Choi Jung-yoon and Kwak Eura are on a quest to shatter taboos when it comes to talking about sex in conservative South Korea.
The women are co-founders of Pleasure Lab in Seoul, a shop selling sex toys and related items targeted at women. They hope to break social silence about women and sexuality, while teaching customers how to use items such as vibrators.
“You can call us activists, and we think we are curators,” said Choi, 30, a former journalist who spent her teenage and college years in the US.
“The way to change the world can be doing campaigns or fighting outside, which are important, but we think selling sex toys in a bright atmosphere with a smile here can be our own battle and own campaign,” she said in an interview at the store, open since August.
The shop, in a building that is also home to two churches in a residential part of Seoul, has white walls which highlight the products, many of them in pink or purple, and holds public workshops on sexual health.
It is featuring festive “Merry Clitorismas” gift boxes that contain vibrators and lingerie.
Traditionally, adult shops in South Korea are targeted towards men.
South Korea is a Confucian, male-dominated society that is undergoing a transition when it comes to gender roles. The pair said there is still a stigma when it comes to women’s sexual empowerment, or women talking about sex.
The country ranks 115th out of 145 in the World Economic Forum’s index of gender equality, and a massive beauty and plastic surgery industry tends to reinforce traditional perceptions of the feminine ideal.
“In pop culture, like TV shows and movies, heterosexual males are still the ones who have say and sexual independence,” said Choi.
“Women who speak out for their sexual life are socially stigmatized, called whores or sluts,” she said.
The shop generates monthly turnover of about US$17,000, including online sales. Most customers are women in their 20s and 30s.
“We are not a generation who grew up getting proper sexual education,” said Kwak, 28, who is bisexual and worked as a nurse for three years.
“We have been sheepish about this ... It may sound grandiose, but we think we are really pioneers.”
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