Sexwork Cyber Center
By Dave in Phoenix
PO Box 55045, Phoenix AZ 85078-5045

Promoting Intimacy and Other-Centered Sexuality

Thailand Intimacy & Healthy Sexuality Research Report

COPYRIGHTED 1999 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED - MAY BE REPRINTED OR QUOTED FROM ONLY IF CREDIT IS GIVEN, and/or show link to page where material was quoted if you are getting it from our website. I request a note where it was quoted or republished or if reprinted a copy of the publication. I hope the information is helpful to many, but want to be sure it is properly credited as I try and do for all material I use.

Thailand’s Long Tradition of Prostitution
Modern Attitude Shifts vs. Huge Economic Benefits

Is Prostitution shameful and immoral or simply healthy adult sexual fulfillment between consenting adults?

Domestic prostitution has for centuries been a part of the Thai tradition. It was simply accepted as normal and it has been estimated that as many as 95% of Thai men have been to local brothels that are found in most every city of Thailand. Some say 95% may be high and more for sensationalism, but the percentage is certainly high.

Prostitution in Thailand and Southeast Asia

by Justin Hall with extensive foot notes I have deleted but references are at

This excerpt, with full credit, is being shared under the Fair Use provision of the U.S. Copyright laws and International treaties for educational purposes and for no financial gain.

While the foreign aspect of prostitution in Thailand and the Philippines may garner the most attention and money, most of the customers, patronizing the cheapest establishments, are native:

According to reliable surveys of sexual behavior, every day at least 450,000 Thai men visit prostitutes. Thus, much of the impetus sustaining the incredible rate of prostitution in Thailand is cultural; "Thai men think it is their right to have cheap sex, ... and there are enough poor Thai women to make it possible."

Prostitution in many cases has become integrated with initiation rights: "[f]or many Thai men, a trip to the neighborhood brothel is a rite of passage, a tradition passed from father to son."

Certainly, prostitutes play a large part in forming the sexual identity of young Thai males; "a demonstration of heterosexual orientation by having sex with a female prostitute is an important rite of passage for some groups of Thai men." This is borne out by the available statistics: "[s]tudies show that the majority of Thai men have their first sexual experience with a prostitute - the act is often a part of high school and university hazing rituals - and that 95% of all men over 21 have slept with a prostitute."

In addition to rites of passage, the activity of visiting a whorehouse has become a social activity in many cases, "'Sex with prostitutes seems to be a way for men to enjoy each other's company,' notes Barbara Franklin of Care International, ... 'It is often part of a night out with friends who share food, drink and sometimes even sexual partners.'’

And while it is perfectly acceptable for men to visit prostitutes, premarital sex between men and women who are dating is strictly forbidden. Many Thais believe that this double standard has helped create the thriving sex trade. "In Thailand, women are supposed to be chaste until marriage and monogamous afterward," says writer and social critic Sukanya Hantrakul. "Men are supposed to be promiscuous."

Indeed, a survey of both sexes by the Deemar Corporation in 1990, bore out that "80% of males and 74% of the females responded that it was 'natural for men to pursue sex at every opportunity."

From a new story February 5, 1999
NEW YORK, (Feb. 5) IPS In Thailand, a young man who admits he is a virgin is ridiculed by his peers... It is considered normal for a man's first sexual contact to be with a prostitute, usually accompanied by some friends. Moreover, visits to commercial sex workers are still considered as part of a group leisure behavior.

In 1989, the Thai Ministry of Public Health estimated that 4.2 million men visited commercial sex workers. According to other studies, 75 percent of Thai men have had sex with prostitutes at some time in their lives and 48 percent experienced their first sexual encounter with a commercial sex worker. 

Many women in Thailand believe that prostitution protects "good" women against rape, and wives prefer their husbands visit commercial sex workers rather than take a minor wife, which is perceived as a greater threat to family stability....

Thai Prostitution Traditions became more known to the West during the Vietnam War

Originating at the time that Thailand was used as an R&R spot for American soldiers during the Vietnam War, Thai prostitution has become integrally interwoven with international economics in the form of international tourism. Such tourism has created places like Pattaya and a new social conscious which is an embarrassment to many modern Thai’s.

In 1967, Thailand agreed to provide "rest and recreation" services to American servicemen during the Vietnam War, which the soldiers themselves called, "I&I, ... intercourse and intoxication." How did the governments of these countries respond to becoming, in the words of Senator J. William Fulbright, "an American brothel"? One South Vietnamese government official responded, "The Americans need girls; we need dollars. Why should we refrain from the exchange? It's an inexhaustible source of U.S. dollars for the State." In fact, the Vietnam war was responsible for "[injecting] some $16 million into the Thai economy annually, money that tourism would have to replace after the war was over."

