get dressed quickly, but wouldn't say why. Within minutes, a Mercedes arrived at the villa and whisked her into central Pyongyang, to a building used for Kim Jong Il's parties. [Source: Peter Maass, New York Times Magazine, October 19, 2003]

''As I entered,'' Choi wrote, ''I was assaulted with the pungent odor of alcohol. Farther inside, I saw quite a spectacle. Forty or 50 people apparently had partied all night. The men were drunk, and there were several women I had never seen before.'' They perked up when the actress arrived. She was prevailed upon to have a drink, then another and another. The Dear Leader was not in mint condition; his eyes were bloodshot, and his speech was slurred. He had apparently been drinking all night long.

“''A band was performing in the front of the room,'' Choi wrote. ''All the girls were in their 20's. Kim Jong Il, drunk, gave a string of requests. Songs changed according to his request. The girls looked tired. He asked me to conduct the band. I declined, but then the others joined in on the request: 'Comrade Choi, our beloved leader doesn't let just anybody conduct the band. It's a great honor. Do it.'''

“So she did it. She soon felt ill from the alcohol, and Kim Jong Il ordered one of the women to take her to a room upstairs to rest. She fell asleep on a sofa, but was soon woken by a senior party official. ''I felt lips on my cheek,'' she recalled. She slapped the official and told him to get lost.

Pornography in North Korea

Jimmin Kang, the North Korean defector, told The Independent watching pornography was nearly unthinkable. “I never watched porn there, it would have been really dangerous. Some people have pornography but if the government found them they would go directly to a camp.” When Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-thaek was executed in 2013, distributing pornography was counted among his crimes. [Sources: Maya Oppenheim, The Independent, September 9, 2016; Wikipedia]

In the midd 2000s, smugglers from China that brought in pirated DVDs of South Korean soap operas also brought in pornography. Barbara Demick: “This is a radical change for a country so prudish that until recently women were not permitted to ride bicycles because it was thought too provocative.” In 1995, a pornographic film could be sold for as much as US$ 80 dollars. By 2007 renting a CD for one hour cost 2,000 North Korean won, and middle-schoolers were known to rent them. Henry A. Crumpton, a veteran of CIA operative, said he "never met a North Korean diplomat who did not want porn, either for personal use or resale." Today, propaganda balloons sent from South Korea to the North sometimes have sexually explicit material to appeal to North Korean soldiers. [Source: Wikipedia, Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2005]

Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea told “People may underestimate how much of the sexual education we get in the West is from pornNorth Korea is kind of an experiment in what happens to human behavior when you deny that kind of sexual education and there’s no sexual content in the media. People are like, ‘Oh, you can do it like that?’ They get more creative. North Korean women tell me that when their boyfriends have watched porn that’s been smuggled in, they’re better in the sack, so they’re more popular.”

According to Wikipedia: Pornography in North Korea is strictly forbidden. The possession, production, distribution and importation of pornography is punished harshly by the government. Nevertheless, pornography is widespread in the country because people secretly import it, or locally produce it. The possession of it first became popular amongst elites during the late 1990s, when Kim Jong-il was the leader of the country. High ranking political and military officials were the most active consumers of pornography. Today, pornography is sold openly on the China–North Korea border despite the governments attempts to curtail circulation. Most of the content consumed in North Korea is produced outside the country, with a significant part of it being Chinese bootleg recordings of poor quality. A locally produced pornographic film typically involves nude or scantily clad women dancing to music. [Source: Wikipedia]

Pornographic magazines and films sold at black markets are distributed as CDs called "Sex-R" (sex CD-R) and are arranged by video quality, which is mostly poor due to most of them being cheap bootleg recordings from China. Markets and distribution methods continue to develop. Unauthorized sale of pornography takes place, for instance, at the Tongil Market of Pyongyang. On the China–North Korea border pornography is traded in the open. Pornographic videos were made in North Korea when Kim Jong-il was the leader. He reportedly had a large collection of pornographic films. One example of the pornography — entitled “The Secret Story of the Republic” was smuggled to Japan. It featured North Korean Workers' Party officials having sex with women. In the late 1990s, the North Korean elite watched domestic works with nude or bikini-wearing North Korean women dancing to music. The Literature and Art Publishing Company secretly published a pornographic book called “Licentious Stories” for of party officials. In 2000, the Korean Central Broadcasting Committee also produced a pornographic videotape for officials. But since then imported pornography largely replaced domestic pornography.

