In Western Europe and in America, it is the perception that Thailand is the destination for paid sex. The truth is that Thailand is really no more of a sex destination than most of the world. It really is a myth, and it is very sad that many Westerners see Thailand only through these special tinted glasses.
The US has a huge sex industry. But the US keeps it underground and swept under the rug. In almost any American city, it takes a bit of effort to get plugged into the sex industry by going through special advertising websites or newspapers or even Facebook, but it is there. If you go to certain seedy areas of many American cities, you will find hookers in the street, sexual massage parlors and sex shops all over the neighborhood. Thailand is not like that, and if you are looking for it Thailand, at least in the tourist cities, it is not difficult to find. Go outside of those designated areas, and you won’t find it. The industry is really no bigger in Thailand as in America.
Bangkok gets worldwide attention for their legendary sex areas (Patpaong, Soi Cowboy), but the truth is that these “adult entertainment” areas are simply a handful of tiny streets tucked away in a huge city with a population of over 10 million, much bigger than the Los Angeles basin or New York City. Germany has the Reeperbahn. Amsterdam has De Wallen. Paris has the Pigalle. Los Angeles has West Hollywood. But these special areas that have a sex industry hardly represent the whole nation that they are in. But some people are convinced that Thailand is one big whorehouse based on these very few tiny streets in Bangkok.
Another big adult entertainment area is the beach resort town of Pattaya a couple of hours drive south of BKK. For sure this is a big part of this one resort city, but hardly represents typical life in Thailand for Thais or Expats. Even in this seaside city, the industry is limited to one area that can be easily avoided. Pattaya is a tourist “trap”, just like Atlantic City or Las Vegas might be called, but hardly represents the whole nation. Actually, the Pattaya area (Chonburi Province) is actually an industrial and shipping/export center for Thailand, which is a much bigger industry than the sex entertainment industry in the area.
While it is a fact that prostitution is available somewhere in all the tourist cities in Thailand, it is not so pervasive in the provinces. One would be hard pressed to find it in most cities, towns, or villages in Thailand outside of Bangkok and Pattaya . If one does find it in those places, the women are likely not Thai. Even in the tourist cities, most women in the sex industry are not Thai but most foreigners are ignorant to this fact.
Another great myth is that Thailand is a haven for pedophiles. The real problem area of the world for this is in Eastern Europe, but you don’t see that kind of universal tag hanging on the countries in that area. International relief organizations estimate there are 300 ~ 400 thousand children involved in prostitution in the USA… and Thailand has the reputation?!!!…It’s becoming so serious in America that even the US Department of Education has to brief schools and parents, warning that pimps target girls as young as 12. Here’s the report on the status of children sex slaves in America: US Government fact sheet on sex slavery in the US.
The truth is that in my home city of Chiang Mai, there is very little adult entertainment, and sex businesses can only be found by those that search for it. In Chiang Mai, it is little different than in most American cities in that regard (or perhaps less). In Chiang Mai, you won’t find hookers in the street or big signs promoting massage parlors with “extras”. The mens entertainment bars (most of which are simply beer bars with hostesses) in Chiang Mai are relegated to pretty much one tiny little road in town. If a “sex tourist” comes to Chiang Mai he will frankly be quite disappointed.
But still we have the perception of Thailand as the sex destination, based largely on the stories, videos and pictures coming back with single male tourists. It is “Live in a fishbowl – see a lot of fish” syndrome. It is not difficult at all to find the sex industry areas of BKK and Pattaya, and it is not hidden as in the US and most other Western countries. It is visible, easily photographed and easy to make a video showing it all. You can’t do that very well in the American sex biz.
Prostitution in Thailand is like gambling in America. If a foreigner vacationed in Nevada then went home, or maybe included a trip to Atlantic City or some Native American reservation, he would swear to all his friends back home that gambling is everywhere in America. Of course, that would be ridiculous. Same goes for the notion that prostitution is woven into the fabric of Thai society. That is ridiculous. Thailand is one of the most socially conservative societies on the planet. One would not dare so much as hold hands in public in the Provinces. If you are a young Thai guy and have sex with a local girl and it’s found out, you WILL marry that girl. It’s that sort of place outside the tourist cities.
Part of the reason Thailand has the worldwide reputation for prostitution is in the character of Thai people. Thai people are extremely tolerant of others that are different. Transvestites in most Western countries are looked down upon as deviant behavior, but in Thailand there are few negative attitudes about it. “Kateoys” are able to walk the streets and travel about just like any other Thai, with little social stigma. In the same manner, even Thai prostitutes are not considered social out-castes.
The other factor in the Thai character is that few women in Thailand have the prevalent feminist attitudes that are so strong in the West. Thai women are generally feminine and graceful, and are accommodating to men in general. It is the Thai way. And of course Thai women tend to be slim, healthy and attractive. They dress well. You don’t see Thai women going shopping in jeans and sweatshirt. Western men appreciate the femininity of Thai women (or maybe a perceived lack of it in their homeland). This is sometimes interpreted by Western women as indicative of prevalent prostitution. And this is a wrong perception. Thai women are different than Western women, but this is not a reflection of their morals.
Thailand doesn’t deserve the reputation it has. It does has a sex industry, yes, but the country, its people and the expats living in Thailand should not be judged by it and currently they are. I remember telling someone I was going to start living in Thailand, the response was “What are you, sex starved?” It embarrassed me., but it really is reflective of the person making the question. I have had people ask me if I met my Thai wife in a Bar. This is just plain rude. And, incidentally, I met my wife in America where she was working in a legitimate job just like most other people in America. And my wife is typical Thai in that she is gracious, sweet and very accommodating to the husband that loves her.
Recommended Reading: Thailand Confidential
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