Prostitution has a huge economic impact on Thailand with billions of baht annually coming into the economy each year helping many hundreds of thousands of women escape poverty and support their families in the rural villages. Some think this is good, others with a more Western modern view thing this is shameful.

Many people think sexwork is degrading to a woman. Many sexworkers feel that working in a factory or McDonalds for poverty level wages is degrading not sexwork.

A few years ago Spectator Magazine sent some social workers into the tourist sex areas of Bangkok looking for underage workers or those forced into prostitution. But all they found was over age 18, very happy bargirls.

In our Western view and a view increasing among Thais’ the attitude is that prostitution is basically a byproduct of unjust economic and social structures and the most obvious form of gender oppression. Although the widespread prostitution phenomenon is well known in Thailand, few Thai people talk about it in public.

"Rumpel" from Thailand said on soc.culture.thai:  
it always boils down to the question: Is sex inherently good or evil? I would go along with warning labels on condoms: Sex will disrupt your sleep and may lead to orgasms, aside of that I don't see any harm in a good ride, very specially with a beautiful, young and willing Thai girl."

Condoms For Family Planning & Mr. Mechai

About an hours drive from Chiang Rai, in a small town, in the middle of nowhere, is a restaurant called Condoms and Cabbages. The owner, Khun Mechai Wirawydja has long been involved in family planning in Thailand. He become so famous for passing out free condoms in local brothels and other places of 'entertainment' that the condom is now commonly referred to as a 'Mechai'

An interesting comment from "Long Gun" about Condoms and Cabbages

I have never been to the branch outside Chaing Rai but I have eaten in 3 other restaurants of the same name and all owned by the good Mr Mechai. The obvious one is in Sukhumvit Soi 12, 2nd most obvious is quite near to the airport on Korat and the 3rd was in Nang Rong. Apart from the name and 'theme' and the fact that they all serve Thai food, there is very little obvious similarity between them. Certainly no threat as yet to the US franchised chains which are gradually devouring Thailand.

There was also some discussion if Mr. Mechai on the soc.culture.thai newsgroup:

Meechai is... an extremely able man with wide vision with a lot of creativity and very good organizing ability who
wants to help society. Yes, he did become minister and advisor to potician quite a few times, but he acted as a 'technocrat' rather than a politician. I mentioned this as Meechai is one of the rare breed...

> . What I query is the story that
> /Meechai/ is consequently in use in the Thai language as a word
> meaning "condom". /Thuung+ yaang- [an-naa-may-]/ is the usual
> expression

The handing out of condoms, initially as a mean of population control, occurred over two decades ago.At that time, Meechai was sometimes used as a synonym for condom, but it never really gained popularity. As times passed, I
guess the word fell out of fashion.

The Ancient Mariner who is cursed to roam the cyberspace.

Summary Of Current Thai View
How such a minor issue to most Thai’s

From the Bangkok Post August 29, 1999 by Jaime Cabrera
This excerpt, with full credit, is being shared under the Fair Use provision of the U.S. Copyright laws and International treaties for educational purposes and for no financial gain.

Thai leaders prefer to keep prostitution out of sight, as much as possible-if not out of mind. This attitude of sweeping the dirt under the rug creates the illusion that prostitution is a marginal, dismissable byproduct of society. So no wonder, when international publications highlight commercial sex in Thailand, some Thai leaders react in anger or denial. And no wonder that their responses generated even more press. But the common konthai (Thai people) on the streets find all that irrelevant, for sex is an established income-generating industry in Thailand. It took root in traditional practices, grew through the large numbers of male migrant workers and military (during World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars), and blossomed in the 1970s due to promotions for both mass tourism and sex tourism.

Curiously, there has been many publications about sex in Thailand, and many of them are available in Bangkok bookstores. None have been pulled out of the shelves by any ministerial order.

For instance, when Ryan Bishop and Lillian S. Robinson wrote that Thailand's "economic miracle" was a success because tourism-heavily dependent on the sex industry-brought in $4 billion per year, nary a peep was heard from Thai bigwigs. (Night Market: Sexual Cultures and the Thai Economic Miracle, 1998.)A research paper, Prostitution in Thailand and Southeast Asia, not only rolled out statistics and footnotes to build its case, it pointed out that Thailand and the Philippines were playing the role of "whorehouse to the world".