Pornography Laws in North Korea

According to the Criminal Law of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Article 193 (Import, Keeping and Distribution of Decadent Culture, Chapter 6,Crimes of Impairing Socialist Culture): “A person who, without authorization, imports, makes, distributes or illegally keeps music, dance, drawings, photos, books, video recordings or electronic media that reflects decadent, carnal or foul contents shall be punished by short term labour for less than two years. In cases where the person commits a grave offence, he or she shall be punished by reform through labour for less than five years. In cases where such a person imports, keeps or distributes sexual video recordings, the punishment shall be reform through labour for more than five years and less than ten years. [Source: Wikipedia]

Article 194 (Conduct of Decadent Acts):“A person who watches or listens to music, dance, drawings, photos, books, video recordings or electronic media that reflects decadent, carnal or foul contents or who performs such acts himself or herself shall be punished by short term labour for less than two years. In cases where the person commits a grave offence, he or she shall be punished by reform through labour for less than five years.

Involvement in illegal import of pornography has resulted in people being shot or sent to re-education camps for 10 to 15 years. Executions of several persons accused of watching or distributing pornography took place in late 2013. It is illegal for tourists to bring pornography into the country. Access to "sex and adult websites" on the Internet is blocked in North Korea.

Prostitution in North Korea

Luke O'Neil wrote for Playboy: Prostitution remains rare, though there have been reports of it in more remote areas where there’s less party oversight. When it does occur, it’s likely in exchange for favors or admittance to the party rather than a transaction of sex for cash, as Andrei Lankov of NK News has written. “If you’re caught by the police, instead of being sent to a labor camp, you could pay them to look the other way, thanks to the new black market. [Source: Luke O'Neil,, April 9, 2018]

On prostitution among the elite Lankov wrote in NK News: “The restaurant scene in Pyongyang is thriving. The newer, semi-private eateries tend to keep a low-profile, and often have their windows covered with heavy curtains. The signboards are also small, if not absent, so outsiders would have few clues of the luxury inside. Most new restaurants have private rooms used for closed banquets of the bureaucrats and new rich - which are closely connected but somewhat different groups. In some cases they do not limit themselves to gastronomical pleasures: several places have a reputation for doubling as elite brothels. This was indirectly confirmed by official North Korean documents recently: when Jang Song Taek was purged in December 2013, the indictment mentioned both his fondness for private rooms in the expensive restaurants and his dalliances with women. [Source: Andrei Lankov for NK News, The Guardian, June 11, 2014]

According to Wikipedia: Prostitution in North Korea is illegal and is not visible to visitors. Allegedly, a collection of women called the kippumjo provided sexual entertainment to high-ranking officials until 2011. Some North Korean women who migrate to China become involved in prostitution. Under Article 261 of the criminal law, prostitution is punishable by up to two years labour if engaged in "multiple times". According to CIA analyst Helen-Louise Hunter, during the rule of Kim Il-sung, there was no organized prostitution, but some prostitution was still practiced discreetly near railroad stations and restaurants. While defectors currently report widespread prostitution, this is not experienced by visitors to the country. [Source: Wikipedia]

The kippŭmjo is an alleged collection of groups of approximately 2,000 women and girls that was maintained by the head of state of North Korea for the purpose of providing pleasure, mostly of a sexual nature, and entertainment for high-ranking Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) officials and their families, as well as occasionally distinguished guests. Its prostitutes were known as manjokcho ("satisfaction team") and were organised as a part of the kippŭmjo, who were drafted from among 14- to 20-year-old virgins, trained for about 20 months, and often "ordered to marry guards of [Kim Jong-il] or national heroes" when they are 25 years old.. For a girl selected to serve in the kippŭmjo, it was impossible to refuse, even if she was the daughter of a party official. Manjokcho were obliged to have sex with male high-ranking party officials. Their services were not available to most North Korean men.Not all kippŭmjo worked as prostitutes; other kippŭmjo activities were massaging and half-naked singing and dancing. The kippŭmjo were disbanded shortly after Kim Jong-il's death in 2011.

