Thailand Intimacy & Healthy (Adult) Sexuality Research Report
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Thai Attitudes Towards Infidelity
A popular book by Cleo Odzer is 'Patpong Sisters: An American Woman's View of the Bangkok Sex World' After her book was published, she was asked to participate, along with some others, in a series of interviews on cheating (infidelity). The interviews were conducted by Tracy Quan. Ms Odzer gave her take on the issue of being faithful as applied to her studies (over three years) on Thai bargirls.
Tracy Quan: You researched Patpong Sisters while living in Bangkok... Do Thai attitudes toward infidelity differ from American attitudes?
Cleo Odzer: Western men try to be faithful; Thai men don't even try. They feel they have the right to have as many wives as they want -- and they have to have lots of wives. In Thailand, if you're in the upper class you marry legally because of the inheritance laws. If you have no property, it's not necessary. It costs money to have a legal marriage. So, most people don't bother to get married officially, but they have informal marriages. My boyfriend Jek who was from Bangkok kept telling me, "I don't have a wife." But there was a woman who still considered him to be her husband, because they had a child together. Her name was Toom.
TQ: How did Toom respond to his extra-marital behavior?
CO: She came over and destroyed everything in my apartment -- then she beat him up. She went after him with an iron! There was blood all over my bed -- trailing out of my apartment, down the stairs, around the swimming pool and out into the street. He complained that Toom was always doing this and said, "I want her to find a new husband." It's accepted that Thai men play around -- and that Thai women are known to be very angry and violent.
TQ: Did three years in Thailand make you more tolerant of male infidelity?
CO: I'm very jealous. If a cyber-boyfriend sends a page to another female -- even if she's just his friend -- if it comes to me by mistake, I go completely berserk. That has happened.
TQ: Are American men really more faithful to their sex partners?
CO: In this culture, men are pressured to be monogamous because a man's wife or girlfriend will play around, too. And that's a check on some guys.
TQ: And in Thailand?
CO: There are major wives and minor wives -- there's even a nighttime soap opera called "Mia Noi" which means "minor wife." It's amazing how husbands of minor wives think that because they are supporting a woman, she has to be faithful -- even if they only see her once every other week. Talk about *denial*. It's considered bad for a woman to have more than one lover -- there is no term for a "minor husband." A few years ago, I presented a paper at a conference on Gender and Industrialization in Asia, and I got into a fight with an economics professor -- a woman from Thailand. One of the bar girls in my study, Hoi, became attracted to other men while she was living with a *farang*, a foreigner who gave her money. The professor thought Hoi made all the bar girls look bad -- she said I should have used another example of a bar girl. The professor could understand Hoi selling her body -- but she wouldn't give Hoi the right to do it with a man just because she liked him. Even though Hoi was a paid companion, she was supposed to be faithful to the man who was paying. A Thai woman is supposed to repress her desires, whether she's a wife or a bar girl.
TQ: How do the bar girls deal with this?
CO: The bar girls I met felt no guilt whatsoever about falling in love with Thai men when they were living with a farang. They had their own standards, among each other. They allow themselves a self-indulgence which Thai culture denies them. But, minor wives probably try to conform to "proper" behavior.
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