All over the world, countries are coming to grips with the prostitution situation in different ways. South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan have all legalised prostitution. In Indonesia, it is legal only in Jakarta.

However, commercial sex is everywhere, even in countries where it is illegal. For instance, Cambodia has a strictly controlled sex industry, while India, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates-same as Thailand-tolerate it despite laws that clearly outlaw the selling of sexual services. Prostitution is illegal in Vietnam and in Pakistan but private prostitution is active.

Some aspects of prostitution may seem unique to Thailand, such as debt bondage. However, although it is prevalent in Thai provinces as the most common doorway to prostitution, debt bondage to prostitution is even more widespread in India, Burma, Nepal China, and Pakistan.

Thailand may feel that its Patpong and Soi Cowboy and the Golden Mile in Pattaya are affronts to national dignity, but these streets are infinitesimal when compared to major sex spots elsewhere in the world. In Singapore alone, there are five red light districts: Geylang, Flanders Square, Keong Siak, Desker, and Tanjong Pagar. Then there are the geisha districts of Japan, the infamous alleys of China, and that's just in Asia. Europe and the Americas have a yet more blatant history of commercial sex compared to Asian nations.

Sex is well-advertised in Thailand, so embarassing the more proper segments of society. Tourist magazines, taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, neon lights and handbills ensure that the new visitor quickly knows what's on offer. Escort services, massage parlours, and saunas advertise thinly-disguised sex services in almost all dailies in Thailand.

But elsewhere in the world, advertising is even more hardsell and even more hardcore. In New Zealand, where there are no legal pronouncements on prostitution, sex advertising is even aired on radio.

Sex ads in magazines and daily newspapers are common in Spain, Switzerland, Scotland, Germany, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, and the US. By comparison, sex advertising in Thailand is minor.

Historical records show that prostitution was a venerable instituition in ancient China and Japan, and afilliated with religion and ritual in other Asian countries. This may account for the cultural sensitivity of matters sexual in Asia. As in Thailand, child sexual exploitation in India is culturally entrenched. There is an ancient history of temple prostitution called (devadasi) which is outlawed but continues.

Much has been said of Thai families-and even entire villages-who live on the earnings of their children who go into prostitution. But this is not unique to Thailand. There are also Indian tribes which have lived on the earnings of child prostitutes for centuries-the Rajnat tribe of Rajasthan is one. The women of that tribe were the chief providers of prostitutes to the Rajput monarchs until the beginning of this century. Many of the prostitutes of Rajput are between 11 and 16 years.

Even combining random national characteristics such as poverty, royalty, and prostitution fails to make Thailand unique. For instance, Nepal is the fifth poorest country in the world and has a growing child sex trade. Prostitution blossomed under Nepal's elite royal Rana family, during their rule from 1850 to 1950. Even now, different types of prostitutes work under pimps or in more than 200 brothels in Katmandu alone, and most are under 15 years of age.

If sex is everywhere and all the same, why do some countries have to single out prostitution in other countries? It is the singular sameness of sex that drives man to seek out variety, no matter how illusory.

Thus, many Westerners are highly attracted to various physical characteristics of Asians, such as their skin, eyes, hair, and grace of movement. For similar reasons, Asians are attracted to Westerners. The attraction is also based on cultural differences. Asian women like it when they are treated as equals by Western men, while Western males like it when they are treated like minor princes by their Asian wives.

In addition, it may be difficult for some people to get sexual gratification in their own countries for various legal, cultural or personal reasons.

For instance, compared to Asia, prostitution laws are much stricter in Europe and America. Thus, Westerners arrive for sexual gratification not just because it is cheaper or different, but because it is easier to find.

But economic benefits are also a strong pull. When tourists travel for sex, they not only consider legal limitations, they also look at how much more sex their money will buy. For instance, prostitution is legal in Singapore and Taiwan but tourists can get more sex for their money in India, Thailand and the Philippines.

Thus, when an international magazine points Thailand's excellent beaches, golf, or sexual services, it could simply be a sincere endorsement from a people whose desires for turf, surf or sex are constrained by their laws, cultures, or climate.

Pattaya, at the moment, wins hands down over all other countries due to a combination of a unique cultural patina-even among Asian countries-as well as low prices, excellent beaches, and a plethora of other tourist attractions and amenities of civilization.