North Korean Women That Become Prostitutes in China

Some North Korean women who end up in China become prostitutes. Some do so voluntarily; other are forced into the trade. According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights, when these women return to North Korea, they are subjected to forced abortion and their mixed race children are subject to infanticide. North Korean women are also in demand in the cyber sex industry. In China they work for services that mainly provide Internet feeds of women stripping for South Korean men. [Source: Wikipedia]

Roughly 70 percent of the North Korean defectors in China are women. That is at least partly because they have more ways of surviving once they arrive in China, such as buying goods to for sale in North Korean markets, being sold to farmers as wives or working as prostitutes. One human rights worker told the Los Angeles Times, “The women keep coming out. They are looking for a chance to survive. They don’t expect happiness out of marriage, only survival.”

Due a preference for boys, there is a shortage of brides in China. In northwest China, North Korea women are helping to take up the slack. North Korean women are desired by Chinese because they are regarded as prettier and more obedient than Chinese women. Some of the North Korean women in China have university degrees. There are brokers in North Korea and China that specialize in finding “work” and marriages for North Korean women. The prices for a North Korea n bride vary from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, often depending on how young and pretty the bride is. Brokers that work in North Korea are mostly ethnic Korean Chinese citizens, who also help the women escape from North Korea.

The poor economic situation in North Korea has reportedly caused some North Korean women to go to China to seek work in the sex flesh trade. The Daily Star reported that North Korean prostitutes have sex with Chinese men for as little as US$18. There are said to be a number of of brothels in Chinese border towns that attract customers through sites such as the Wiki Sex Guide. There are also brothels in North Korea that welcome Chinese tourists and businessmen who can easily cross the border. In Hamheung there are brothels disguised as beauty parlors or massage parlors where sex could be had for as low as US$8. [Source: Vittorio Hernandez, Yibada, August 29, 2016]

Julie Zaugg of CNN wrote: “Korean NGOs estimate that 70 percent to 80 percent of North Korean women who make it to China are trafficked, for between 6,000 and 30,000 yuan (US$890 to US$4,500), depending on their age and beauty. Some are sold as brides to Chinese farmers; more recently, girls have increasingly been trafficked into the cybersex industry, according to the KFI. Rising wages in northern China cities have led to a greater demand for prostitutes among the male population, according to the KFI report. In southern China, trafficked women from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia has typically met that demand. But in northeastern provinces, men have turned to North Korean refugees. [Source: Julie Zaugg, CNN, June 10, 2019]

North Korean Cybersex Slaves in China

Reporting from Jilin, China,Julie Zaugg of CNN wrote: “Wearing big black headphones and sitting on a blue floral bedspread, North Korean defector Lee Yumi was video chatting with yet another stranger online, dark rings shading the pale skin under her eyes. For five years, Lee — whose name has been changed for her safety — says she had been imprisoned with a handful of other girls in a tiny apartment in northeast China, after the broker she trusted to plan her escape from North Korea sold her to a cybersex operator. Her captor allowed her to leave the apartment once every six months. Attempts to escape had failed. Lee's story is shared by thousands of North Korean girls and women, some as young as 9 years old, who are being abducted or trafficked to work in China's multimillion-dollar sex trade, according to a report by the London-based non-profit organization Korea Future Initiative (KFI). [Source: Julie Zaugg, CNN, June 10, 2019]

“North Korean women are often enslaved in brothels, sold into repressive marriages or made to perform graphic acts in front of webcams in satellite towns near cities close to China's border with North Korea, the KFI found. If caught by the Chinese authorities, they face repatriation to North Korea where defectors are often tortured. CNN was not able to independently verify claims made in the report.

“Lee, however, had just found a lifeline. The stranger the 28-year-old was talking to online was not a cybersex customer. He was a South Korean pastor — and he had promised to save her. "Don't worry, we are going to rescue you," he said. Lee smiled weakly and started to tear up, before typing back: "Thank you. I'm afraid."”

