One of the sillier plans for my trip was that I wanted to buy condoms in a couple different places here in Seoul and then blog about it - nothing scientific or at the scale that the youth at ICAH (where I work) would organize to show the physical and financial inaccessibility of condoms for young people - but semi-entertaining nonetheless especially amongst tripmates who really weren't quite sure what to think of this girl who was buying multiple boxes of condoms for no apparent purpose other than... Who the hell invited her along?! Also, after seeing how female condoms manufactured and sold in China are different from the Reality brand manufactured and sold in the US at a recent training for work, I wanted to see if these male condoms looked or felt any different than the approximately eleventy billion Lifestyles & Trojans that sit about ten feet from my office door.
So yesterday and today, I bought 3 boxes of a few different kinds while I was out and about being all touristy. I'd also like to point out that except for a custom-made hanbok I was measured for yesterday, probably half the spending I've done so far was on these condoms. Yeah, I'm not surprised either.
I wanted to buy condoms from at least two different places so that I could compare how accessible they were and how easy it was for me to just walk in and buy them; the ones I got were from the convenience store attached to our hotel and a pharmacy in a busy shopping district where I was looking for shoes and souvenirs with some tripmates.
|Oh hey there, condoms.|
The 003's looked pretty similar to plain lubricated condoms in the US, except for the fact that I think they're a little smaller in diameter. Now before you get all up in arms about how I'm reinforcing the stereotype that Asian men just aren't as girthy, the same Japanese company that makes 003's also carries a big and tall collection called Super Big Boy and Mega Big Boy, complete with the picture of a horse on the front of one and an elephant truck on the front of other (thank you Okamoto for that subtle visual). Go check it out for yourself and giggle at the post-Google Translate Japanese-to-English descriptions.
As for the Charisma's... well, they were a bit anticlimactic. I was all excited at the all-in-one-system advertised on the box and the pictures showing what looked like a condom and a studded cocksleeve. But when I opened them, it just turned out to be two smaller sized (like the 003's) lubed condoms called "Chamsarang" and a slightly larger lubed condom called "Long Tex" with something called "climax control cream" on the inside. I was also confused by the need for separate packaging within the same box. Oh well, I should've known better than to think a hotel convenience store would actually sell cocksleeves in a box that anyone can just grab off the shelf. I'm sure it explained it all on the Hangul-filled label, the only one of the three that didn't have at least some English on it. I mean, it's not like I was going to actually use these condoms but I could imagine a Kalteen bar-type condom crisis with the untranslated label. (Well, if condoms were analogous in any way to weight-gaining protein bars that caused you to have to wear sweatpants on a non-Friday, that is).
|Get the cheese fries, Regina. Condoms are not a carb.|
One thing that fascinates me as I walk through the streets of the Insadong neighborhood where our hotel is located is the comfort with which young female friends will walk hand-in-hand and even with their arms around each other; I've also seen several young male friends doing the same. Yet, same-sex relations are on a "don't ask, don't tell, doesn't exist" basis and the sexual lives of people in general just aren't discussed. Sex is still a taboo subject in Korean culture, something that happens (and is used to sell in corporate advertising) but is almost never talked about in public spaces, with queer sex being talked about even less. This likely makes any type of sexual health work super difficult. From my experience, it's challenging enough in the US, where much of the focus is still on abstinence & disease prevention and where most condoms are physically and financially inaccessible to so many - and I live in a "liberal" city.
So what did I learn from my little Korean condom shopping spree? For starters, the Korean and Japanese brands in the stores I went to are kind of boring. Not that a condom needs to have all sorts of bells & whistles, but sometimes it can help. Also, that the group I'm traveling with is pretty split between those who thought it was hilarious and those who were just plain ol' confused as to why I'd want to go around buying condoms in a foreign country in the first place... and are probably equally confused as to what a cocksleeve is and why I felt it necessary to just use it three times in the same blog entry (don't worry, we can talk about it tomorrow over breakfast *winkwink*). And finally, I learned that I want to learn more - more about sexuality and sexual health work in South Korea, how it needs to change, any ways that it should stay the same, and any Korean efforts to help create some seriously more sex-positive and sexually liberated societies.