This fact has not been lost on other countries that envy Thailand's reputation as a well-recognised destination for sensual delights. A great number of European countries and American communities, for instance, are comfortable with sex and nudity but do not have Thailand's high 'brand-name' recognition. "Any country that has Thailand's high brand-name recognition in the sex-industry today has millions of dollars in tourist income," says Hilda Rogersson, a Scandinavian travel publicity expert. But to the khonthai on the street, political pronouncements and passionate international discussions do not carry as much meaning as some coins in hand to buy the next meal. The prostitute must work tonight to send money home-female sex workers of Thailand reportedly send some 11 billion baht ($300 million) a year back to the countryside-and the lights and sounds and sensations must continue, or else-if a UN report is right-Thailand will lose at least $27 billion (over 1,000 billion baht) in foreign exchange a year, enough to make any other tourism minister jealous.

When PM's Office Minister Paveena said that in Thailand, "sex is just a small issue," she did not sound jealous at all. Like all other Asians, Paveena knows a well-known Asian saying very well that goes: the highest mango attracts the most stones.

Newsweek Article Reaction Not Censorship But Polite Additional Comments
Newsweek_ magazine quoted an anonymous diplomat as saying that in the fields of international finance and trade, "Thailand has two comparative advantages -- sex and golf courses." Prime Minister Chuan disagreed -- Thailand also has Thai food and beautiful beaches, he said. Another anonymous diplomat said that it was great news for people who hated golf. The foreign ministry was not as tolerant, and called the Newsweek folks in for a chat. They said they were sorry if anyone felt hurt by the quote. Another comparative advantage which went completely unmentioned is that unlike every nation that touches Thai borders, there was not a mention of the possibility of censoring the magazine or somehow punishing the reporters.

Another Historical Look at Prostitution in Thailand
By Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, professor of religion and philosophy at Thannasat University in Bangkok  This excerpt, with full credit, is being shared under the Fair Use provision of the U.S. Copyright laws and International treaties for educational purposes and for no financial gain.  Full article at

In Thailand, prostitution was mentioned during King Rama I's reign. There was taxation of prostitutes and brothels called "tax for the road." When Rama V abolished slavery, some females slaves were turned over to men who started brothels. Prostitution was legalized in 1934 by Rama V. He expressed his concern about prostitutes who worked in gangs with men as their supervisors. The situation was prone to violence , and the threat if spreading venereal disease was great. Because of these dangers, Rama V allowed prostitutes to be registered so that they could receive regular medical care.

Thailand remained under this act until 1960, when the United Nations declared the abolition of prostitution. The Thai government answered the UN policy by introducing " The Act to Deter Prostitution," replacing the 1934 law. According to this new act, no one is permitted to perform in the sex trade, either heterosexual or homosexual. A person who has transgressed the law will be find a maximum of 2000 baht ( about $50 U.S ) of sentenced to imprisonment for up to two months.

Through this act, prostitution became illegal, which is to say, from the legal point of view, there are no prostitutes. Chalermpol Satthaporn, who has done research on prostitution in Thailand, found that after legal prohibition the number of prostitutes increased noticeably. Before the Act, 15 % of prostitutes were between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, but after the declaration if the Act, the percentage increased to 25 %. Also more women from rural areas became prostitutes. In provinces where there were military bases, the number of prostitutes also noticeably increased. Satthaporn also found that after the Act to Deter Prostitution, the number of people who were sentenced to imprisonment on charges of sexual harassment increased rapidly.

Thailand's prostitution industry escalated dramatically during the 1960s when the United States established military bases here during the Vietnam Was. Even after the bases were dismantled, prostitution continued to spread in various guises - bar girls, singers, partners, and other "cover" occupations.

Linked with economic instability and poverty is lack of education. The majority of prostitutes have had only four years of compulsory education. Farmers who have to struggle to survive economically will not be able to provide higher education for their children. Many farmers, being poor and uneducated themselves, do not have proper knowledge of family planning, and as a result have large families which created an added economic burden so serious that it falls also to the eldest daughters in the families to help out. This explains the high percentage of prostitutes who have many siblings, and are themselves the eldest daughters. Economic factors cause further problems: the break - up of the families; husbands deserting wives and children; and great numbers of rural poor who come to seek jobs in Bangkok, often with little success, as most of them are unskilled.

The Government quotes successful economic growth from the rapid increase of the National Income Per Capita, in which the high income from prostitution is included. Thai prostitutes working abroad send home as much as 1.2 million dollars each year.