In 2018, 85 percent of defectors that made it to South Korea were women. “Lee grew up in a family of low-level party cadres in North Korea. "We had enough food," she said. "We even had rice and wheat stored in the garage." But Lee felt her parents were too strict. "I had to be home before sundown, and they didn't allow me to study medicine." One day, after getting into a fight with them, she decided to cross the border into China. Lee said she found a broker to facilitate the dangerous move who promised her a job in a restaurant. That promise turned out to be a lie.

“Usually, women like Lee pay brokers US$500 to US$1,000 to organize their safe passage to China, according to NGOs and defector accounts. To reach China, many defectors cross the Tumen River that separates North Korea from China on foot at night, sometimes in freezing weather with the water coming up to their shoulders. Once on Chinese soil, defectors must reach the city of Tumen that sits right up against the icy river.

“Lee crossed the Tumen River in a group of eight girls. When she arrived in China, Lee said she was taken to a apartment on the fourth floor of a pale yellow building in Yanji, a city in Jilin province about 50 kilometers from Tumen, where most signs are written in Korean and Chinese and scores of restaurants sell bibimbap and kimchi, due to the large population of ethnic Koreans.

Life of North Korean Cybersex Slaves in China

Julie Zaugg of CNN wrote: “At the apartment, she realized there was no restaurant job. Instead, Lee said her broker had sold her for 30,000 yuan (about US$4,500) to the operator of a cybersex chatroom. "When I found out, I felt so humiliated," she whispered. "I started crying and asked to leave, but the boss said he had paid a lot of money for me and I now had a debt towards him." [Source: Julie Zaugg, CNN, June 10, 2019]

“Two other North Korean women already lived in the two-bedroom apartment Lee was delivered to. One was 27 years old, had her own bedroom and seemed close to the chatroom boss. "I think she was supposed to spy on us," said Lee. The other girl was Kwang Ha-Yoon, whose name has been changed to protect her identity for her safety. Kwang was 19 years old and had been locked up for two years when Lee arrived. "My parents split up when I was very young and I grew up with my mother and grandparents," she said. "We never had enough to eat." Kwang left North Korea to earn money to send to her family. "Both my mother and my grandmother had cancer and needed treatment," she said. But all the money Kwang earned in China went to her captor.

“Lee and Kwang had to share a room. "The only furniture was two beds, two tables and two computers," recalled Kwang. "Every morning, I would get up around 11 a.m., have breakfast and then start working until dawn the next day." Sometimes, she would only get four hours of sleep. If they complained, they would get beaten, although both women said they did not suffer sexual abuse by their captor.

“Work involved logging onto an online chat platform on which South Korean men can pay to watch girls perform sexual acts. Within minutes of logging on to the site, users are barraged by women on the platform sending text messages asking for a video chat in a private room. They all claim to be from a major city in South Korea. The minimum price to chat on the site is 150 won (13 cents), but girls can set the entry price for a room, with popular accounts tending to have a more expensive entry fee. Tips start at a minimum of 300 won (25 cents), but can go far higher as customers try to persuade the girls to fulfill their requests. Lee and Kwang were tasked by their captors with keeping the men online for as long as possible. In South Korea, where prostitution is illegal, these services have become increasingly popular in recent years.

“CNN reached out to the platform to ask what steps it takes to protect women like Lee and Kwang on its site, but the company did not respond. "Some of the men just wanted to talk, but most wanted more," said Lee, with a shudder of disgust. "They would ask me to take suggestive poses or to undress and touch myself. I had to do everything they asked." "I felt like dying 1,000 times, but I couldn't even kill myself as the boss was always watching us," she said.

