In amongst blushing couples and giggling grannies, Nelson Groom gets a sex education at Jeju Loveland, South Korea.
South Korea has a prudish past. It was only in the 70s that police were patrolling the streets with rulers, measuring the length of ladies’ skirts. Gauging from my time there, South Koreans remain vastly conservative, especially compared to their pre-owned panty purchasing neighbors in Japan.
It seems South Korea’s sex education leaves much to be desired, as teenager Sao Jung told me that “students are forced to learn sex-ed for themselves”, which can’t be easy when they are even banned from the Gen Y mode of learning; viewing online porn is a criminal offence.
One could appreciate my bewilderment then on hearing that South Korea has a “sexual theme park”. Loveland is situated on Jeju province, a volcanic island on the southernmost tip of the country, and its official website says: “Loveland is breaking down the traditional taboos surrounding sex.” I knew I needed to see it for myself, so I booked an impromptu flight from Seoul. Upon arrival, I was taken aback by the scenery. When it comes to viewing vibrant coloured erotica, snow-capped volcanoes and tall pine trees are one hell of a backdrop.
It turns out the locale has quite the backstory. After the Korean War, much of the nation’s populace were forbidden from overseas travel (this law was only lifted in 1988), so with its warmer climate and picturesque views, Jeju became the country’s honeymoon haven. The island is teeming with often sexually naïve newlyweds, so in turn, the local hotels offer lap-dance services to help their guests break the ice.
Jeju has always been a place for exploring new horizons, and Loveland hopes to continue this narrative, but while punters are greeted by some friendly mascots at the entrance (a penis with mittens and a sunhat-sporting vulva) it’s quickly apparent that Loveland is more gallery than theme park. Sculptures are the bulk of what’s on offer, all 140 of them fitted with despairingly awful puns, such as “Alice in Wondickland”. Those hoping to ride a boner-coaster will be sadly disappointed. The closest you will get is the “masturbation bike”, a stationary unicycle with paddles attached to the wheel.
Owner Lee Sung-hyung told me: “It’s supposed to be a bit of fun. The sculptures are bright and overblown. People can openly talk about sex here, which is something that seldom happens otherwise. Koreans are still very shy about sex.”
The glass exhibition domes feature new displays each month, and in the Loveland café, rather than traditional dishes like kimchi or bulgogi (marinated beef), custard filled genitalia cater to a rather different palate. As I sat there, nibbling on a pastry penis, I learned where the true Loveland experience lies: in observing the crowds.
The majority of people here seem to be aged Koreans who howl with laughter and timid young couples who truly seem exhilarated by it all. In a place where porn is against the law, the adult statues in Loveland are palpably intoxicating.
Much to their dismay, I began to accost the blushing lovers. The young and fresh-faced Kim Woo said he and his girlfriend chose to come to Loveland “to learn more about sexuality” and Seo Jung and her partner said that every couple they know has been here.
The Loveland park answers to this lack of sex education with a range of scholastic content. While some of it may look like bad 80s porn, the number of visitors are tangible proof that there’s more to the park than merely having a giggle.
Sean Han was honest enough to tell me that it was his parents who brought him here. “They came when they were younger, and they suggested that my girlfriend and I come to see it for ourselves.” It seems Korean parents use Loveland to spare themselves the awkward birds and bees chat with the kids.
Loveland is a sight to be seen and there are a wealth of other attractions in Jeju to help justify the trip. The island has three stunning UNESCO heritage sites: Hallasan Mountain, which rises in the centre of the island; Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, an enormous crater formed by volcanic eruptions; and the finest example of a lava tube cave system, with multi-coloured floors and ceilings and dramatic stalactites jutting from its surfaces.
Tickets for Jeju Loveland are ₩9,000.00 (£5.00), and last minute flights won’t cost more than ₩120,000 (approximately £70) for a round-trip from Seoul. Explore more of South Korea with the Rough Guide to Korea. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.