Young women, tired of living in rural poverty with no future, find themselves ready and willing to take a chance at a new life promised by agents, who tactfully approach the girl's parents. Many of these young women have already been exposed to the dream of living in luxury as fed to them through television and other mass media. They want beautiful things and an easy lifestyle, Prostitution seems to them to be the only means available to actualize their dreams. Among teenagers especially it is very popular to follow the lead of one's peer group and friends. Dilok - Udomchai found that 37 % of the prostitutes joined the sex trade because they went along with the pattern set by their friends.

Negative social values that denigrate women also contribute to the problem of prostitution in Thailand . Another aspect is the great emphasis Thai society places on virginity, which is to be preserved for one's husband. This overemphasized value has backfired. Among rape cases, for example, young girls think that once they have list their virginity, they have no value, and so they believe their only option is to become a prostitute.

Other girls become prostitutes out of a sense of duty or obligation to their parents, to share the family's economic burden. When the family is in great debt resulting from failure in agricultural production of even simply from the father's gambling losses, the eldest daughters are asked to " sacrifice" for their parents and their younger siblings. There are cases where fathers sold and re - sold their daughters into prostitution to buy extra cows for farming. This is done iin the belief that children must show "gratitude" to their parents.,

It is interesting to note the resemblance in the reasoning of both prostitutes and mae jis for their life choices. Due to "gratitude" of obligation some women become prostitutes to repay their parents materially, while others choose to become mae jis to repay their parents spiritually, offering them the merit of their religious activities.

It is common practice for Thai men to visit brothels to prove their virility. Men who do not do so are considered strange and suffer the possibility of becoming social outcasts. Many men say that they can not break the habit of going to prostitutes because they are so readily available and are a cheap source of entertainment. Too many Thai women also accept prostitution as a commonplace practice and some who do not wish to have a sexual relationship with their husbands have even encouraged them to see prostitutes.

The Prostitution Suppression Act of 1960
Customers are protected since they have a right to buy sexual satisfaction
"Special Service" Is Allowed 
Text source: Highlights from: SEX INDUSTRY REPORT posted on soc.culture.thai newsgroup on 16 Aug 1999. The original source is not credited and the studies quoted not footnoted. If anyone disagrees with any of the content I will give a dissenting opinion in my Thailand report. I also found the same report at (link now broken)

While Thailand has imposed several acts which outlaw prostitution, there are plenty of ways in which people still can get away with it. The Prostitution Suppression Act introduced in 1960 and still in force today (Dave notes but see separate legal discussion section for current update) defines prostitution as a crime of promiscuity, the act of 'promiscuously rendering sexual services for remuneration', a definition adopted by the United Nations Convention of 1950. Every party involved is subject to penalties except the customer.

In other words, it's only the women and their bosses who are punished for taking part in prostitution, since they are the ones selling services. The men who pay the women are not at all reprimanded. The Prostitution Suppression Act protects the customer according to the tradition which recognizes men as having a legitimate right to buy sexual satisfaction.

The penalizing of employers remains only at the informal level. It was not until 1966 that the act of Service Establishments was passed which made it possible for Thai women to render "special services." This is done, for example, by establishing such places as massage parlors where men come and look at women, who are sitting separated by a glass wall, and can pick and choose who they want. The women come to the men's hotel room and 'massage' them, but, in reality do more than that. It is usually left for the customer to decide what kind of "special service" he really wants, and because of that, the women are able to participate in the sex industry without any legal action being taken against them.

This also encouraged men to go to Service Establishments and women to work inside, instead of on the streets.

While the existence of prostitution is legally suppressed and deformalized, entertainment places (pimping) became formalized to protect owners, the women providers and today under the 1996 Act, customers.   It left only traditional "brothels" unprotected from the Prostitution Act restrictions.

Raids on brothels and other lucrative sex businesses are highly publicized when successful, but are very random and irregular. Even in those few cases, the owners are likely to pay off the police and other government officials to avoid being prosecuted. According to the Thailand Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997, which was released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, "brothels operate with the protection of local government representatives and police." Even corrupt Thai police and other government officials participate in this lucrative industry and facilitate the opportunities for prostitution to continue, without enforcing the laws which they are representative of.

A study of households in north Thailand found that, on average, 28 percent of household income came from absent daughters. Not only are these women migrating to Bangkok and other cities to make money, but they also want to travel and see other parts of the world.

The relatively high earnings and remittances made by women who returned made them objects of admiration, regardless of whether family and friends were aware of the nature of their work. The sex industry, one can argue, seems like a fantasy-world for these women, where all of their woes will be healed, where they will become rich, and where, in time, they will be able to earn enough to have a productive lifestyle.

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