North Korean Cybersex Slaves Escape

Julie Zaugg of CNN wrote: Lee’s “captor was a man of South Korean descent who slept in the living room to keep a close eye on the women. "The front door was always locked from the outside and there was no handle on the inside," said Kwang. "Every six months, he would take us out to the park." On this small patch of green next to their apartment, retirees would meet to dance to music each afternoon. "During those outings, he would always stay right next to us, so we never got to talk to anyone," said Lee. In 2015, Lee tried to escape by climbing out of a window and down a metal drain, but she fell and hurt her back and leg. She still limps slightly. [Source: Julie Zaugg, CNN, June 10, 2019]

“When their captor wanted something from the girls, he would try to sweet talk them, promising a cut of their earnings or to let them go free to work in South Korea one day. But when Kwang asked for a piece of the 60 million won (around US$51,000) she estimated she had made for him, he got angry. "He started kicking, slapping and cursing me," she said. During the seven years Kwang spent locked up in his apartment, she said he never gave her a cent.

“It was during the summer of 2018 that Lee finally saw her chance to escape. "One of my customers realized I was North Korean and was being held captive," said Lee. While most men probably knew the girls weren't South Korean, because North Koreans have different accents and dialects to people in the south, they chose to look the other way. This man was different. "He bought a laptop and let me take control of the screen remotely, so I could send messages without my boss noticing," Lee said. The man also gave her the phone number of a South Korean pastor named Chun Ki-Won.

“Chun, a mild-mannered man with high cheekbones and wavy gray hair, is one of a band of Korean pastors who specialize in helping North Korean women escape from China. Chun said his Christian aid organization, Durihana, has helped over 1,000 defectors reach Seoul since 1999. Korean media has nicknamed him the Asian Schindler, after the German industrialist and Nazi Party member who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews.

“In September 2018, Lee contacted Pastor Chun on KakaoTalk, a Korean messaging service. "Hi, I want to go to South Korea. Can you help me?" read the first message she sent. Over the following weeks, Lee explained to Chun how she had ended up in a cybersex chatroom. He asked her about the apartment's layout and her boss' comings and goings. By mid-October a plan had been hatched: Chun would send a team to Yanji to extract Lee and Kwang.

“On October 26, while Yumi's boss was away for the day, Durihana's members arrived at the foot of the building. The two girls knotted their bedsheets together and dropped them out of their window. The extraction team then tied a rope to the sheets, which the girls pulled up and used to lower themselves safely to the ground. They were only able to take a small backpack with a couple of essentials — a pack of wet wipes and a comb. They jumped into a car and sped away. The whole operation took minutes.” Eventually they made it to South Korea.

Homosexuality in North Korea

Jimmin Kang, the North Korean defector, told The Independent that homosexuality was such a taboo in North Korean society that he had no concept of it and didn’t know the word for it. He said once “a man followed me and tried to touch me but at that time I didn’t know what gay was.” It wasn’t until he came to South Korea “and finally I understood what gay meant and I thought ‘Ah, he was gay. That’s why he liked me’”. [Source: Maya Oppenheim, The Independent, September 9, 2016]

“In North Korea, no ordinary people conceptually understand what homosexuality is,” Joo Sung-ha, who attended the elite Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in the 1990s and now works as a reporter for the mass-circulation South Korean daily Dong-A Ilbo, told te New York Times. “In my university, only half the students may have heard of the word. Even then, it was always treated as some strange, vague mental illness afflicting subhumans, only found in the depraved West.” [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, June 5, 2015]

According to the New York Times: “While North Korea has no laws explicitly prohibiting same-sex relationships, it is not shy about expressing its homophobia. Last year, for example, it said that Michael D. Kirby, a former Australian judge who led a United Nations investigation of human rights abuses in the country, was “a disgusting old lecher with a 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality.”

“North Korean defectors have reported homosexual behavior in the North Korean military, where soldiers serve mandatory 10-year tours with few chances of meeting the opposite sex. When four former female soldiers and police officers from the North held a news conference in Seoul in April to talk about the sexual abuse they had witnessed, one of them cited the case of a lesbian officer preying on new arrivals. “There was a lot of sexual abuse, like groping at night,” a former North Korean military officer, Choe Jong-hun, told Chosun TV, a South Korean cable channel, in August. “But we later found ourselves having new recruits lying beside us.”

