Pornography in North Korea
North Korea is the kind of closed society where even underwear manufactured at the Kaesong Industrial Complex is censored. If a photo of a foreign underwear model is discovered on the packaging, the factory’s doors will be closed immediately, or be subject to disciplinary action. Because of the generally conservative atmosphere in North Korea that prohibits sexuality and sexual freedom among the people, most North Korean children grow to become adults without having received any kind of ‘sex ed’.
Kim Yeong-Min, a 16 year old who left North Korea at the beginning of this year, is only now getting accustomed to life in South Korea. Kim thought that a woman could get pregnant simply by sleeping with somebody while holding hands. Kim says, “When it comes to sex, North Korean culture is that closed – because of this, sex in North Korea can only go further into the shadows.”
While the topic of sex is still very much in the dark, it is a topic that people find naturally curious. Defectors explain, “Because the youth are interested in the opposite sex but don’t have knowledge about sex, they end up learning about it through pornographic videos. Of course, the situation for adults is not much different. They just can’t watch pornographic videos as often.”
In North Korea, pornographic CDs are bought and sold secretly at markets. “For the most part, the CDs come from Japan. The CDs are referred to as ‘Sex-R’,” says Kim. The name is a combination of the English word ‘sex’ and CD-R (Recordable). In the markets, pornographic videos are divided by their screen quality. However, because most of them are cheap copies from China, the quality isn’t that good.
Choe Jin-Hyeok, who came to South Korea in 2012, says, “When I watched a pornographic video for the first time in North Korea, the screen was so fuzzy, you could hardly see anything. Nevertheless, just watching pornographic videos itself was an exciting experience. After that first experience, my friends and I would say ‘Even if we don’t eat, let’s watch some proper sex videos’ while we saved our money, and eventually bought a high quality video. When the video came on we were so shocked we had to take a step back. I think it was because we had never come that close to sex before.”
According to Choe, “Except for the border region and Pyongyang, there is little opportunity to see pornographic videos. It’s because there isn’t enough supply. The place in North Korea that consumes the most pornographic videos is Pyongyang. Among the Sex-R videos, the highest number of them will go to Pyongyang.”
Choe adds, “The fact that the elite class of society suppresses the people’s sex culture while at the same time, the elite watch these videos themselves, is among North Korea’s greatest contradictions.” A problematic issue is that improper sex values and practices are promoted as a considerable number of North Korean youths watch these pornographic videos in this context. Without a proper sex education, learning is done through pornographic videos, and the main paradox goes back to the North Korean system of enforcements.
Park Seong-Hyeon, who left North Korea in 2011, says, “There are people who have been executed by firing squad for watching pornographic videos. They were executed as an example to others, but the removal of a human’s purely instinctive desire is not an easy task. Ordinary people in North Korea, just like in other parts of the world, have a lot of curiosity about sex. Because it’s suppressed socially, one has to watch the videos while in hiding.” Park adds, “North Korea is probably the only country in the world that executes people for watching pornography.”
Though, pornographic videos are said to have been made in North Korea in the past. There’s a video with the title ‘The Secret Story of the Republic’ which was only sold in Japan. The video was labelled with a tag that read, ‘Not for entertainment purposes. Distributed for research’ and came with a 2,650 Yen price tag. The content of the video is mainly about party elites taking turns violating women.
Park explains “People were executed for making pornographic videos in the past, and because of this, nobody would dare continue making videos like that. Rather than risking your life to make a video, it’s preferable to simply obtain one of the Chinese-made videos or more expensive Japanese videos that come across the border. And for cases like ‘The Secret Story of the Republic’, though most have heard of it and know the story, in reality it’s very difficult to get your hands on a copy.”
The rigid sex culture of the Kim-centred system is gradually loosening as the markets develop. While the distribution and market for pornographic videos develops, so has North Koreans’ interest in a culture of sexuality. But to combat the ‘yellow winds of capitalism’, the North Korean government has to clamp down on the masses with restrictions and enforcements. And so in North Korea, even an interest in pornography is the target of state surveillance.
Reporting by Shin, Junsik.