The fate of Korea’s ‘first and biggest’ sex festival

Lee Hee Tae had high hopes for his sex festival, which he proudly billed as South Korea’s “first and largest”.

He envisaged 5,000 fans flocking to see their favourite Japanese porn actors and actresses, who were being flown in for last weekend’s event. There was to be a bondage fashion show, a sex toy exhibition, and some adult games, that involved bursting balloons between people’s bodies.

But with just 24 hours to go, the festival was cancelled.

South Korea is known for its conservative approach to sex and adult entertainment. Public nudity and strip shows are banned, and it is illegal to sell or distribute hardcore pornography, though not to consume it.

“Virtually every developed country has a sex festival, but here in South Korea we don’t even have an adult entertainment culture. I want to take the first steps towards creating one,” said Lee Hee Tae, whose company Play Joker produced legal softcore pornography before their pivot to organising events.

A month before, women’s rights groups from the town of Suwon, where the event was due to be held, came out to protest. They accused the festival of exploiting women in a country where gender violence is endemic.

This was not, they argued, a festival aimed at both sexes. The heavily female, scantily-clad advertising suggested ticket-holders were likely to be overwhelmingly male.

The local mayor condemned the event for taking place near a primary school and the authorities threatened to revoke the venue’s licence if it went ahead. The venue pulled out.

Frustrated, but unfazed, Mr Lee switched locations, but a similar chain of events played out. The new authority accused the festival of “instilling a distorted view of sex” and insisted the venue cancel. Next, Mr Lee found a ship docked on the river in Seoul. But, following pressure from the council, the boat’s leaseholder threatened to barricade it and cut off the electricity if its promoter allowed the festival to go ahead.

At each turn, Mr Lee had to scale down the festival as ticket-holders called in refunds, costing him hundreds of thousands of pounds.

PlayJoker Portion of the poster for PlayJoker's 2024 eventPlayJokerA portion of the poster promoting the 2024 sex festival

Nearly out of options, he found a small underground bar in the glitzy Gangnam neighbourhood in Seoul, that could hold around 400 people. This time he kept the location a secret.

So, Gangnam council wrote to every one of its hundreds of restaurants warning them they would be shut down if they hosted the festival, accusing it of being “morally harmful”. But the bar stood its ground.

Then, the day before, the Japanese porn stars pulled out. Their agency said the backlash to the festival had “reached fever pitch” and the women were worried they might be attacked and even stabbed.

From his office in Gangnam, Mr Lee told the BBC he was shocked events had taken “such an unthinkable turn”, adding that he had received death threats. “I have been treated like a criminal without doing anything illegal”, he said, stating that the festival fell well within the lines of the law. There was to be no nudity or sexual acts performed, similar to an event he held last year, which garnered little publicity.

Play Joker has staged attention-grabbing stunts in the past. Last year they had a woman parade the streets of Seoul wearing nothing but a cardboard box, inviting passers-by to put their hands inside and touch her breasts.

Mr Lee says he wants to challenge Korea’s attitudes to sex and pornography, which are stuck in the past.

“The authorities are hypocrites. If you go online everyone is sharing pornography, then people log off and pretend they are innocent. How much longer are we going to keep up this pretence?”

Although popular international porn websites cannot be accessed from South Korea, most know how to use internet VPNs to override restrictions.

Women Entrepreneur US
Women Entrepreneur US
Women Entrepreneur US is an inspiring magazine empowering female entrepreneurs by sharing success stories, insights, and valuable resources.



Recommended For You