Life of a Gay Man in North Korea

Seoul, South Korea — WHEN the North Korean defector Jang Yeong-jin arrived in South Korea in 1997, officials debriefed him for five months but still hesitated to release him. They had one crucial question unanswered: Why did Mr. Jang decide to risk crossing the heavily armed border between the two Koreas? “I was too embarrassed to confess that I came here because I felt no sexual attraction to my wife,” Mr. Jang said. “I couldn’t explain what it was that bothered me so much, made my life so miserable in North Korea, because I didn’t know until after I arrived here that I was a gay, or even what homosexuality was.” [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, June 5, 2015]

“Mr. Jang, 55, is the only known openly gay defector from North Korea living in the South. His sexual orientation was briefly exposed in 2004, when he lost all his savings to a swindler and contacted gay rights activists for help. He had since avoided publicity in South Korea, where homosexuality largely remains taboo. Then in” April 2015, “Mr. Jang published an autobiographical novel, “A Mark of Red Honor.” In the book and during a recent interview, he described his experiences as a gay man growing up in the totalitarian North, where the government maintains that homosexuality does not exist because people there live with a “sound mentality and good morals.”

“Mr. Jang said he never heard of homosexuality while growing up in Chongjin on the eastern coast of North Korea, even when he developed a crush on another boy named Seon-cheol. They continued their friendship after moving to Pyongyang, where they attended different colleges. “When the subway was crowded, I sat on Seon-cheol’s lap, and he would hug me from behind,” Mr. Jang said. “People didn’t care, thinking we were childhood friends.” The two were separated in 1976, when they joined the military at age 17, where close physical relationships became a matter of survival. “In winter, when soldiers were given only two threadbare blankets each and little heat, it was common for us to find a partner and sleep hugging each other at night to keep warm,” Mr. Jang said. “We considered it part of what the party called ‘revolutionary comradeship.’ ”

“In Mr. Jang’s front-line unit, he said, officers and senior soldiers bribed him with apples and food to lure him into their blankets. After performing nighttime sentry duty in a snowstorm, he said, he would find comfort “in the bosom” of his favorite platoon leader. From across the border, propaganda broadcasts from South Korea enticed the cold lonesome Communist soldiers to defect, promising “meat, monthly leaves and pretty women.”

“Mr. Jang was discharged from the military in 1982 after contracting tuberculosis. Back in Chongjin, he worked as a wireless communications official at the port. In 1987, he wed a mathematics teacher in an arranged marriage. “Most gay men in the North end up marrying whether they like it or not, because that’s the only way they know,” Mr. Jang said. “On the first night of my marriage, I thought of Seon-cheol and could not lay a finger on my wife.”

“After years of childless marriage, the couple heeded relatives’ pleas and saw a doctor to make sure there were no physical problems. There were none. Mr. Jang filed for divorce but was denied one. His wife also appealed to him to stay, fearful of losing her teaching job. He re-established ties with Seon-cheol, who returned from the military, married a nurse and had two children. The two friends occasionally visited each other, and their wives let them sleep together, thinking it was a habit from their childhood. One such night, Mr. Jang slipped out of the blanket he shared with his wife and crawled to Seon-cheol’s. But he said his friend did not respond and kept snoring. “It was then that I realized that my life was a prison and I had no hope,” he said. “I wanted to fly away like a wild goose. I also wanted to set my wife free from loveless marriage.”

“In the winter of 1996, he swam across an icy river into China. After looking in vain for 13 months for a passage to South Korea, he slipped back into the North and crawled cross the border into the South in 1997. He was one of only a handful of defectors to make it across the mine-strewn frontier. His defection made headlines. In South Korea, officials eventually released him after he spoke of his troubled marriage. But Mr. Jang still did not fully understand his sexual orientation until he read an article about gay rights in 1998. It showed pictures of a same-sex couple kissing and two naked men in bed, and it reported that there were gay bars in Seoul. “It was as if lights go on in my world,” he said.

“But Mr. Jang’s transition to life in South Korea has been rough. In 2004, a gay man who promised to be his partner absconded with all his savings. Around this time, he also learned that three brothers and a sister in the North had died after the family was banished from their village after his defection. A North Korean defector who had known Mr. Jang’s family in the North said his wife was also expelled from the village, but was later reinstated. The defector spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still had family members in the North.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, Daily NK, NK News, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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